Rafting Rookies

Isaac Lorton's picture
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O/B interns ride the Montana Whitewater turkey boat.

Decked out in red life jackets, yellow helmets, and blue splash jackets, the interns of Outside Bozeman geared up to add some color to the Gallatin River's whitewater. We were guinea pigs for the day, fortunate enough to ride in a "turkey boat"—a raft led by one of Montana Whitewater's rookie guides.

Montana Whitewater Rafting

Having endured river misadventures in the past, I was a little nervous about our journey with an inexperienced guide. I was even more nervous when we met Lynn. She had been a guide for only three years—this was her first guided trip on the Gallatin. I didn't want to end up being a palette of primary colors tossed around the freezing torrential onrush of the river, and I didn't want to be flopped onto the wet floor of a raft like a freshly-caught fish, wriggling and disoriented.

As luck would have it, Lynn was an excellent guide and my fellow interns made a great paddling crew. We were on what I liked to call “la boat,” because it was heavily female-dominated. Lynn happened to be one of the few female guides for Montana Whitewater, and of the four interns, I was the lone male. Even the raft itself was called “Rosie,” after Rosie the Riveter, the famous wartime gal painted on the back of our trusty blue vessel. No shortage of estrogen on ride.

Montana Whitewater Rafting 2

Lynn's quiet demeanor on land disappeared once we launched the boat. “I'm a total river rat,” she declared, with a grin exuding quiet confidence. “I love it on the water.”  

Every few minutes, between rapids and paddling, Lynn would point her chin at an overhanging cliff or bend in the river and tell us how it came to be named. Her stories went beyond facts in a book; through her words we saw the history of the river—how it had helped shape the canyon, how it interacted with its surrounding environment, and how its unique flow had a history of its own.

But the river was cold and quick and cared little about our small talk. Water crashed over us, slapping us in the face. After the first set of rapids, we were all soaked through and I couldn't feel my hands. Morgan and Maggie let out bursts of joy, while Felicia was all smiles.

We were cold, but it was electric and that was the whole point—a point the Floridian family in front of us must have missed. They despised the cold—except, perhaps, for the father, who had a GoPro camera atop his helmet and was moving his head in every direction like a bobblehead out of the Exorcist. On more than one occasion, his teenage daughter asked if she could get out because she was too cold; the guide responded by hitting two more massive waves, accidentally of course.

With no feeling in our extremities, we paddled when Lynn called out strokes, enjoying every minute of our time on the river: every splash of crushing water, every paddlestroke, and every moment of blissful floating. Between cascades of glacial water, the sun's rays fruitlessly warmed us.

When we stepped on shore at the Lava Lake pullout, our legs were cold jelly, but we were happy and satisfied. A turkey boat is named such because the trip is free for the victims and the new guide gets experience out of it. As one veteran guide put it, free entertainment—for the veteran guides, and sometimes for the test subjects. It was the latter for our group, as we had painted the white waters of the Gallatin River with the correct strokes in our primary-colored suits, under the capable guidance of Lynn.  

Montana Whitewater Rafting 3

Visit montanawhitewater.com for more info on their trips.

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