Interview by Tyler Williams // Portraits by Luke Urbine
Most ardent river runners have, at some point, been a guide. Some try it for a season, others make it a career. Perhaps nobody has embraced the profession, however, with such sustained enthusiasm, and in as many places, as Glenn Goodrich. He started in the era of non-self-bailing rafts, spending his first two-and-a-half decades of boating in West Virginia and the Southeast before heading west to the Grand Canyon in 2003, when he was 49 years old. Since then, Goodrich has worked the gamut: Maine’s Kennebec, Alaska’s Nenana, Montana’s Flathead, and California’s Kern, to name a few. He starts his seasons on Arizona’s Salt, and finishes each fall on his beloved Gauley, where he is now known as “The Gauley Lama.” When not guiding, Goodrich often paddles a Shredder. The lightweight paddle-cataraft has traveled with him to three continents. Wherever he goes, Glenn’s goal is to run as many different rivers as possible. And if someone needs a guide along the way, Goodrich is their man.
I was a computer science student at Ohio State when I signed up for a commercial trip on the New River, in 1976. I just loved it, and the next season I trained to be a guide. My first Gauley season was 1978. I thought, ‘This will be fun for a while.’ I haven’t missed a Gauley season since.
A new rafting operation called Carolina Whitewater began running trips on the French Broad and Nolichucky rivers. I became the manager, and then part owner, for the next 17 years. We were the first outfitter to run the Pigeon and the Russell Fork. After a few close calls there, we decided to end that operation. Some others did the same.
In August of 1996 I realized that I’d only been on the water a single day that month, because I was always managing. I sold my share of the company so I could go back to being a guide.
Guiding usually keeps me in decent shape, but one year I noticed that I was getting big, and it just didn’t feel healthy. So, I went on the South Beach Diet and lost 50 pounds. The extra weight never returned.
I’ve worked on 65 different rivers now. I try to go somewhere new every year or two, but I always come back to the Gauley in the fall.
In 2007 I broke my arm while canyoneering in the Dominican Republic, just before leaving for Africa. So I was a passenger on Ethiopia’s Omo, and then found work as a designated high-sider on the Zambezi.
Traveling is so enriched when you seek out rivers. I have a Shredder that I put on a roller bag, and a big duffel that I carry on my back. This way, I toured South America and ran 46 rivers there, at least one in every country, except Suriname and French Guiana.
At home in the States, I drive economy cars. They get better gas mileage than trucks, and you can always manage to fit your rafting gear inside. This spring I towed a camper to the Arkansas River with my Honda Fit. I had a Ford Focus for a long time, and before that, a Kia Rondo.
When I can rally a big enough group to travel I rent a bus for everyone. My email list of friends from all these years of guiding is pretty long, so I can send a message saying, ‘I’m going to Panama, who wants to come?’ and pretty soon a trip is happening. I take care of transportation and accommodation planning, and we split the cost. This year, I’m taking my Shredder to the Alps with 20 others.
Many guides love the rivers. I love showing people the experience of rivers. I suppose that’s what has allowed me stay in the business all these years. If some other guide doesn’t want to work a trip, I’ll take it. I’ve never had any issues with my employers.
Over 40 years, I have been very fortunate to not have any major injuries, either to me or my guests. A lot of that is luck. Some of it is guiding efficiency. I am a finesse paddler, and I try to use my crews that way too.
I’ve always been a numbers person. I want to run a river in every state in the United States. Right now I am at 46, only four more to go! My river total stands at 427. I’m shooting for 500.