My name is Dan McDonald, I own Penobscot Adventures with my wife Maureen. I became a whitewater rafting guide 21 whitewater seasons ago. This means that many of the the people that I train to guide for Penobscot Adventures weren’t born when I started guiding. I also teach high school at a locally and many of the students are interested in what it’s like to guide and some of them ask how I got started rafting.
I started rafting with my friend Andy when I was in college at the University of New England. He grew up in the Forks, Maine and rafted often all throughout high school. He became a guide for Magic Falls Rafting company as soon as he turned 18 and recommended that I do the same.
In 1996 I signed up for guide training with Magic Falls Rafting company. Guide training consisted of 5 days rafting on the Kennebec river and 2 days on either the Dead or Lower Penobscot River. The days on the river were followed by night classes were we studied whitewater rapid formation, rescue scenarios, and state test preparation.
The training class started out with 18 people the first day. When we arrived at the Kennebec river put in and the water was running 18,000 cfs. We had no idea what that meant, but our trainers where very excited (i.e. “nervous”). The first run down the seasoned guides guided down and we had a great run until the Lower Alley Way. At the top of the Cathedral Eddy wave train we dump trucked everyone but the guide, my first whitewater swim!
Next time down the students guided, it was epic. We made it to the rapid named Big Mama and watched as the raft in front of us flipped over on a wave called the Second Sister. Basically, Big Mama is the wave in the front of this wave train and she has 3 Sisters, each one slows you down until one of them gets you. My trainer, Joe, was getting ready to blow his whistle (that’s what you do when there are swimmers) when we flipped over at the same spot. The next few minutes were crazy. I came up way down stream, and after about a minute in the H2O, another trainee Corey helped me onto the bottom of the upside down raft, but it was the first raft that flipped. My raft had gotten caught up in some eddy currents and was still further up stream. Once we got down to Cathedral Eddy ( large kind of calm stretch), Annie from Down East Whitewater helped our trainers pull us all in.
We spent the next four hours looking for Joe’s uncle who was training with us, but was M.I.A. Turns out he had gotten to shore right off and hung started walking. The trainers crossed paths with him a few times until they found each other. We floated out after that and had a great story to tell. The next morning, 8 trainees showed up to learn the trade.
I still haven’t answered the question of “why do I guide?”, but the answer is simple. It’s awesome! If your thinking of guiding a raft or two sign up for guide training with any Registered Maine Outfitter. It’s the ultimate summer job, pay isn’t bad and the tips and benefits (unconventional) are great.