Guide Interview: Birdman

This interview is part of a series of interviews in which we help you get to know these amazing and passionate people who help to make RITS what it is. To view more, check out the Guide Interviews page.

Birdman - Guide Interview - Rafting in the Smokies is the Real Deal!

Our Assistant River Manager, Birdman (or you could call him Drew, but it isn’t as fun), got his nickname after his African Grey Congo parrot. He used to take her to car shows when he lived in South Florida and had her on a leash. He’s been with Rafting in the Smokies for four years and has a passion for the outdoors after leaving the corporate world.

What are some crazy things you’ve done?

I’ve hiked all 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2012. It runs from Georgia to Maine. It takes a person between 5 and 6 months to complete the journey. My favorite part of the trip is the people. The mountains and vistas are great, but the people will do things for you just out of the kindness of their heart. It re-infuses you with a great sense of respect for humanity. You come out with lot of appreciation for that and that’s part of the reason why I’m here on the Pigeon River. I want to give back, and give people an experience they may only get once in their entire life.

What do you love about Rafting in the Smokies?

The people. I love my team here. They are fun to work around, we have great guides, and we have a lot of fun on the water. You just can’t beat the view from this office out here.

How do you organize the team?

It could be said like this. It’s a lot like herding cats. No, that’s not fair. These guys are awesome and they manage themselves. The managers here are more for logistics and timing than anything else.

What does your offseason look like?

Since I hiked the Appalachian trail, I’ve been living in Asheville, NC. The people are very outdoors-oriented. The local business ethics are things I value myself. I sell outdoor equipment like backpacks.

Why should people choose a river trek on their vacation?

Unlike other attractions, this doesn’t run on rails. It’s a top-notch adventure. It’s all about you, your water, and your paddle, and having fun doing all of that.

What’s your most memorable experience?

My first swim as a raft guide. In my rookie year four years ago, I did the double reaction rapid. Besides the three-foot curling wave, there is also a rock called Tombstone that gets everyone wet. I hit Tombstone Rock with the backend of the boat, and I got ejected upside down and entered the water upside down. The boat got stuck up on a rock. I thought I could get out and get the boat, but the boat got adrift and I had to jump back into the rapid and swam the rapid twice. No one swam, but me. I was a guide at the time, and the people didn’t even realize I was out of the raft at first. The girl next to me was the only one that noticed. The first thing I did when I came out from the water as everyone was looking to me for direction was, “Don’t do anything!”

What’s your philosophy on life?

I found my philosophy on the Appalachian Trail. Before I did that, I was in corporate sales. I realized I was trading money for happiness. Here on the river that’s what I value. My happiness and the happiness of the guests I go out with and I can share this experience with. That’s why I’m here and love rafting.

What makes you unique as a guide and why would I request you?

Because I have magical beard powers that blow in the breeze during our trip! I have something to say about everything. We’ll do history and nature. We’ll talk about hydrology. We splash and we’ll get everyone nice and wet.

Do you have anything to tell first-time rafters?

Be prepared for a physical experience. You are a part of what is going on. You’ll have an opportunity to be in control of your experience and your own safety. Be ready to paddle like champions, because this is what it’s all about.


Are you ready for your next adventure? Head to the reservation page and start your booking process. If you want to add some other fun activities to your whitewater rafting experience, Rafting in the Smokies also offers a zipline canopy tour, a high elements ropes course, and (new for 2017) a four-sided rock climbing wall.