Announcing Whitewater: A Thriller l by William McGinnis
A Book Review/Interview (the full-length version) with William McGinnis published in the Rossmoor News on 2/13/2013
Readers & Writers Comment
Chapters 1 and 2 of Whitewater: A Thriller !!
Order Whitewater: A Thriller in paperback or Kindle eBook now

Announcing Whitewater: A Thriller by William McGinnis

While searching for his parents’ killers, ex-Navy SEAL captain Adam Weldon encounters a lovely undercover FBI agent, a ruthless drug cartel intent on killing him, a gambling casino for the super-rich run by a radio preacher, a host of motley river-guides, and a succession of hair-raising challenges both in and out of the whitewater rapids of the Kern River.

An action-adventure murder mystery by Whitewater Voyages founder and author William McGinnis, Whitewater is a gripping, can’t-put-it-down page turner sure to enrich your experience of any river and of life itself. Not only is it fun and fast paced, but also, woven into its rich fabric is a celebration of nature and life-enhancing wisdom, including penetrating insights into the deep wellsprings of human kindness and high-level wellness—the very philosophy that infuses the river trips of Whitewater Voyages.

Whitewater Voyages founder and rafting pioneer William McGinnis wrote Whitewater Rafting, considered the bible of the sport, and his definitive, encyclopedic The Guide’s Guide Augmented is used by boaters, river guides and and outfitters all over the world.

—To order Whitewater: A Thriller now, please select either paperback or Kindle eBook.

Also by William McGinnis:

  1. The Guide’s Guide Augmented
  2. Whitewater Rafting
  3. Class V Briefing
  4. River Signals
  5. Sailing the Greek Islands: Dancing with Cyclops

For more on these books, click here.

A Book Review/Interview (the full-length version) with William McGinnis published in the Rossmoor News on 2/13/2013

A Book Review/Interview with William McGinnis

by Douglas Hergert

The setting for William McGinnis’s breathtaking new mystery novel, “Whitewater, a Thriller,” is California’s Kern River Valley, where we meet two remarkable young characters: Adam is just home from three tours of duty as a Navy SEAL captain in Iran and Afghanistan, and is intent on learning the reason for his parents’ violent death when he was a boy of five. Tripnee is a beautiful FBI agent who is in the Valley conducting a dangerous, and probably ill-advised, solo investigation.

From the very first chapter, Adam and Tripnee are both in deep trouble: Their adventures include surviving the violence of an aggressive forest-based drug cartel; facing the unexpected contingencies of class-5 whitewater rafting; and barely managing to descend a cliff together with improvised emergency climbing materials.

Author William McGinnis is the founder of Whitewater Voyages, which conducts whitewater rafting trips in rivers up and down California. Whitewater: A Thriller is his first novel.

His writing is powerfully descriptive and action-packed, you might even say cinematic. His fast-paced story will keep you reading into the small hours of the morning. Wear a lifejacket.

McGinnis agreed to an interview, which we conducted by e-mail. The e-book version of Whitewater: A Thriller is available for the Kindle on Amazon. Printed volumes can be ordered online at or by calling 800 400 7238.

DH: A sense of fear pervades your story. In some sense, your characters seem to rely on fear to hone their performance in dangerous situations. Tell us about this theme.

WM: Fearless cavemen died young. But overly fearful cavemen did not do well either. To survive and evolve, humans have continuously struggled—and struggle even now in modern life—pretty much daily—to find the right balance of risk taking and caution.

It seems to me that being alive—especially living in a way that explores one’s full potential—means being afraid much of the time. Our goal is not so much to avoid fear, but to carve out a healthy relationship with it. The ideal, in fact, is to make friends with it. Doing and reading about outdoor adventure activities like rafting and rock climbing can, I think, help build this inner relationship.

A key aspect of river guiding – which has been a big part of my life for over 40 years—is helping people build this inner relationship within themselves, enabling them to move from fear to confidence to joy. In some of my books on rafting I call this “making friends with pandemonium.” The goal is not to be fearless, but to attend to fear. To notice and work with it, to use it to motivate you to greater focus, higher awareness, and peak performance.

I made fear a big part of Whitewater: A Thriller first of all to fill the story with energy and grab the reader’s attention, but also to explore the positive dimensions of this inescapable emotion.

DH: Your story is a compulsive page-turner. But it also examines several unexpected themes, including: the potential of group dynamic; the edges of human strength; the power of nature; and even the delight of new love. How did you weave all these narratives into an adventure thriller?

WM: My goal was to write the type of book I myself like to read: a tale at once gripping and irresistible, but also somehow inspiring and educational. A novel with riches woven right into the action.

For example, by vividly evoking its setting, the Kern River and Sequoia National Forest, Whitewater: A Thriller vibrates with the beauty and magic of nature. My hope is that this implicitly heightens appreciation for the natural world and wins friends for the planet. By portraying the river and river running with freshness and accuracy, I strove to provide not only the novice but also the veteran river runner new insights, deeper understanding, and renewed excitement for the sport.

The novel also explores themes of kindness, peak performance and holistic health achieved through listening, processing and self awareness. In doing this I strove not be preachy—and judging from positive feedback I’m getting I gather I maintained the appropriate light touch.

I wanted to send my reader away not only thrilled with a fun read, but also a touch wiser, and maybe even a notch more evolved, alive and aware!

DH: A hidden drug cartel resides in your whitewater river valley. What’s the real-life background?

WM: Cartel pot farms are a grim reality on public lands throughout California and beyond. Sequoia National Forest, in fact, is ranked by some law enforcement people as one of the top cartel pot growing areas in the US. The cartels do indeed pollute the environment, set booby traps, and sometimes murder their own campesino growers rather than pay them.

Perhaps because killing river runners would likely spur a law enforcement crackdown and serve no useful purpose, the cartels pretty much leave the river runners alone and vice versa. So, yes, the cartels and the river folk actually do coexist with very little friction or notice taken of the other.

One of the few exceptions to this that I am aware of was some warning shots fired over the heads of some rafters who hiked up a favorite side canyon which that summer had been turned into a pot plantation. Naturally, news of those warning shots spread throughout the boating community and for years the place was avoided like the plague.

DH:To a large extent, you seem to have followed the basic rule of writing: Write about what you know. But there are maybe some exceptions: The backgrounds of your two main characters—Navy Seals, Iraq and Afghanistan; FBI—do not seem to be part of your own personal résumé. How did you research these backgrounds in order to make them seem authentic in your story?

WM: To research Navy SEALS, I read and watched Navy SEAL training videos on YouTube—and it also helped that a friend of mine is a psychotherapist who has worked for the Veterans Administration treating military vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. To learn about my FBI character’s background I consulted with friends in law enforcement and studied how the FBI is portrayed in popular culture. Of course, to enhance the story I created a somewhat larger-than-life rogue agent.

DH: Tell us about the experience of creating this novel.

WM: In the beginning, when I first set out to write the book, ideas galore circled about me, but I knew just one thing for sure: my setting was the Kern River.

Next an opening scene came to me—my main character was driving east on 178 away from Bakersfield toward the deep-V mouth of Kern Canyon.

Beyond this, at that moment, I knew next to nothing. I didn't know who this person was, why they were entering the canyon or anything about what would happen.

Little by little, bit by bit, however, the story came to me. My two main characters just sort of dawned on me like a slowly rising sun: First, there was Adam Weldon, an ex-Navy SEAL captain whose parents had been murdered in the Kern Valley 28 years earlier. Next, Tripnee came into view: She's a force of nature—and I’ll let your readers discover her for themselves.

Slowly, over two years the entire novel unfolded. I can describe the process in two seemingly contradictory ways: On the one hand, I wrote one word, one sentence at a time—selecting each from an infinite sea of possibilities. Yet, at the same time, the overall story seemed to emerge like a pre-existing shape. It was almost as though I was uncovering something that already existed, like unearthing an archetypal artifact.

One interesting aspect of the process was that, the deeper into the writing I got, the easier it was for me to turn away from distractions and focus upon it. When I wasn't spending an occasional evening with friends, working out, or performing the few essential responsibilities that I had not delegated to others in my company, all I wanted to do was work on the book. I hardly watched any TV for over a year. In fact, I actually forgot how to operate the remotes that turn on my complicated TV.

Years ago I published my first book—a non-fiction guide to whitewater rafting which became a sort of bible of the sport—with New York Times Books and received a 10% royalty. Since then I’ve self-published all of my subsequent non-fiction books—which are about rafting and sailing—and received all of the royalties. So, without thinking about it too much I did the same with this my first novel “Whitewater: A Thriller.” I just plunged ahead with my same Hong Kong printer who produces very high quality books on high grade paper for a little over two dollars per copy if you order five thousand or more books at a time.

Next time, however, I plan to go with Amazon’s Create Space which produces books one copy at a time, print-on-demand for around four dollars per copy. Big advantages to that are you don't have to invest in a huge inventory, and, instead, every time someone orders the book, Amazon pushes a button and produces a copy right there.

If I sold my Hong Kong-printed novels through Amazon, I’d have to pay postage to send each individual book to Amazon as each order comes in. Shipping and handling costs about four dollars per book. This plus my printing cost would come to over six dollars per book—and my take from Amazon would be only six fifty per book—this because I originally set the novel’s price at $12.95. I’ve been very absorbed with business matters for the last few months—but as soon as I have time I’m going to put Whitewater: A Thriller on Create Space. At present, the ebook version is available on Amazon and printed volumes can be ordered online at or by calling 800-400-7238.

Readers and Writers Comment on Whitewater: A Thriller by William McGinnis

"A fun, creative...energetic, real-world tale. ...In McGinnis' first foray into fiction, a series of near-fatal attractions conspire to turn one man's quest to gain peace and self-knowledge into a contest for his own survival. ... (McGinnis') prose oscillates between quick-moving action sequences and lyrical descriptions of the mountainous Southern California setting. ... The story incorporates humor, pathos and even geography into its arc, resulting in a fun, creative take on the temperamental, erratic and bloody drug trade that exists in the United States...A novel oriented toward both readers of crime fiction and nature writing."

--Kirkus Review

“What a great read! I loved it!” —Linda Mauer, Co-owner & CFO of Have Gun Will Travel (an airplane painting company)

“WOW!! DOUBLE WOW!!!!! An amazing thriller! I couldn't put it down... This book is exciting and enthralling.” —Bud Robyn, river rafter, mountain climber, sailor, aerobatic pilot, skydiver, kite surfer and international business executive

Whitewater’s nature descriptions are poetry in prose.... the love and oneness with Mother Earth is palpable. I can really feel the river. McGinnis’ expressive, descriptive details and his gift with words directly pull me into the experience without having to get wet!!” —Shelley Mallary, Life coach and spiritual teacher

”Danger! Thrills! Characters to both love and fear. I could almost feel the spray of the whitewater. Whitewater is excitement with a heart.” —Jil Plummer, Author of six novels including “Caravan to Armageddon”

For a publication announcement and some intriguing information about themes touched on in the novel, click here.

Whitewater: A Thriller

by William McGinnis
Chapters One and Two

Copyright 2012 All rights Reserved

Jump to chapter: One | Two

Chapter One: Entering Kern Canyon

“Stay away from the Kern!”

Peace’s voice crescendoed via cell phone over the van’s sound system as I hurtled toward the broad western face of the Southern Sierra.

“I’m going in,” I said. “I need you to tell me what you know.”

“And help you get yourself killed like your mom and dad? No way!”

“I have to do this. I’m doing this. With or without you.”

“We’ve been through this a thousand times. It’s suicide! Adam, you’ve got to let it go. I’m begging you, turn around now and come home.”

“I’m going in.”

I’m no stranger to fear. The dry mouth. The churning gut. The screaming need to empty bowel and bladder. I know them well. But instead of the long expected dread, I felt pure excitement as I, on that hot August morning, after half a lifetime of preparation, drove eastward on Highway 178 toward the deep-V mouth of the Kern River Canyon. Perhaps it was my aroused state, but as I peered out through the bug-splattered windshield of my 4-wheel-drive camper van, the two canyon walls seemed to splay out like the craggy, tawny legs of some ancient earth giantess. Where the legs met, the Kern River beckoned, surging and pulsating in a geologic dance of rock and water—the rock hard and squeezing, the water ever moving and exploding in wild rhythms.

Somewhere in the canyon before me, my mother and father had been brutally murdered twenty eight years earlier when I was a little boy five years old. Now I was back to find the killers.

Blasted out of the nearly vertical southern canyon wall, the road narrowed and snaked along, compressed between a ragged, dynamite-scarred rock face on one side and a sheer drop off with no guard rail on the other. Not far below, the leviathan Kern River surged through an earth-beat tango of smooth sensual glides punctuated by explosive whitewater cataracts.

After what seemed much longer—but was by my odometer only twelve miles—of twisting turns, the canyon opened and the narrow, constricted two-lane tarmac broadened into a full-blown, four-lane expressway. I remembered reading that, in one of the more bizarre anomalies of the US highway system, this major freeway from nowhere to nowhere sits locked away alone, largely cut off, deep inside the body of the Southern Sierra. I noticed with pleasure that the builders had taken care to blend this civil engineering marvel into the natural slope. Except for the road scar itself high up the canyon wall, the original look of the place was intact.

To stretch my legs after my long drive from the San Francisco bay area, and to more fully take in the canyon towering around me, I pulled off the road and eased into a gulch. Prompted by survival instincts that had kept me alive through three tours of duty as a Navy SEAL captain, one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, I hid my Sportsmobile van under a canopy of smooth-barked manzanita. Grabbing my binoculars, I locked the doors and started walking along the edge of the mountain freeway, and then onto a rocky promontory jutting over the river. In the brilliant mountain light, I gazed at the undulating river far below, the tree-dotted, boulder-strewn slopes, the majestic Greenhorn Mountains to the north—technically considered the southern end of the Sierra Nevada—and the Piute Mountains to the South.

The silence was absolute, as, through my binoculars, I studied the cathedral-like canyon. A thousand feet above, a California Condor, with wings spread incredibly wide, effortlessly floated on the thermals rising off the southern-facing rim, eyeing and apparently grooving with this slice of creation that had been carved out over the eons by the Kern River.

Sounds of screeching and crashing ripped me from my reverie. Louder and louder. Splitting the air. Metal resounding on metal mixed with the cacophony of imploding plastic and shattering glass. I spun to see a black humvee repeatedly side swipe and rear end a white Prius, obviously trying to run it off the cliff. The Prius dodged this way and that, but despite the efforts of its driver, it could not outrun or outmaneuver the much bigger, more powerful jeep on steroids.

Frozen, I watched the two warring vehicles as they approached my promontory. Then the humvee exploded forward like a moon shuttle booster rocket, and rear ended the Prius in a homicidal acceleration that sent the small vehicle straight toward—and off—the edge just a few yards from where I hunkered.

As the Prius shot over the brink and out into thin air, the driver and I looked directly into one another’s eyes. She—a raven-haired woman—was there for an instant, then gone.

Riveted, I watched the Prius make a short arc through the air, land right side up, and slew wildly, skidding down the long scree slope. Dense clusters of bushes slowed the little car. Damned if the woman was not only keeping her wheels down, she seemed to be exercising some degree of control. I watched in admiration as she steered into soft bushes, avoiding trees and rocks which certainly would have killed her. Incredibly, she even had the presence of mind to aim for a gap in the dense tangle of trees lining the riverbank at the bottom of the slope. Whipped by bush after bush in its path, the hybrid slowed, then slowed some more. Still going way too fast, it swept through the gap in the riparian vegetation and slid into the water, disappearing below the surface.

The black humvee had skidded to a stop just before the cliff edge. Two muscular men climbed out, one tall, the other short, both sporting square-edged, flat-topped haircuts and thick black shoes. Both gripped rifles with large scopes which they aimed at me, and I knew that, as their only witness, they intended to shoot me dead. I dropped my binoculars and flung myself down the steep incline. Shots exploded around me, two within inches of my right ear, sending concussive shivers down my spine.

Dodging this way and that, I ran wildly, skidding, scrambling and sliding down the inclined plane of the canyon wall, avoiding the bushes, trying to put trees and rock outcroppings between me and the shooters, all the while praying the girl had managed to escape drowning. I slid, first on my feet, for a moment on my belly, then on my back. Finally reaching river level, I regained my footing, dodged through the gnarly, twisted trees lining the water’s edge, and, right where the Prius had gone in, jumped feet first into the powerful current.

Submerged, my years not only as a SEAL but also as a kid swimming the lakes of Northern California and San Francisco Bay came rushing back to me. My senses sharpened, I spotted the car below me and dove down. When I looked inside, the woman was not there. Had she been washed away? Knocked out cold, maybe drowned? I surfaced, gasping for air. Swimming at a right angle to the current, I stroked back to the bank and burst up onto a small grassy beach. The dripping-wet body of the woman was lying in the shelter of a huge sycamore trunk.

“Are you all right? Are you hurt?” I rushed to her.

Jump to chapter: One | Two

Chapter Two: The Swim

“One fit babe,” I thought, “but is she alive?”

As I leaned over her, first one blue eye, then another looked up at me. “Are you okay?” I asked.

She gave a small moan, “What a ride. The air bag saved me.”

Bright red blood oozed from her left forearm and from her right leg above the knee. A smart cookie, she had clamped her right hand over the wound in her left arm and with her left hand was staunching the flow from her leg, but the bleeding continued.

“We need to stop that,” I blurted as my military first-aid training kicked in. I pulled off my t-shirt, tearing it into strips. Pressing the patches of cloth over her wounds, I had her hold them in place while I checked for broken bones, concussion, and spine and neck injuries. As I did this, I couldn’t help feeling the woman’s magnetism, and noticed my heartbeat speeding up.

I stammered, “You were amazing! Making it down that slope! And getting your car through that narrow gap in the trees! It’s a miracle you’re alive.”

“Yes, I was lucky,” she gave a shadow of a smile. “Thanks. What about you? How’d you get down here so fast? You okay?”

“It was either stay and get shot, or tumble down the slope and rescue you. I’m good,” I couldn’t help grinning as I finished my examination. “Except for these cuts in your arm and leg, it looks like you came through okay.”

As I tied more strips of cloth to secure her bandages and set her hands free, I said, “We need to clean and redress these wounds. But this’ll have to do for now.”

Gesturing with her thumb toward the highway far above, she said, “They’ve got sniper rifles, telescopic scopes. They’ll stop at nothing, and’ll kill you too. We have to get away”

Being careful to stay hidden, I peered around the massive sycamore trunk up at the two guys who were now out on the promontory scanning the canyon for some sign of us. Seeming to read my mind, she said, “We’ll have to swim the rapids. We’ve got no choice. You okay with that?”

“Definitely, but first I’m calling the cops.” I pulled my waterproof cell phone from my pocket.

“No don’t,” she sat up, looked me squarely in the eyes and gripped my hand holding the phone.

“You’ve got to be kidding. Why the hell not?” I pointed toward the highway with my other hand, “Two pro killers gunning for us in broad daylight. They’ve got the high ground and the guns. It only makes sense to equal the odds a bit by calling in some cavalry.”

“Big mistake,” she said.

Flabbergasted, I was about to object when, taking both of my hands in hers, she gently interlaced her fingers with mine, saying, “I’ll tell you why later. But now we’ve got to go.”

Despite misgivings, my objections melted and I sighed, “Okay, let’s get out of here before we die like sitting ducks.”

I helped her to her feet. With her wet, faded-red t-shirt and shorts clinging to her body, she brushed her hair back and drew a deep breath. “I know this river,” she pointed. “Our best line through this first rapid will be right of center where we should be hidden by the trees.”

Although she limped slightly, she moved toward the water with animal grace. Lightly touching my arm, she ushered me forward, saying quickly and quietly, “Float feet downstream, toes on the surface, using your feet to push off rocks.”

She paused and shook her head as though to fight off a moment of dizziness, then continued, “To miss submerged trees, swim perpendicular to the current. Because we don’t have life jackets, we’ll be mostly underwater in the rapids, so breathe whenever you can. Okay?”

I smiled inwardly, thinking of the embarrassment this gal might feel if she knew that I’d probably swum more kinds of water than she’d ever seen. I was glad to see, though, that she knew her stuff.

As we eased into the strong current, she added, “By the way, my name’s Tripnee. It’s been nice knowing you.”

“I’m Adam. I guess you must be a river guide?”

“Yes, among other things.”

Staying close to the right, where the dense, intertwined willow, alder and sycamore trees lined the bank screening us from the riflemen above, we silently floated downriver.

Back in the water, after years away from it, I experienced an upwelling of my old love of swimming in nature, plus a new sensation. This woman kindled a spark within me. It wasn’t so much how she looked—though her strong form looked just fine—it was the aliveness that flowed through her. “Beware,” something whispered within me.

As the current carried us, I became aware of a dull roar growing louder and louder. Tripnee moved into position directly ahead of me. I was hypnotized by the rhythmic stroking of her lithe, sculpted arms. As the current swept us toward the horizon line just ahead, she assumed a feet-downstream, toes-at-the-surface position, and I followed suit. Moments later Tripnee rose up briefly, lifted by an upwelling in the water’s surface, and then disappeared from view. Picking up speed toward the brink, up to my neck in this surging river, I could see nothing but spray and mist thrown up by the cataract into which I was about to be hurled. With the speed of a projectile launched from a catapult, I shot down into a wild orgy of sucking, squeezing currents, probing fingers of foam, and thrusting tongues of limb-bashing whitewater.

Tumbling along submerged, I thought everything was pretty much fine, except for the no-breathing part, when suddenly my right foot caught in a slot between two big rocks on the river bottom. I hung by my ankle face down, stretched out in the driving current like a Raggedy Ann doll in a hurricane. The harder I struggled, the tighter my ankle wedged into the vice-like grip of the rock crevice. Desperately I tried to move back upriver to free my foot, but the current was utterly relentless and overpowering. With my lungs screaming for oxygen, my strength waning, and my mind starting to black out, it occurred to me that I was going to join my mom and dad very soon.

Suddenly, amazingly, I felt Tripnee pushing me back upstream. While I was immobile underwater, she must have realized I was in trouble, swum for shore, run back up the bank, figured out where I was, and dived down to catch the small underwater eddy created by my entrapped body. Now she was under me, facing me, with her head pointed upstream and her feet somehow braced on the riverbed. She pressed her body against mine, held me tight, and somehow propelled me little by little, inch by inch, back against the current. My ankle loosened. As soon as I was free, Tripnee unbraced her feet and we shot off down through the rapid. Frantically, I stroked for the surface, where I filled my lungs again and again with delicious, life-giving air—each lungful a treasure beyond price.

Soon we were sucked under again—and still again. When at last I surfaced below the rapid, I looked around for Tripnee, but she was nowhere to be seen. House-sized boulders of salt-and-pepper granite glided by on both banks. The Kern rounded a bend. The riflemen now had to be out of visual and rifle range. But no Tripnee.

Then, there she was, rising to the surface at my side. In that same moment my vision shifted and I was struck by the greens of the willows and alders, and the blue of the sky. Tripnee’s brilliant smile, her glistening, tanned skin, the curve of her neck meeting breast bone—all took on a rich vividness. I turned away.

“Are you okay?” she asked. “I want to look at you. Can you swim to the bank?”

As I said, “I’m fine,” I realized my right ankle didn’t feel quite right.

“Humor me. Let’s take a look.”

We were in a long, quiet calm, and stroked for the right bank, the bank nearest the highway, where we would be most hidden. In the shallows, I stood up and winced as a throbbing pain radiated up my leg. My entire ankle was chafed raw and bleeding.

“Now it’s my turn,” Tripnee removed and tore her t-shirt into strips, using it to expertly bandage my wounds and stop the bleeding.

Seeing this woman in her nicely filled out red bikini top and matching shorts further eased my pain. “If this keeps up,” I joked, “At some point we’re going to run out of bandage material.”

Tripnee just smiled and ran her tongue back and forth over her slightly lopsided lips.

Feeling a wave of shyness, we both looked out over the calm. Etching the river’s surface, ever-changing patterns of swirling bubbles formed a series of masterpieces.

We eased back in. Neck deep, slowly treading water with extended leisurely strides similar to the motions of a cross country skier, I ignored the ache of my injury, and inhaled long, slow, full breaths. Taking in my immediate surroundings—Tripnee’s bobbing head, the magnificent canyon towering around me, the growing roar of the oncoming rapid—I filled with an unexpected joy. Despite the fact that we were fleeing from crazed gunmen and our lives were in extreme danger, I experienced something that was rare for me: A sense of rightness, a sense that this was where I wanted to be.

We floated around several more bends and swam more roaring, electrifying, body-blasting rapids. I could tell Tripnee knew the river like the back of her hand. She led and I followed down through rapid after rapid. Some were too dangerous to swim, and needed to be walked around. Unfortunately I inadvertently swam a few of these anyway, because at times we got separated. But somehow we survived and kept going.

Jump to chapter: One | Two

We hope we’ve whetted your appetite for more!

To order your signed copy of Whitewater by William McGinnis now, now, click here.

The Guide’s Guide Augmented:

Reflections on Guiding Professional River Trips

By Whitewater Voyages founder William McGinnis

Whitewater Voyages, 2005, 316 pages

The definitive—and only—how-to-book on professional river guiding, The Guide’s Guide Augmented presents a comprehensive philosophy and wealth of detailed methods for creating “Deep Fun:” Life enhancing river trips which entertain, inspire, educate, thrill, heal & delight. Used by guides, outfitters and trip leaders worldwide, The Guide’s Guide Augmented thoroughly explains the multifaceted art of river guiding: People, leadership and conflict-resolution skills; safety talks; guide training; signals; knots; high-water safety; swiftwater rescue; emergency evacuations & coping with accidents; minimizing liability; expedition food planning; nature interpretation made fascinating; boatloads of hilarious river, land & bus games which really bring people together; and much, much more!

Order Today: The list price for The Guide’s Guide Augmented is $35. For a limited time we have lowered the price to $19.95 plus $1.65 California sales tax and $3.99 shipping.

Orders can be placed by phone, mail, email or through our web site. We will ship the books ASAP.
Phone: 800 400 RAFT/Fax: 510-758-7238
E mail:
5225 San Pablo Dam Road
El Sobrante, CA 94803

A Note from Bill about The Guide’s Guide Augmented:

It is deeply gratifying that today the original 140-page, 1981 edition of The Guide’s Guide is in wider use and greater demand than ever—the last printing of which sold out with lightening speed! The Guide’s Guide Augmented, at 316 pages, includes a completely updated version of the original Guide’s Guide contents, plus a wealth of new material on safety, rescue, evacuation, knots, guide training, interpretation, entertainment and, throughout, a more evolved philosophy for creating fun, nurturing, uplifting trips that keep people returning for more.

Some of my guides think I’m crazy to sell The Guide’s Guide and crazier still to sell The Guide’s Guide Augmented because they feel these books give away our trade secrets, our competitive edge, the philosophy and methods which distinguish the trips of Whitewater Voyages from those of other outfitters.  I really believe, however, that the safer and better all rafting trips and outdoor recreation experiences, the better for all of us.  The more people who return home in one piece, thrilled and delighted with their river trip or outdoor outing, the more river rafting and outdoor recreation in general will be seen as a great thing to do and the more all outfitters, the recreating public and our recreation resources will benefit.

It is my hope that The Guide’s Guide Augmented will be helpful, even inspirational, to guides, trip leaders, outfitters, government agency river and recreation managers, private boaters and adventure travel companies of all sorts. Any individual, company or group which practices the philosophy and methods presented in this book is welcome to consider The Guide’s Guide Augmented their own staff manual. Although the myriad users of this book are independent, far flung adventurers, guides, outfitters, tour operators and recreation resource managers, at the same time, ideally, we are all working together to enhance the quality of life on this planet! The highest purpose of this book is to contribute to this broad, growing effort—which is, after all, an ongoing quest of planet-saving proportions.

—Bill McGinnis

The Guide’s Guide Augmented: Table of Contents


PART 1: The Big Picture
Guiding in General
Guides and Guests
Staff Relations

Part 2: The Trip
The Trip Leader
The Head Chef
Before the Trip
On the Highway and Care Of Vehicles
At the Put-In
On the River
Water Fighting
High Water Safety Guidelines
In Camp
At the Take-Out
End-of-Trip Follow Through

PART 3: Safety Talks
Classic Trip Leader’s Put-In Safety Talk: The Main Points
Classic Trip Leader’s Put-In Safety Talk: The Long Version
Classic Paddle-Boat Talk
Classic Oar-Boat Talk
Trip Leader Checklist for Modular Safety Talk
Witness Statement for Modular Safety Talk
Modular Safety Talk Outline
Full Modular Rafting Safety Talk

PART 4: River Signals
River Signals Introduction
Universal Signals
Group Modes of Operation
Coping with Drops
River Emergencies
Someone Missing
We Need
River Etiquette
Camaraderie & Other Stuff
Whistle Signals to Assist Blind Swimmers
Sign Language Alphabet

PART 5: Rescue
Piggyback Rig
Continuous-Loop Load-Distribution System
Entrapment Rescue:
Overall Summary
Rescue Team Organization
The Carlson Cinch
Line Crossing Options
Strong Swimmer Rescue
Stabilization & Snag-Drag Lines
Telpher Lower
Swiftwater Crossing: The Wedge
Emergency Evacuation Kit
Emergency Evacuation Action Plan
Patient Assessment Form
Sample Emergency Evacuation Information: Tuolumne River
Trip Leader’s Emergency Evacuation Sheet: Big Picture Considerations
Trip Leader’s Emergency Evacuation Journal
Report of Injury to Client or Guest
Report of Injury to an Employee
Witness Statement
When Tragedy Strikes: Dealing with Serious Accidents

PART 6: Specifics
Company Policies
House Code
The Warehouse
A Summary of Rafting Basics: Guide School Exam Questions for Discussion
Temporary Help
Motor Tows
4-Wheel Drive Instructions
Tuolumne Rapids
Briefing: Kern River
Briefing: South Fork American River
Equipment Packing List
First Aid Kit Contents
Repair Kit Contents

PART 7: Expedition Food Planning Guide
General Advice
Shopping Checklist for Short Trips
Menu for 7-Day Expedition
Menu for 18-Day Expedition
Kitchen Box Contents
Lunch Utensil Bag Contents
Other Cooking Gear
Quantity/Yield List
River Recipes
More Recipes

PART 8: Entertainment and Interpretation
Deep Fun: Moving People from Fear to Courage to Joy
River Games: A Touch of the Silly and the Rowdy
Adventure Swims
Chants and Song
Quiet Camaraderie
Bus Games
Land Games
Racoon Circles

PART 9: Knots
A Word about Knots
Coiling a Line
The Quick Coil
Two Half Hitches in a Bight
Water Knot
Tying the Bowline: The Two-Finger Method
Rafter’s Hitch with Quick-Release Half Hitch with Insurance
Clove Hitch
Basic Figure 8
Figure 8 in a Bight
Figure 8 Follow-Through
Figure 8 Bight in a Bight
French Prusik
Double Fisherman’s
Friction Release
Three-Point Hitch for Boat Towing

Glossary with Commentary
Bibliography and Books of Interest
Magazines of Interest
Websites of Interest
Poem: While Driving Home from the Kings River to El Sobrante

A Few Quotes from The Guide’s Guide Augmented:

It is not enough just to get people as safely as possible down the river, it is also paramount for guides to enhance the fun, camaraderie, learning and openness on river trips.


Answer all questions with thoroughness, care and appreciation. Realize that your caring answers can turn any question into a good question and can send the message that here, in this boat, it is okay and safe to know what you know, okay and safe to not know what you do not know, and okay and safe to be open and unguarded.


Earn the group’s trust and support: In the beginning of each trip you are laying a foundation of seriousness that must underlie heartfelt silliness. Give an extra thorough safety talk with humor and supportiveness, and extra thorough in-boat training with a blend of humor, lots of positive strokes, nurturing and firmness. Thoroughly teach your crew everything they need to know to paddle well, stay in the boat, and cope with emergencies. It is only when everyone feels reassured that they are in good hands and know how to play their part that they can completely relax and really be silly—and, in a sense, build an edifice of silliness on this foundation of seriousness.


Celebrate the fact that the river of each human soul tends to be deep and wide and multi-layered and ever flowing. It is normal for us to have multiple and even contradictory feelings about issues, ourselves and one another all at the same time. As guides we can model, and inspire in others, an acceptance and celebration of this ever unfolding, multifaceted, mysterious richness! It is totally OK that at times parts of us don’t like certain things about others. As human souls, even with all of our differences, we have an infinite number of things in common. When you have people on a trip who outwardly are very different from one another, you as the guide can in fact use this to enhance the group’s experience. First, set an example of finding and focusing on things everyone has in common (as humans in any setting but especially when working together to run a river, we have just about everything in common, fundamentally). Later, as the group’s bonds and sense of unity strengthen, appreciate and celebrate the differences—which turn out not to be so different after all. When a group of us humans has a really good time together, our very differences, seen from the perspective of all we have in common, can greatly add to the fun we find in being together!


Be humble, that is, include everyone in your coolness: Perhaps the single most influential thing a guide can do to inspire openness, trust and true camaraderie—and, hence, deep fun—is to simply be humble and appreciate others.


When most people contemplate outdoor adventure activities like whitewater rafting, it is entirely normal to experience fear, consciously or unconsciously, on a number of levels. There is physical fear: Am I going to get hurt? Am I going to die? There is social fear: Am I going to be accepted or rejected by this group? And biggest of all, for most of us, are fears around issues of self esteem: Can I do this? Am I OK? Skilled river guides can implicitly assuage all of these fears in the very way they prepare people and guide them down the river. Every trip begins with a thorough safety talk and in-boat training which teach everything trip members need to know to make it safely down the river—thereby addressing physical fear. And by doing this with warmth, caring, good humor and respect, professional guides create an atmosphere of acceptance and support and good fun in which social fears and fears around issues of self esteem melt away.


Seize the moment: Be present in the moment—don’t wait for take-out, tomorrow, etc. Whenever you notice yourself thinking about or yearning for take-out or anywhere else, ask, “What can I do right now to make this trip, this moment in this boat, in this camp, more fun and supportive for all of us?”


If you can say how you feel to at least one other person, it can free you to feel something new.


The goal is to include, accept and appreciate—and to send the message that everyone is truly OK and wonderful—just as they are right now! This is one of the most healing of all messages—and puts the group on the path to deep fun!


Cultivate an appreciation for the possibilities of human groups: Human groups, such as the circle of human souls in a raft or around a campfire, are capable of amazing quantum-leap magnifications of energy and aliveness. When a charismatic guide receives the energy flowing from the group and channels it back out to everyone present with the implicit message, “Everyone is cool and appreciated,” everyone, including the guide, tends to experience, to put it mildly, an improved sense of well being, a heightened awareness (colors become more vivid, etc.) and a greatly increased flow of energy and aliveness! An amazing aspect of all this is that everyone, including the guide, gets to experience the god-like pleasure of hanging out with cool, god-like people.

The Inner Question

At put ins and early on trips, the inner question within most questions asked by clients is: “Is this a safe place to be me?” By answering all questions with thoroughness and caring, and by turning all questions into good questions by using them as an opportunity to share genuinely interesting information, aware guides send the message: “Yes, this is indeed a safe place to be just as you are. Everyone here will be treated with respect; you will not be made fun of or put down; here you can relax, be yourself, let your hair down, expand, grow, and even be silly, and still be accepted and appreciated!”

For example, to the common question, “How deep is the river?” a mindful guide might answer: “Thanks for that question! Well, here in this calm at put in the river might be about 15 feet deep, while downriver in that first rapid—and in other rapids further downriver—the depth in many places is much less, maybe as shallow as 6 feet. So, interestingly enough, often there is an inverse relationship between depth and level of challenge. In this 15-foot-deep calm the challenge is low, while in the much shallower rapids the challenge or difficulty (or ease with which one can make mistakes) is much greater.”

Another example: A client asks, “So does the river flow back around to this point, so we end up back here?” A thoughtful answer: “Thanks for your question. Many people ask the same thing because all of the water rides they’ve done have been theme park rides like Disney’s Flume ride which do flow back to their starting point. Well, this is an actual, natural river powered by gravity. The water moves because it is flowing downhill, so this water cannot flow back to this point, but can only flow down and down, down out of these mountains—and eventually down to the ocean, which, of course, is at sea level. Still, in a sense, in the big picture, this river actually does flow back to this point. Because rivers flow into the ocean, where water evaporates to form clouds, and clouds float on high in over the land to release rain and snow, and that rain and snow is what feeds this very river. So, yes, the water in this river does in fact flow back to this point! Thanks again for your question, which was fun to answer!”

Bear in mind that to some degree all trip members, either consciously or unconsciously, have this same question—i.e., “Is this a safe place to be me?”—and will register the message implicit in your answer! So if you want to be with people who are relaxed, loose, expanding and really having fun, answer all questions with thoroughness, patience, acceptance and appreciation!

In the context of a river trip, guides glow with charisma in the eyes of their crew. Some guides lose their perspective in the flow of this energizing adoration and start thinking in an “us versus them” manner summed up by the words, “I’m a cool river guide, and these people in my boat are not.” The contextual adoration tends to be so strong, trip members will even let guides get away with this. The big problem with this is that everyone loses. Truly cool guides remain humble and reflect the energizing attention flowing toward them back out onto every individual present and the group as a whole. This way everyone, including the guide, gets to feel and truly be cool and appreciated.

Fully enter into the experience of each trip. Be present. If you find yourself thinking about something or somewhere else, invite your attention back into the moment by asking yourself, “How can I enhance my experience—and the experience of the people I am with—right now?”.

Comments on The Guide’s Guide Augmented

and William McGinnis’s writing in general:

The Guide’s Guide ... is ... every bit as absorbing, instructive and entertaining as William McGinnis’ (first book) Whitewater Rafting. If you are or wish to be a river rafting trip leader, this guide is a must. ... the lucid writing intrigued me word for word from beginning to end.” George Larson, Sierra Club

“Great stuff! I’m constantly impressed with the amount of thought and energy William McGinnis puts into the finer points of guiding.” Bruce Lessels, Zoar Outdoor

“William McGinnis is ... utterly remarkable ... and ... by far the most gifted writer I am aware of at capturing the heart and soul—the very essence of a whitewater river experience. ... His extraordinary gift so much in evidence in his twenties has continued to deepen and mature. ... For his contribution to my life, to all those other boaters and to this sport for which I have an enduring passion, I wish to thank him.” George Brown

More Books:

The Class V Briefing
By William McGinnis and the Whitewater Voyages Staff
Whitewater Voyages, 1985, 29 pages,
$6.65 (includes tax and shipping)

The Class V Briefing is a distillation of the rowing and paddle captaining techniques developed by the guides of Whitewater Voyages while exploring and guiding trips on extremely difficult rivers. To quote one reviewer: “This little guide does an excellent job summing up the steps necessary to tackle class V whitewater as safely as possible.”

River Signals
By William McGinnis
Whitewater Voyages, 2001, 31 pages, $7.68
(Includes tax and shipping)

The signals in this little book can enhance cooperation and good will within and between boating groups, and help make river journeys of all types safer, smoother and more fun. Richly illustrated with over one hundred line drawings.

Phone: 800 400 RAFT/Fax: 510-758-723
E mail:
5225 San Pablo Dam Road
El Sobrante, CA 94803


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11252 Kernville Road, Kernville, CA 93238
Call Toll Free: 800-400-7238
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