Dagny Deutchman

This week on the podcast, Dagny Deutchman and I revisit the story that she shared about guiding a river trip on the Salmon River. In the story, she shared how she dealt with a client who inappropriately expressed his displeasure at having to use a groover. We talk about how she might handle that differently. Dagney shares how Tell Us Something changed her life and we talk about some of the sleep research she’s been doing as she pursues her PhD.
Dagney, guiding a river trip on the Salmon River, tries her best to be empathetic to Ken, a client who is having difficulty adapting to being outside in such an unfamiliar environment.

Transcript : Gettin' In The Groove

The summer that I was twenty, my life kinda fell apart around me. I came from a really stable home and all the sudden my parents were having marital problems. I had been a dancer my whole life and all the sudden my hips weren’t really working and I couldn’t do what I wanted to do the most. I got fired from a job that I really loved, and of course I found myself in like the 18th or 19th heartbreak of my life, ‘cause, you know, I fall in love every single day.

So, before I continue on with the story I think it’s important to know what I do in the summer, which, has kind of already been introduced. But there’s this joke that: how do you know somebody is a river guide? Well, they’ll  tell you. So, I’m a river guide and I work these multi-day trips, and there’s almost nothing that I love more than this. I get to show people their public lands. I get to wake up every single morning not having slept under a roof or a tent because if it rains I mostly just roll under the nearest kitchen table.

I adore getting to hear the stories of people who come and save up for years to just spend a week outside with me.

So this is where I would introduce the character Ken. I knew Ken  was going to be a problem child the moment that I met him. And by child I mean this guy was like thirty-five. He was not a child.

So, Ken had gotten this river trip on the Main Salmon, with his girlfriend, and they had found it on, like a Groupon site, or something along the lines of this, so it was discounted heavily, ‘cause this kind of guy would never be on this sort of a trip. And I say that affectionately, because so many different people from so many different walks of life come on these river trips with me. It was pretty obvious to me that Ken had never been outside before. And I know this because the first thing that he said to me was, “So where do we poop?”

And, this is not that uncommon of a question. Being outside, especially if you’re not used to it — that can be kind of an intimidating experience for a lot of people. And I’m just laughing that I’m sharing this story because I don’t talk about poop with my friends. This is like, not a normal thing for me. So I’m just laughing that this is the story I chose to tell.

So, the river trips that I do, we have this really sophisticated system, it’s called “The Groover”. And the groover was traditionally this rocket box, it was like a big square Army can, and you sat directly on it, and it gave you grooves on your butt and that’s why it’s called a groover.

This is much more sophisticated at this point. Right now we’ve got these really nice, they’re called “Johnny Partners”, and they’re these like, big aluminum boxes, they have handles for guides to carry with ease. We put a nice beautiful toilet seat on them so that people can pretend that they are inside and comfortable.

And we usually set these up like way away from other people in camp, and it’s usually in this beautiful setting, and, honestly, it’s my very favorite place to go to the bathroom, so I’m not sure why other people struggle with this.

So, when I received this question from Ken, “Where do we poop?” I was like, OK, I’ve got this. I’ve dealt with people like this before. I’ll just explain to him.

And I was like, “Ken, I’m really glad that you asked.”

I put on my happy river guide face.

And I walked him over, and I was like, “You know what, I’m just going to take this moment to show everyone in camp. So, everyone come over here. This is how we do this. This is our handwash system. You’ll know that someone is in the bathroom because they’ll take this paddle with them. So if the paddle’s gone, you’ll know not to go over there. When the paddle’s back, that means the bathroom’s open.” Yadda yadda. I do my spiel.

So, after I do this whole spiel, I can tell that this wasn’t really the answer that he was looking for. He’s kind of got this face on, like, Huh.

And I knew that that’s not what he was getting at.

So here I am, a year from having my life fall apart on me and this was the summer that everything was going to go right. And Ken was just messing it up for me. So every conversation the whole week, Ken and I were just talking about different ways that he was trying to go to the bathroom in the woods, and different ways that I didn’t want to let him. I was very stubborn about it.

“So, Dagney, what would happen if like, the groover was full”, he would ask me. And I would just lie. I’d be like, “We don’t have that happen ever. That’s not a thing.”

And so he’s come up with more and more elaborate schemes, asking me like, “What if. What if. What if.”

I think my favorite one was like, “So, if you guys left me here and you like forgot to pick me up and I was stuck out here by myself….”

And I was like, “Well, there’s probably another group a day behind us, and you would just pick up with them. ”

None of these answers were satisfactory to him, but I thought that I was super clever and just deviating him so that he would just forget about this whole topic.

So the very last morning we were at this beautiful camp and it’s called California. And it’s this huge sandy beach. It’s the last morning. The night before we had played a bunch of games as a camp. We had finished off the rest of our beer. We had a really great meal.

And I was the trip leader that week, so I was making sure that we were getting out of camp on time, I was making sure the boats were packed correctly… I was kind of scattered and going everywhere. And this was my last trip that I was leading that summer, so I was feeling really proud of myself and accomplished after like kind of picking my life back up and just being determined to make the best of things.

And as I’m finishing up the last things, we have this moment in the morning — and it’s a very important moment because it’s when we’re putting the toilet away.

And so, as every good river guide knows, you have this one final call in the bathroom, because there’s inevitably that one person who forgot to go.

So, before you take down the toilet, which is the very last thing that you pack in your boat, you go, LAST CALL ON THE GROOVER! And if no one runs, then you’re probably good to take it down.

So, I did my shout. I called the groover one last time. And no one came. So I was like, Alright. I made it one more week out in the wilderness. Everyone was happy. Everyone had some really successful trips and good memories. You know what, I’m just going to go take down the toilet for the rest of the crew. Like, normally, l don’t, this isn’t my specific job on this crew, but I’m gonna go do it anyway because I’m in a really good mood.


The place that the bathroom is set up at California Creek, it’s beautiful. There’s a creek on the upstream side of this camp. And it’s shaded. And it’s kind of dark. And we set up the toilet right next to this creek. And there is some fresh mint that happens to grow kind of near there. So it’s it’s this very serene fairy garden feel when you’re heading over in that direction. And I’m feeling like I’ve got things going on, I’m in a pretty good mood, and so I start to head that direction.

And, as I turn the corner, to right where you would start to see the toilet, but that you couldn’t see anyone else in camp, so that you’re in this little limbo land between toilet land and camp land, there’s three very distinct rocks stacked on top of each other. And I camp here pretty frequently in the summer, but I had never seen these rocks cairned quite in this way.

So there’s three huge rocks cairned on top of each other. And on top of the three rocks was this beautiful Dairy Queen swirl of a poop. With toilet paper as like, the whipped cream on top.

Now, I only had one guest all week who was asking me, “Where to poop? What if this happened? Dagney, if the world was blowing up and I really needed to go to the bathroom, where would I go?”

And I just flat out told him “In the groover” every time, but I knew that he was going to pull something like this.

So, in having such a frustrating year the year before, I’m feeling like, I kind of had my shit together then. I just collected myself, I gloved up, I grabbed a trash can and I thought, Man, you know, a lot of people told me that as you grow up, you have to learn how to deal with some shit, but why didn’t anyone ever tell me that it wouldn’t be mine?