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Interview with Auri East

Offbeat Interview Series with Auri

Auri ‘Pistle Wig’ or ‘Odd Job’ East


I remember the first day I felt free. My mom, brother, and I were moving away from Lenexa, Kansas, and we were headed to Chicago where my step-dad lived. But, first! We were going on a three-month vacation around North America. I remember that I stepped off the school bus from my last day of 3rd grade and into our station wagon. The adventure had begun. My badass mom took us from Kansas up Appalachia and into Maine. From there we hopped the border for Nova Scotia, went west across all the southern provinces of Canada and into Alaska. Our trip home took us east across the northern US.

My family hiked. Even when we visited cities, we hiked. Always with boots on and always with awful, yellow, plastic raincoats at the ready. There are many things I can think of that just stunk about hiking; I mean, for one, I hated Triscuits. But, those yearly summer trips broke up my childhood into chunks of academics and outdoor adventure. And I loved both of those things.

My mom taught English as a Second Language at Community Colleges when I was growing up. She did this in Illinois and again in Florida, where we moved when I was in 5th grade. We had foreign exchange students living in our home, and it made me wonder what it could be like if I were living abroad. So, I applied to a program in Spain, and I lived there for my Junior year of high school. Living in a foreign language and foreign culture is indescribably hard. Or, at least it was for me. But, after nearly failing out of the program for a lack of understanding and effort, I put in a lot of it. And I returned home fluent with a passion for languages that I thought only my mom could possess. It came from a desire to connect and a fascination with the way different peoples have managed to do it. I just love thinking about that.

I then attended a semester school in Colorado that took me on multi-day backpacking expeditions for a total of a month. I had never been so far out in the woods that it made more sense to bring your sleep kit with you than leave it at the car. That was a novel experience for me.

During my college years, I studied Spanish literature and Arabic language. I did a lot of canoeing and just as much rock climbing. My friends and I planned overnight boating trips out into the Gulf of Mexico and down as many spring-fed rivers as we could get our pruney hands on. It’s during these college years that a belief I’d been formulating my whole life became a promise to myself: we are animals, and I will live a life that ensures that I always feel like one.

So, I became a wilderness instructor, a climbing guide, a honey harvester, and a boater. I moved to the places that felt more wild than tame, and I found my people among them. Don’t get me wrong! I love movie theater popcorn, backyard potlucks, bike rides on paved streets, and really good coffee-shop espresso; but you’ll find me happiest when I get to mingle with the other animals along the river. <3

The Interview

If you could be a river superhero, what would you be?  I’d be Whizzy.

What is your favorite dress up themeI mean… forever and always sequins. BUT, if sequins are off the table, I love dressing up as a caricature of an old woman. An unapologetic, wine-drinking, track-suit wearing, lip-stick-on-teeth smudging, loving-and-owning-it old woman.  

What is your ‘go to’ crazy hat night creation?  I’m such a Canyons baby… I haven’t gotten the chance yet. I would really love to put a muck boot on my head and wrap the gay flag around it as a turban. I am well aware the hats get far sillier and more creative, but a rainbow of color and pride around my head just sounds heavenly.

What brought you to Canyons?  Laura Bechdel, aka Lala, was my boss at the Alzar School. We boated rivers together in the States and Chile. She taught me a lot about teaching, itself. And by the end of our time together, for one reason or another, she thought I’d be a good fit for Canyons. It may be the biggest compliment any employer has ever given me, and I spend all my summer days attempting to live up to her praise.

How many years have you worked here?  I said it already! I’m a Canyons baby. I’ve only had one season with this dream of a company. Looking forward to MANY more. (her first season was 2018)

What is your favorite thing about Canyons?  Just one thing?! The culture of total and absolute gender equality that allows us to be our complete and beautiful selves. I see that not only the guides but the guests are freer because of it.

If you could describe Canyons in 3 words?  Coffee Talk Mornings

When you hear the word Idaho, what comes to mind?  Gratitude and fortune for the places still wild and free.

What are your top three favorite camps?  Shipwreck (MF), Cliffside (MF), Bruin (MN)

Your favorite hike?  Little Soldier to Sunflower Hot Springs

Top three favorite rapids?  Rubber at HIGH water (MF), Tappan III (MF), Black Canyon (MN)    

Currently, what is your nemesis rapid?  Black Canyon (at low water)

What river do you want to run that you haven’t yet?  The Owyhee!

What do you consider a ‘real’ job?  Oh… anything you want to keep doing.

If you could only have one kayak in your quiver, what would it be and why?  Liquid Logic Braaap 69 – It’s a dreamboat for a kayaking guide. It’s SUPER fun at every water level, and it is incredibly reliable when you need to rescue somebody.

What is your favorite thing to cook on the river?  I love everything about lasagna night.

If you could take a musician or band down the river today, who would it be?  Todd Snider 

What is your most memorable swim in a river?  My first day of guide training on the Animas River… I volunteered to be the first to row our training boat through the class III rapid, and as we were dropping into the biggest wave, the oar handle got caught under my PFD and catapulted me from the boat. It was a humbling moment.

What is one of your river rituals or superstitions?  I believe that the act of thinking about a headwind or its absence brings its might.

What is the most valued non-river-related item that you bring with you on every trip?  My crossword book. Hands down.

What is your favorite groover spot?  Big Mallard’s groover spot is pretty sweet… if you time it right, you can wink at the folks floating by right before they drop into the rapid.

About Greg McFadden

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