Mules hit the rapids: summer as a Maine rafting guide

Sierra Leavitt and Dylan Markey (both class of 2016) are two adventurous mules who spent their summer working as white water rafting guides in Maine.
Leavitt worked for Adventure Bound Rafting on the Kennebec River, while Markey worked for Northeast Whitewater on the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers.
Leavitt found the job through Natalie Tortorella ’14 who had worked as a rafting guide the previous summer. Tortorella helped Leavitt and four other students from the College—Danny Leaman ’15, Zach Hartnett ’15, Destrey Enders ’16 and Sam Glaisher ’15—spend their summer as rafting guides.

Similarly, Markey found his job through contacting Galen Hammitt ’13 who had led Markey and 15 of his friends on a trip the summer before. “I love any sort of recreation involving rivers, be it fly-fishing, canoeing, kayaking, etc., so when it came time to decide what to do for the summer, I opted to try something new and exciting that I really didn’t know anything about,” Markey wrote in an email.
After signing their contracts, both Markey and Leavitt underwent rigorous training in order to become certified Level 1 rafting guides. “Training was a week long of constant rafting in 45 degree water. I thought I might never be dry or warm again,” Leavitt wrote in an email. “In order to complete training, you had to raft the top portion of the Kennebec at least 20 times and have guided it yourself at least five times, so we saw a lot of the river in that week.”
Markey had a similar training: “The guides training us drilled us on river geography, angles to run the rapids and tossed us in the river a few times to gain empathy for a swimmer and respect for the river. Every night, we had classroom on rules and regulations, medical protocol and more river geography. The prerequisites included Wilderness First Aid (WFA) and Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certifications.”

Additionally, Markey and Leavitt had to pass a written exam in order to recieve their Level 1 certifications. Markey decided to extend his training and get his Level 2 certification, which allows him the ability to guide on all Maine rivers, including Class V rapids.

After completing their certification, both Leavitt and Markey had to hit the rapids for the first time leading a boat full of novice clients. “I was in awe that the company would give us that much responsibility so soon, but we all managed to get our guests down the river safely… I had a really great boat that day, which made the experience that much easier,” Leavitt said.
Markey also felt nervous before his first trip as a hired guide, but was similarly relieved at the end and confident in his abilities. However, for Markey it was not the Class III and IV rapids he was most nervous about, but leading the Class V rapids on The Nob.

“The Nob was a different story. First year guides typically guide on the Kennebec only, so I felt very intimidated by the larger rapids on the Nob, including Cribworks, considered to be the 3rd most technical rapid in the Eastern U.S. We run the lower section of the river with the Class III and IV rapids first, have lunch, then start the second half with Exterminator and the Cribworks. I did not eat lunch that day,” Markey said.

Throughout the summer, Markey and Leavitt both became increasingly confident in their skills and knowledge of the river and its rapids. However, both experienced some nerve-racking experiences.

“A few guides were doing a… run on a high water day, 8,000 cubic feet per second with five of us in the raft, and we hit a class IV wave called Maytag head-on, and the raft went more and more and more vertical before it tipped to the side and flipped all the way over. Everyone was in the water swimming the rest of the rapid before we were able to collect ourselves in the calm water [below]. That was the first flip I experienced, and while it was pretty chaotic when it happened, it was also very exciting and gave me some experience,” Leavitt said.

Markey also experienced some raft flips and wearying moments. “My last day on the Nob, I took Emily Schatz ’16, Meaghan Lewia ’15, Carylanne Wolfington ’16 and Grace Farnkoff ’17. Going through the Cribworks, Emily decided she wanted to swim and popped out at the end. Everyone was staring at her as she swam some Class V, totally ignoring my calls, leading us into something called Boulder Pile, stopping our forward momentum and sending Meaghan into the water as well,” Markey said.

“We dropped the 16 foot Final Chute and proceeded to pick up the swimmers. Our photographer captured Emily right before the Final Chute with a huge smile on her face. My boss said he has never, in 20 years of guiding, seen a customer smile while swimming the Cribworks,” Markey said.

Additionally, Markey led a 93-year-old woman and her 5-year-old great grandson down the Kennebec; he had both of them hold on as he paddled through the rapids, setting a record for his company for the oldest customers to raft the Kennebec.

For both Leavitt and Markey, being able to be on the water and meet new and interesting people was their favorite part of the job. “Every day on the water, I realized something new about either the river or guiding or what I should say to my guests so it was a great learning experience,” said Leavitt.

Markey led many rafting trips, some on Cribworks, considered the 3rd most technical rapid in the Eastern U.S.

Markey led many rafting trips, some on Cribworks, considered the 3rd most technical rapid in the Eastern U.S.

Leavitt and Markey plan to continue rafting for the rest of their lives, whether it be as a job or for recreation. Both hope to raft down different rivers, for Leavitt rivers in The Forks, while for Markey the Gauley River in West Virginia.

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