Talk about pressure. Every year, REI Adventures honors its Top Guides (the top 7 out of more than 200 guides) with a trip to Seattle, and I was designated as their tour guide. Me?!? How can my guiding skills possibly measure up to the glowing five-star reviews these amazing folks routinely receive?
We started the week off with a little introduction to Seattle and then spent time at REI’s headquarters in Kent. Though not a native of Seattle, I’ve lived here for 15 years now and I feel rather confident pointing out iconic landmarks such as the Space Needle, the first Starbucks store, Pike Place Market and, of course, the REI flagship store—just like any decent tour guide.
However, within a few short days, my confidence waivered as I watched this natural progression of our international guides go from jet-lagged and weary to taking me by the hand and leading me through my own city. As the week progressed, I began thinking how does one guide a Top Guide?
This select group of people began their professional guiding careers because of their love for the wilderness, passion for their countries and being with people. Our group included:
• Francoise from Chamonix who is a part of an elite group of guides who trek the Alps and the Mont Blanc circuit.
• Shawn from Australia who rafts Class IV and V rivers like the North Johnstone.
• Pavel from the Czech Republic who cycles throughout Austria and Hungary.
• Anderson from Tanzania who chose guiding over being a park ranger in the wildlife-rich Serengeti because of his love of the animals and people.
• Both Maryanne and Tom from the United States guide REI members on backpacking and hiking trips throughout the Southwest and Death Valley.
• Finally, there’s Haris from Greece who traipses all over Greece, Egypt, Israel, Turkey and Italy and still has time to pursue a second degree in Greek history.
These guides were selected in part because they regularly earn reviews such as “Francoise made the trip! It was awesome! I could not have ever dreamed of a better guide.“ Or, “Tom was a phenomenal guide and definitely great at his job. I have used a lot of guides before and Tom ranks among the best.“ Or, “Pavel is a great asset to REI. He did an excellent job as the trip leader, taking into account everyone’s needs while creating an everlasting experience. My trip was truly memorable and Pavel was an integral part of that experience.“
These are truly big shoes to fill.
In the end, I realized that it wasn’t about trying to lead the guides but enjoying their company and stories. Although they were strangers to our city and country, I probably learned more from them than they did from me.
I’ve been fortunate to have traveled with some of our past Top Guides and hope to travel soon with this year’s bunch. I know that it will be a memorable experience.
What about you? Any favorite guides out there that you’ve traveled with?
Below: Cycling in the Czech Republic (Pavel guides some of these departures).
Below: Backpacking in the Superstition Mountains (Maryanne guides some of these departures).
Below: One of our Top Guides, Anderson, is from the Maasai tribe.
Below: Rafting in Australia (Shawn guides some of these departures).
Below: Our 2010 Top Guides gather at REI headquarters in Kent, Wash. From left: Tom, Francoise, Anderson, Haris, Pavel, Maryanne and Shawn.