Mikaela Ray exudes vibrancy and fulfillment in her work. It combines her own personal experiences, values, professional capabilities with constant change, the environment, and the experiences of her clients. As she states, “In a profession like mine if I approach change with acceptance and excitement, I learn to love the subtle changes that occur”.
You have been a paramedic, you have worked with Doctors without Borders and you are currently a program manager and professional guide for a trekking company. How have these experiences overlapped and enhanced your unique expertise? How does the paramedic in you see guiding? How does the field guide view the paramedic?
Being a medic meant being quick on my feet, being present for the people around me and for the people I cared for, being physically capable of handling any situation and to really see every day as a blessing. The work was always challenging but always rewarding. At the end of a long stint as a paramedic overseas in India I wanted to take all the skills I learned on the job and bring them into what I really loved, the great outdoors. Being a professional guide matches a lot of the same qualities I saw as a medic, so they overlap nicely. Now instead of reading monitors and cardiac rhythms, I am reading the weather and trail conditions. Now instead of caring for injuries and coming up with care plans, I am planning meals that I want to cook in the backcountry and making sure my guests are comfortable. Ultimately, whether in a medic role or a guide role, I am responsible for an experience and a journey. That is why I do this work! Both professions require tactical knowledge and being disciplined in the medical field has helped shape me into a person that can analyze any problem and has set me up beautifully to be a multitasker and big thinker. When I am with guests hiking in desert lands or deep canyons the fundamental skills I learned as a medic are always there.
In your current work as a professional field guide, you are personally, experientially and physically connected to and influenced by the environment every day in addition to guiding and experiencing the environment with your clients. Can you elaborate on these two perspectives?
This is an interesting question because I have been focusing a lot on how my experience or perspective of the land is different or the same as the experiences I am having of the environment with my clients. I will highlight some examples to try to elaborate on how I see things. There are a lot of public land issues currently going on that directly affect the areas I spend every day in. Without getting too deep into what those issues are, a lot of the protected areas I guide in are being threatened by our current administration. I am obviously directly influenced by all that is going on and in these times my job as a land advocate and lover of the land becomes even more imperative. Because I am directly connected to and influenced by current happenings I see the need to then hold an even higher space on how special these places are to my clients. For instance, instead of expressing bitterness and anger because of how intimately I know about an area’s current issues, my job is to provide multifaceted perspectives on all aspects of the land; on who and what is affected to allow guests to make their own decisions on how to move forward. I should always facilitate an experience, not dictate one. Another example is an internal struggle I think a lot of guides face. We want special land areas to remain sacred or untouched so generations beyond can enjoy them, however, we still want to bring people to these special places. How do we balance these two perspectives in a way that benefits everyone? One of my main jobs as a guide is to protect special places and one way I can do that is through education about leaving no trace and our lasting impact on the areas we visit. I can do this in the hopes of creating educated outdoor advocates and travelers in my very own clients. This bridges the gap in that internal struggle, how to show people special places but make sure they remain wild. So ultimately, it is my goal to make sure these two perspectives of how we experience a place are somewhat related to ensure my clients leave a trip at least knowing how I feel when I experience a place. I think this is important.
You work with change all the time: different clients, different physical abilities, different terrains, changing climate, as examples. How do you approach these changes? How does change, in these contexts, strengthen your capabilities?
In this line of work, as a professional guide and even as a medic in my past, I must really be flexible and patient with variation and change. These are skills that are learned in this profession and are not always innate. I have approached this unique and high level of constant change with different clients, different physical abilities and different terrains by not having any attachment to the outcome. I start every day with an understanding that today will be completely different than the last and I have no expectations. I don’t expect anything from the terrain or my clients, I just allow the day to unfold as it should. I know I am prepared for anything and ultimately that is all that matters here. You know that quote, “it is not about the destination, it is about the journey?” I live by that quote. You can bring the maps, you can be prepared, you can have all the tools, but you never know what will happen along the way in a profession that constantly changes. Even the views at certain viewpoints along my trails that I have gone to hundreds of times change every time I look at them. I see the view through my clients’ eyes, which is for the first time. In a profession like mine if I approach change with acceptance and excitement, I learn to love the subtle changes that occur. They help prepare me for life’s big, uncontrollable changes that can blindside you on some idle Tuesday. Part of being a good outdoor leader is sticking to the trail and sticking to the vision of the destination but being ready for anything to change and having fun with it because, well let’s face it, you are in the great outdoors regardless, what could be better?!