By Molly Barber
Photos Courtesy of Tributary Whitewater Tours
There’s a part of your soul that’s made to run wild. A part that craves freedom and adventure. For some, just being out in nature will fulfill this need. For others, we crave something a little more adventurous. Either way, Northern California seems to be a birthplace for wild souls. Whether you’re a transplant to the area or born and bred here, this environment is unparalleled soul food.
The rivers, lakes, mountains, and valleys that encompass this region allow for as many adventures as the mind can conceive. Hiking trails run like veins through the mountains and valleys. Rivers and lakes are host to boundless types of recreation. There is literally no limit to things you can do here and that freedom, that dose of adventure and the beauty within nature, isn’t just something the soul craves, it’s something it needs.
And there’s no one who understands this better than Margaret Diehl. For the past 8 years Margaret’s been living the dream as a commercial river guide. “My office is the outdoors. I’ve always been so intuitive with nature and the wilderness and I’m happy, you know? I’m happy being outside. I’ve always been an outdoors kid, well you too, we grew up in a town where that’s what we did. That was our pastime- running around in the woods. So what better way than to run around in the wilderness? Or float down the river? Why settle for some job that blocks me inside? I personally think the best way to experience this world is by floating down a river canyon. You get to see places that people only dream of seeing- And I get paid to do it! It’s phenomenal.”
Although this wasn’t always the plan, when Margaret graduated high school she went to Feather River College. Unsure whether she wanted to go into teaching or the medical field, Margaret was jumping through the hoops of general ed. One weekend she was invited by some friends to tag along on a river trip. She’d never kayaked before but ran a class 3 section in a kayak. This caught the attention of the director of the Outdoor Recreational Leadership Program at FRC.
“He asked me what I was doing with my life and when I told him I didn’t know, he said, ‘You come by my office Monday and I’ll tell you what you should be doing.’ So I did and he pretty much recruited me into the program.” Margaret laughs.
The program taught her about all different types of outdoor recreation and about how to be a leader. She went through a guide school and got all her certifications. She now works for Tributary Whitewater Tours. “I’m really honored to be a part of this family. I’ve boated with some world class boaters and I’ve learned so much from all of them.” Margaret said. Tributary Whitewater Tours is a family owned company that has over 22 river permits between Northern California and Southern Oregon.
When the season is over up here for Margaret she’s been known to pack up and find guiding gigs in other countries. “I worked two seasons down in Costa Rica. One season I worked on the Pacuare River, which is a drainage that flows towards the Caribbean. And then I’ve also worked on the Pacific side where I’ve worked on the Coto Brus and the Sevegre River” Margaret said. “I’ve also worked as an outdoor educator for like 3 or 4 years too, which has been a good pastime. Teaching kids about the outdoors is obviously a lot of fun and getting to share my outdoor passion with them is just really amazing. And then if I can survive on a very small amount of money, I travel.”
Margaret is truly doing what she loves but nothing comes without consequence. Trying to schedule a time to meet up and interview was hectic and when one was on the books it got postponed because while on the river she got an injury- 12 stitches and two days later, we finally got to do the interview. She’s seen her share of injuries and has had lots of opportunities to utilize her certifications as a wilderness first responder and a rescue technician. “Sometimes, you know, maybe we get consumed by ego or that go-big mentality and all it takes is one experience for the river to kind of put you right back where you belong and it humbles you,” she said before going into a personal experience of such.
Margaret and some friends went on a private trip to the Mokelumne River, a section known as Devil’s Nose. It’s supposed to be a class IV-V depending on the flows. “We went in there with the flows already kinda high, so we were prepared for class 5 but what we weren’t prepared for, was when we were in the canyon, PG&E opened up another dam- they were just testing a side tributary and so they opened up a dam and released like an extra 650 PFF (cubic feet per second) and so the river rose a lot.” What started out as a fun river run for Margaret and friends quickly turned into survival boating. “I tore part of my LCL on that trip. I got injured halfway through and we had to make an executive decision and ended up leaving a boat in the canyon, then all hopped into one boat because I was injured and wasn’t able to raft. It was probably one of my scariest river experiences. We didn’t take off the water until 9:30 at night. So it was definitely one of those times where I thought, if something could go wrong, it might go wrong- I was terrified.”
Both good experiences on the water and bad, Margaret doesn’t regret a thing. She lives the life she loves. “I do run wild. I work as a commercial river guide and I travel the world. I’m literally flying by the seat of my pants everyday and I LOVE IT. I have seen places in this world that people can only dream of and that’s because I don’t do what the social norm is. I run wild in the great outdoors and I feel like there’s no better way to live life.”