I worked for the Salt Lake Tribune as their southern Utah correspondent from 1994 to February 1998, at which time I took an extended leave of absence so I could spend time working on an extensive, in-depth writing project. I didn’t know it then, but my life would get steadily worse for several years, starting with the day I took my extended leave from the Tribune.
My editor at the Tribune, though not happy to lose a good reporter, was nevertheless supportive of the bigger writing project I was undertaking. He told me that if I wanted my old job back when l finished my book to hit him up.
When I called him up 18 months later and inquired about getting my old job back, he told me there was no old job to come back to. This was 1999, the age when Internet news was rapidly expanding and print media was rapidly shrinking. During my absence, the Tribune had undergone its first big round of layoffs. My editor informed me that he was no longer the southern Utah Editor but had moved to Cedar City and now had my old job.
I looked for work at other newspapers and discovered they too were all undergoing severe layoffs and shrinkage.
“Sorry, we’re not hiring at all, and in fact we’re laying off journalists with 20 years’ experience,” I was told over and over again.
I got a job as a waiter and began doing some freelance writing gigs. One of the magazines I freelanced for was an outdoor magazine in Boulder, Colo. called Hooked on the Outdoors and during the summer of 2004 they hired me to be a guest editor. While there, the magazine received an offer from Wilderness River Adventures to take a Grand Canyon rafting trip with them in exchange for a story in our magazine. My fellow editors let me take the trip. That trip profoundly changed my life.
During my week-long rafting trip, we charged through huge rapids, took hikes to paradisiacal little nooks and slept beneath the stars. It was magical! I remember thinking, if I didn’t already have a great job at a travel magazine, I’d be a Grand Canyon river guide. I returned home from my river trip and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Hooked on the Outdoors printed one more issue and it too went out of business.
And I began pestering Breck Poulson, the river manager for WRA, to hire me. It took a few months but eventually he did. I started work on April 4, 2005, and from that day on my life started getting incrementally better until it was a lot better.
My plan, when I was hired at Wildnerness, was to work one year as a guide then try and find another job in journalism, but I changed my mind about that on my fourth river trip. Breck was the trip leader and on the afternoon of the fifth day, after we pulled away from an excursion up Havasu Creek, he let me pilot the raft for the rest of the day. By then, most of the big rapids were behind us. He let me pilot the raft again most of the next day too and sometime during the day I found that l was getting the hang of it. And it was fun! One of the funnest things I’d ever done. By the end of my second day piloting the raft, I had decided that I’d come back and guide one more year. By the end of that second year, I was hooked. I loved the river and the rapids. I loved hiking all those hidden side canyons. I loved sleeping on my raft under the stars. And, most importantly, I had found my tribe. My fellow guides were my best friends and still are today.
Many great things have happened in my life that are easily traced back directly to the day Breck hired me to be one of his river guides. Later in my river career, I met my wife, Dana Crane, on a Grand Canyon river trip. A year later, I proposed to her on a river trip, during a hike up Havasu Creek. A few months later we were married. A year after that, I found my way back to journalism, when I was hired at this newspaper. A year after that we bought our first house and a month later our daughter was born. All of those wonderful blessings trace straight back to the day I started working at Wilderness.
Breck Poulson retired a couple months ago and last Saturday night he celebrated his retirement with family, his blood family and his river family. So here on the pages of the Lake Powell Chronicle, let me add my voice to the many toasts that were given in your honor Saturday night.
You’re one of my best friends, Brecky Boy. Thank you, for hiring me and for those two days when you let me pilot your raft. It has truly changed my life for the better.