This issue we catch up with second-generation ARTA guide (and first-rate human being) Jordan Freer
ARTA: Hi Jordan. Hot enough for you?
JF: Yeah it’s hot, it’s supposed to be 108 all weekend.
ARTA: How do you stay cool when it gets that hot?
JF: I jump in the river every chance I get.
ARTA: And as I recall, you’ve been jumping in the river for a long time. Legend has it that your first rafting trip was in utero and that your dad [ARTA’s American River Manager Tom] was guiding a moonlight run and that he flipped and dumped your mom [ARTA guide Heather] (and you) into the river. That’s quite a beginning. Any truth to it?
JF: Totally true. Lower Haystack Canyon rapid, in the hole we call ‘Cornholio,’ which is an instant flip between 2000 and 5000 cfs. If you just look at that hole wrong it will flip you. So yes, it was a moonlight run, but not only a moonlight run but a highwater moonlight run. And my mom went in and that is how I got my taste for river water. Obviously, I don’t have any memories of it, but my mom likes to bring it up every so often.
ARTA: Understandably. And then you were born at Camp Lotus with the South Fork to welcome you into the world. What was that like?
JF: I don’t have a whole lot of recollection but it’s a nice thing to be able to say. My mom gets most of the credit for that one.
ARTA: You’ve lived your whole life within a few yards of the South Fork. Ever have any river dreams?
JF: Less about the river and more about meeting times for trips. I wake up at 3 am and I think I’m late. But no real “river dreams”; not usually. I get to go rafting every day, so I’m already living the dream.
ARTA: Yeah, living the dream. But what are some of your first river memories?
JF: They are mostly shuttle memories. Me, my mom, and the twenty-one passenger van. But I would say my first river memories would probably be going down to Barking Dog eddy with my dad. I would take a book and an apple, hang on to the back of my dad’s kayak, and then just swim, eat, and read as much as I could while my dad surfed.
ARTA: Speaking of your dad, he’s semi-famous for his clever midwestern “Freer-isms”. (I heard a story that he once humbled another guide in a water fight and then followed up with “Don’t bring a pea-shooter to a gun fight.”) Got any particular favorites? Got any good comebacks? (Asking for a friend.)
JF: The one line my dad always says is: “Head on a swivel, baby. Head on a swivel!” (and I mean ALWAYS!) And if he’s ready to go before you and waiting on you, he will say: “If you’re waiting on me you’re backing up.”
And I don’t recommend you try any comebacks. (Telling you as a friend.)
ARTA: Noted. Thank you. Your mom guided for us, too. What have you learned about guiding from her?
JF: Everything. Pretty much everything I know. So much of guiding is interacting with people – and she’s the nicest, kindest person I know. I learned how to be nice and kind from my mom. [Laughs] [Pauses] And another thing: My mom also taught me how to see rocks in the river. I guess I can’t see them by myself. [Rolls eyes] She must think I am ‘rock-blind’ because she is always pointing out rocks for me (and I mean ALWAYS!) But I love you, mom! (Maybe I should say that I’m still learning how to be nice and kind.)
ARTA: What’s your favorite thing about the South Fork that no one expects?
JF: There are so many…. ummm…. probably that little rapid above Camp Lotus. It has a few different names but we always called it Chocolate Island because we would stop there as kids and eat chocolate. It is one of those secret memories I have of the river; something I really enjoy.
ARTA: What do you want people to gain out of spending a day or two on the river?
JF: I want people to love it, to have the best day ever. Every day I’m on the river is 100% the best day of my life. And that’s what I want everyone to have, just to have the best day ever.
ARTA: What do you think you have gained out of spending so much of your life on the river?
JF: Well I’m a lot tanner than I would have been otherwise. The South Fork has given me everything – from that first moment in Cornholio to now. I have a lot more respect for nature, the power of water, and the beauty of it all.
ARTA: You’re off to UC Santa Barbara (and the ocean) in the fall. Anything from the river that you’ll be sure to take with you?
JF: Hopefully water. Time spent surfing in Barking Dog will hopefully translate into ocean surfing. You know, watching how the water moves, how to swim. [Pauses] But seriously, [pauses again], building community.
Building community and working hard.
I hope those come with me as well.
ARTA: We have no doubt they will, Jordan.
Well, it’s probably time for you to go jump in the river. Thanks for spending some time with us. Stay cool!
JF: Head on a swivel, baby. Head on a swivel!