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Femininity As An Outdoor Guide

By: Olivia Lynch

When I was seven years old, my family took our first multi day river trip down the Lower Salmon in Central Idaho. I vaguely remember eating peanut M&Ms and watching my dad row the boat. Over the next ten years, my dad taught me how to row that same boat, which came with confusion, frustration, and satisfaction.

A couple weeks before my seventeenth birthday, my dad broke his back at the takeout of the Middle Fork of the Salmon, right before we were supposed to put in on the Lower Salmon. We came to an agreement - I would row the Lower section. And I did. It was the first river I rowed in its entirety - all 60 miles. On my birthday, I rowed my first class four with my dad right behind me shouting directions. Afterwards, he apologized. "You had that on your own - I didn't need to give you any directions!" Not once has my dad ever recognized my femininity as a weakness, and I owe a lot of my independence and strength to him. He thinks I'm a badass, and so do I.

This past summer, I was finally old enough to start river guiding. I joined Sawtooth Adventure Company in Stanley, Idaho and was the youngest employee at 18 years old. I was lucky enough to work on a crew that was half women and half men, which is rare in the outdoor industry. As the summer plodded along and I got more comfortable in my surroundings, I noticed my female peers had to work harder to be recognized as able bodied guides. My peers received comments like "You're guiding my boat? But you're so small!" and "Wow! I didn't know women could do this!"

As Tarah O'Connor said in an interview for Kari Traa, “When a male customer attends a course, he will typically turn to your male colleague, if there is one there – and assume that he is the leader. It never happens the other way around." Unfortunately, this is a reality that any woman in the outdoor industry faces.