It’s early Saturday morning, you’re a little bit hungover (or maybe just tired from an epic work week), and you’re expecting company the following morning. Not just any random acquaintances though—these are people who you’ve never met before and who you really really want to impress. They don’t know each other and they don’t know you except for one big thing: they’ve all heard that when it comes to your shindigs, they can expect the best of the best… of the best. All-out incredible. They are very different people with different ideas of what “the best” means, but they are all anticipating that their visit with you is going to be unforgettable. And there’s 20 of them. And, oh, they’re staying for a week.
This is basically every Saturday in the life of a Trek Travel guide.
So on Saturdays we get shit done. There are copies to be made, routes to be edited, groceries to be bought, vans to be washed, bikes to be prepped, bikes to pick up from the shop, a week of hotel reservations to confirm, a week of dinner reservations to amend, social hours to organize, picnic preparation and cooking to be done, welcome packs to be made, logistics to be discussed, dishes to wash, laundry to get done, suitcases to pack… and you should probably remember to eat (but sleep is for the weak, so don’t worry about that).
With a mountain of work like that in front of you, who would you want beside you?
For us often times, it’s somebody that we might’ve met three hours earlier at the airport. Perhaps prior to that moment we may have had no idea who this person really was or what they’re like under pressure; we might not yet know their strengths and weaknesses in the field; we might not know whether they need four cups of coffee or eight before it’s okay to talk to them in the morning. But we do know one thing: it’s always going to be the best person possible for the job, because that’s what it means to be a TT guide. Amid the incredibly wide range of to-dos, competencies, and standards that are part of a TT guide’s daily life, there is a consistent factor within each of us that boils down to a few basic personality traits and human qualities that make up a guide, so that no matter where in the globe you may roam or what kind of trip you may be assigned, you know that the person working next to you is going to share certain intrinsic characteristics with you. They’re your colleague, your adventure buddy, your biggest critic, your confidant, your asshole big brother, your partner in crime, your roommate, your friend, your enemy, your greatest resource. They’re your coguide. And there will never be any relationship like the one you have.
I am fresh off of 2016 Return Guide Training in California and I am overflowing with admiration for the human beings that I get to share my job with. We don’t have an office, we have a van; we don’t clock in at nine and clock out at five, we are ON as long as our eyes are open; and we don’t get to go home to our families at night, we go back to the guide house and crack a beer if we’re lucky. It is incredibly difficult to describe our job to people, and it is even more difficult to explain the coguide relationship. Over the last year I have grown more as a human being just by sidling myself with these incredible people than any other experience to date in my adult life. And if I can even hope to give a glimpse into that world, I want to try. I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned in 365 days of guiding and building relationships and gleaning life advice from some of the best in the biz. Being a TT guide has made me not only a better partner, but honest to goodness a better human being. Because becoming a better human being means learning to be a better partner. And though it would be impossible to outline everything I’ve learned this year, since listicles are so hot right now here’s…
Ten Things I Learned from My Coguides That Have Made Me a Better Person
Being a TT guide is like doing a giant trust fall. You are thrown into a situation where your livelihood depends on your ability to cohesively work with another person who you may have never met before. You have to learn to trust that your coguide is there with the same intentions and the same end game as you, and that they’re doing their part to get the job done. You have to trust their judgment, trust their decision-making process, and trust their assertion that they didn’t slip drugs into your coffee that morning. You learn quickly that there’s a hundred ways to skin a cat, and you learn to trust that your coguide knows what they’re doing too.
This is a big one. My first year, I felt a lot like I had to prove myself in the field. Sometimes I got a little cocky and turned off to coaching. Criticisms hit hard. But I was constantly learning. Constantly realizing that everyone around me has so much to offer and so many lessons to teach. At some point I learned to put my ego aside and ask that stupid question or take a suggestion on a better way to get something done. Being a guide is a constantly humbling experience, and humility itself is a great teacher.
3– Be honest, own up.
Your coguide is gonna know who didn’t pump that tire up to pressure. They’re gonna know who messed up the lunch order. They’re gonna know who left skid marks in the toilet at the guide house. You can’t scapegoat your way out of things in this line of work. If you fucked up, the best way to fix it is to admit you fucked up. Now you’ve got two brains figuring out how to make it right.
4– In the same vein, give credit.
One of the best guiding tips I learned this year was in Mallorca with Kyle. Kyle taught me that there’s no room for “I” in guiding. If you do something awesome for a guest, you never say “look what I did here,” you say “look what WE did here.” You say “WE prepped your bike. WE made that bomb-ass chicken salad. WE forgot your luggage at the last hotel.” Not only does this present a unified front as a team of two guides, but it means sharing in the responsibility when things go wrong and sharing the credit when things go right.
5— Work it out, NOW.
Another bit of Kyle wisdom was in coguide communication. When you spend 13 hours a day working with someone and then go home to also live with that person (for weeks a time), you don’t want to have unresolved issues between the two of you. From the get-go, Kyle told me “if I’m doing something you don’t agree with, tell me immediately. I am going to do the same.” There would literally be times in the middle of a hectic day where there was no room for mistakes and tensions were high where Kyle and I would have little agitations or annoyances with each other, and Kyle would take me aside and say “Listen, when you did that, it didn’t make any sense and it bugged me,” and I would reply with, “well I thought you could’ve done that differently back there.” And immediately we were over it. Boom. Best buddies again. So flipping important to learn. Don’t let things fester—just talk about it now.
6— Quick Forgiveness.
Something I learned in Vermont from my coguide Laura Lee really stuck with me. One day I messed something up and I was really kicking myself for it and I felt horrible. Laura Lee said to me, “remember we are all just doing our best out here.” LL could have really been pissed at me, but instead she was compassionate and forgiving. When coguides mess up, you gotta just let it go and forgive. Same with anybody else in life. Because we never mean to mess up. We are all just doing our best.
Another big one. As a guide you learn very quickly that everybody’s different: guests are all different people, subcontractors are all different people, and coguides are all different people. With that comes differences in opinions, differences in expectations, and differences in ways of thinking in general. Learning to be patient with your fellow humans goes a hell of a long way out here.
In the past four days I have experienced more spontaneous dance parties, more bear hugs, and more belly laughs than I can remember in such a short time. During trips, there are times when you want to reach out and choke your coguide. But a year later at Guide Training, you’re sprinting to hug them and snorting beer out of your nose laughing. These people are family; you fight like family sometimes, but you also learn to love them like family. You share life and you share joy and it is invaluable.
The fact is heavy on my heart that I may not see these guys for another year. Once we’re out in the field being shuffled around, it’s coguide roulette. So while we are all here together, every moment matters. Out on trip, looking across the Pacific Ocean at sunset or riding up Formentor on a Friday afternoon, every moment is beautiful. You learn to be there.
There is no part about this job to not be thankful for. We get to travel to beautiful places, eat great food, ride our bikes every week, and do something we enjoy doing. The work is hard as hell. But when you and Jake are sitting on the hotel balcony in 7,800,000 thread count bath robes holding craft beers and looking out over the Bay of Nicoya, you just have to toss a little “thanks” into the universe. Even when the work is HARD and I am dog tired, just learning to look up around at where I am makes it impossible to ignore how fortunate I am to get to do what I am doing.
I’m sitting here in a rare moment alone and feeling so incredibly grateful that I’m going to keep seeing these faces and hearing these funny laughs along the way. I know that once the season gets rolling and we’re out there living in the thick of it things are gonna get hectic and stressful and I’m gonna forget this feeling. I hope I don’t. I hope I never forget Ioanna introducing herself to me and saying, “you look like a person that dogs would like.” I don’t want to forget Tony’s skinny arms poking out of a white disco suit while he leans on Jake for a ridiculous photo opp. I don’t want to forget listening to Grant school everybody on bike stuff. I don’t want to forget snuggling with Matt or dancing with Wave at the Maverick. I already forgot most of the party at T’s house but I don’t want to forget that I forgot it. And I definitely don’t want to forget how much I’ve grown over the short span of a year.
Can’t wait for round two.