If you have ever been on a guided raft trip, you may have noticed that your guide always seems to have an answer to any question you ask. This may come as a shock, but the truth is, we don’t know nearly as much as we let on. Although we have years of experience and knowledge from repeatedly guiding the same section of river, we often find ourselves dumbfounded by questions we receive from clients, and making up stories in order to maintain our reputation as all-knowing river oracles. As a result, raft guides quickly become experts in crafting white lies. We receive certain questions so often that our lies become pre-programmed responses that roll off the tongue with such confidence and ease that we begin to believe them ourselves.
One such lie is usually prompted by the question “when is the next rapid?” or “how far till camp?”, to which I almost always respond “just around the bend”. This answer satisfies most guests . . . until we round the next river bend only to find another mile of flatwater with no camp in sight. At this point, I admit that I must have been confused, and reassure the guests that it should be just around the next bend. Which, about 50% of the time, is true.
“Just around the bend” is a phrase raft guides use when they have no idea where the next camp is or when they will arrive at the next rapid. But the beautiful thing about this lie is that it always has a chance of being true. The next bend could contain the biggest, most challenging rapid on the river, or it could contain the hottest, windiest stretch of flatwater that makes you desperately cry out for mercy from the river gods with every stroke you take. Within the ambiguity of not knowing, there is a sense of exhilaration for what could come next. The belief that there may be a great rapid or camp ahead of you is almost as exciting as actually arriving there.
“Just around the bend” is a mindset that I have adopted in my first month out of college: partly from lessons I have learned from other young river guides, but also partly for the sake of my sanity. With many of my classmates rushing to be at that spot around the bend, to get their dream job, or settle in to family life, it can be easy to feel like I am falling behind. I, on the other hand, am living out of my Subaru Forester, in the parking lot of my workplace, eating the leftover food from river trips. And, while I am happy for my classmates and impressed by the accomplishments they are already making, I am perfectly satisfied with the state I am in: not really knowing what next steps I want to take in my life, but excited for what might come.
When I tell guests on river trips that I just graduated from college, their usual response is “so, what are your plans?”. What they don’t realize is that everything they are experiencing with me in that moment encompasses my post-grad plans. So far, enjoying my job and life on the river is my only plan, and I am completely ok with that. In fact, I am more than ok with that, I am excited about that. Right now I am at a really rare and pivotal time in my life: I have a college degree, a job I love, and nobody who depends on me. This is quite possibly the most amount of freedom I will ever experience. So why not play and do what I love while I can?
The key to the “just around the bend” mentality is having a sense of optimism about an ambiguous future. It is the belief that, eventually, you will round the next bend and find something worthwhile in store. This mentality may sound like an excuse for apathy and indecision. And, in part, it might be. However, I think that we don’t give enough value to being comfortable exactly where we are at in life, even if that means we are still floating along, not knowing what could come next. For now, I will keep moving steadily along, excited by what is around the bend. And if I don’t find what I want there, I’ll wait until the next bend . . . or maybe the next after that.