Montana Dream Jobs
Posted on 20 May 2016
People and their jobs
Jenny Grossenbacher, Montana flyfishing guide
The road to Montana was paved with good intentions.
And Jenny Grossenbacher had good intentions when she arrived her over a dozen years ago.
After a stint traveling with the “Up with People” dance troupe she planned to return to school at the University of Texas and graduate — a fate that never happened. The group’s Australian tour got cancelled, and it diverted to Montana, a fate that changed her life.
“I just fell in love with Montana,” Grossenbacher says.
She’s now in her 12th year as a professional flyfishing guide in the business that she and her husband, Brian, started in Bozeman. Through their business, Grossenbacher Guides, they get to fish the rivers of southwest Montana and their office, now, is places like the Gallatin River, the Madison, the Yellowstone, and the numerous spring creeks that well up on private land in the Gallatin and Paradise valleys.
Grossenbacher grew up in New Mexico, a state with similar outdoor bounty as Montana, so the outdoor guiding gig “was in my blood,” she says.
The Grossenbachers were born into the profession of river guide — literally. The word grossenbacher means “big river” in German. Maybe that’s why the Grossenbachers know they’ve found their little piece of heaven in Montana. “I think it’s actually adding years to my life,” Jenny says. “It keeps me fit and healthy.”
She and Brian met as backpacking guides in New Mexico and went fishing on their dates. They now spend more days on the river than they’d ever dreamed of, but sometimes to their own dismay. It’s kind of like the old adage where the cobbler’s child wears no shoes; they rarely get to take their own children, daughters ages 4 and 8, flyfishing.
“So many of our clients say we have a dream job,” Grossenbacher says. “But I don’t want any more summers where we’re not taking our daughters fishing, and all they see is mom disappearing from the driveway with a boat trailer behind her.”
The Grossenbachers are working on their second book about flyfishing called “The No Nonsense Flyfishing Guide to Montana.” Their first publication was “The Life of a guide; a Year on the Water.”
Over the years of operating their business, the Grossenbachers, both 38, have met some incredible people — and that’s what keeps them going. “We have so many great clients we get to fish with each year,” Jenny says. “We’ve told ourselves we’re not going to do this all our lives, but then we realize how great it is.”
Hers is more of a people job than it is a fishing job. With degrees in fish biology and philosophy, Grossenbacher can fish and ruminate with the best of clients; but if the clients aren’t enjoying themselves, then the whole day is a bust, she says. “As long as people are into it, it’s incredible,” she says.
Spending six or eight hours a day in a drift boat with a couple gives you a unique perspective on people.
In guiding, whether it’s skiing or flyfishing, you’ll often get what’s known as the cranky client. From her guide seat, she gets to use some of that philosophy degree she earned. It’s a lot like life, crammed into a day float. “In the beginning I felt like I was giving away a day of my life if I was stuck with a negative person in a boat,” Jenny says. “But I’ve learned to view them and not let them change me or affect me in a negative way. The humor and the fun of it is just working with the people.”
She sees how people — especially couples — interact with each other and their guide. Men mostly tune her out, while the women have a slower, more methodical pace. And if a client just can’t get their act together and enjoy themself, she might just get to the point and tell them it’s her way or the highway.
Being a female lends an interesting aspect to a mostly male dominion of flyfishing. Maybe that’s why she’s requested by so many repeat clients, including men.
Brian Morgan's Adventure Life
Brian Morgan wasn’t quite ready for the job market when he graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Montana.
Instead, he packed a few bags and headed for Quito, Ecuador. Fluent only in English and living on sparse finances, Morgan enrolled in Spanish language classes. With occasional consulting work keeping him afloat, he stayed in Ecuador for nearly eight months and fell in love with the culture, the land and the people.
In 1998, Morgan returned to Montana eager to share the exceptional beauty and culture of Ecuador with anyone seeking an adventure. He assembled a simple, homemade pamphlet promoting a trip to Ecuador and passed it out around the University of Montana.
Not a single person replied.
Brian Morgan Adventure for Life
Luckily for Morgan, the Web and e-mail revolution had taken off. By 1999 he “threw a web site up and people started coming to it,” Morgan said. His unique trips and travel services soon found an enthusiastic audience.
By March 1999, Morgan’s adventures to Ecuador had caught on. He received regular calls about the trips and as their popularity grew, Morgan enlisted the help of his mother, Betty Ann, who answered phone calls, e-mails and booked trips while he stayed in Ecuador researching hotels and other local businesses. By June, Morgan was living meagerly and working out of his parent’s attic in Havre, Mont. “I completely boot-strapped it;” said Morgan, “I put in more time than money.”
It was time well-spent. Now called Adventure Life, Morgan’s business is one of the most engaging eco-tourism companies in the country. Based in Missoula, Adventure Life offers more than 50 itineraries with magnificent journeys throughout South and Central America and Antarctica.
Most trips are limited to 12 people, ensuring a personal experience. From cruises in Antarctica and the Galapagos to kayaking in the Amazon, climbing glaciers in Argentina and exploring Incan ruins, Adventure Life provides exciting, culture-friendly journeys at a variety of ability levels.
“We’re different than a traditional travel agency,” Morgan said. “There are many companies like Adventure Life, but we specialize in 12 countries and know them very well. We don’t book airfare or hotels - we do all the stuff you can’t do on Expedia.”
Just look at one of their colorful and vivid catalogues. You’ll be propelled into a journey through the rainforest, a whitewater trip down a river in Peru or a trek to Mayan temples in Guatemala. Discover intimate details of each trip – the best times of year to travel, each adventure’s unique food and culture and the varying physical aspects to expect along the way. Read about accommodations, trip highlights and the journey’s varied means of transportation including dugout canoes, vintage buses, Jeeps and trains.
“So many customers write and tell us they have a life-changing experience,” Morgan said. “The places are beautiful. A few trips are rustic or have a rustic night; it gives people a taste of what rural life is like in these countries. Some of the best experiences are the home-stays and host families.”
Ecotourism is a catch phrase Morgan feels is worn-out in the tourism marketing industry - but deeply defines the mission and practices of Adventure Life. “The definition is overused,” he said. “Ecotourism is more than a hike in the woods.” He feels the true meaning is about responsible tourism, giving back to the local economies and making a minimal impact on cultures and environment.
Through eight years of traveling, researching and hard work, Morgan built one of the most genuine adventure travel companies in the country — right from Montana. Adventure Life is now known worldwide and continues to grow. “It’s been fantastic building the company,” he said. “I love what I’ve done and I love what I do.
The most exciting part was creating the company – it was so much fun – and it’s still growing. It’s not any old company; it’s international travel and exotic cultures and people.”
Lyndsay Rhynard, a Montana native
If you had asked me about horses when I was little kid shoveling piles of ice-caked equine droppings into a wheelbarrow during one of Colorado’s famous snowstorms, I would have probably thrown the pitch fork, kicked the wheelbarrow and testified that my father was a heartless slave driver.
Of course I loved to ride; it was all the extra work that came along with owning horses that I despised. So at 18, after a bout with fence-building and other projects at our family’s ranch near Lennep, Mont., I shocked my entire family – most of all myself – and actually took a real job wrangling for a working guest ranch.
There’s a short time in life where you don’t care where you’re going – or what you’re doing – as long as it takes you away from where you are. Call it “grass is greener” syndrome, but it changed my life forever.
During this time I learned to love working 15 hours a day covered in dirt, horse sweat, hay and an occasional tick. My grandpa’s old batwing chaps would’ve kept me warm in a freezing whiteout, but I wore those suckers day in and day out, 90 degrees or not, because they sparked conversations with the guests – and at a guest ranch there was no better credential than looking like a genuine cowgirl.
The other wranglers and I bunked in shacks with little more than cut-rate indoor siding for walls and shared a bathroom with a shower that rained smelly sulfur water. Our weekly reprieve lasted less than 24 hours, but in that time without guests or chores, we consumed cases of shamefully cheap beer and wine, rode horses bareback by Montana moonlight and shared stories from our hometowns which seemed to exist in some other time and place, even though most of us were less than five hours from home.
I was given less than a week to ride with an experienced wrangler and learn the trails. Then off I went with anywhere from five to 10 guests, loping and bouncing across meadows, along riverside cliffs and entangled Aspen groves, all the while praying no one fell off, had to stop for a potty break or realized that “exploring” was my guise for the original course going completely astray.
I found – and still find – that riding with green, unsure and somewhat frightened riders is actually sometimes the best way to explore, although it is definitely not the kind of riding that keeps you to a schedule. Inexperienced riders have an honest kind of resilience that allows them to bang their knees, fall off at a dead run, cry while their horse bucks and even wet their pants without the slightest hint of pride, then charge proudly into camp to tell about it.
The beginner rides were usually the most fun, even though it’s very hard to boost an overweight, middle-aged man or woman back into a saddle on flat ground – especially if they wet their pants and need to climb your entire body to reach the saddle. Horses get spooked and usually I ended up with some kind of minor neck or back injury – not to mention an odd smell. Of course adding to the entertainment of these rides was often a language barrier that totally and completely prohibited any kind of reasonable instruction.
Lyndsey Rhynard Richtmyer on a Montana High Country Cattle Drive (David Reese photo ©)
But summer was summer and nothing compared to riding a horse through miles of wild terrain and the backdrop of the Crazy, Bridger and Castle mountains of southwest Montana. I learned the country with the guests, explored new routes and went a bit further each week; one guest clocked 24 miles on his GPS in a day of riding. Through buck-offs and tree scrapes, knee injuries, bug bites and one time even a horse and rider floating aimlessly down the river, I somehow managed to get my guests back to the ranch (mostly) in one piece, but always thrilled with the experience – usually more so if an injury was attained.
My years as a professional wrangler made all the manure shoveling, grooming, feeding, fence-building, hole-digging and just plain hard work, not so bad. I worked at a few other incredible ranches as a wrangler the rest of the way through college at the University of Montana and even at my first job out of school. Nothing any office job could offer compared to riding a good horse (or at least fairly-good, somewhat broke horse) under a big Montana sky. Like any great dream job, wrangling landed me my first “professional” position.
Nowadays I’m a media and production coordinator, but I will always be a cowgirl first and foremost; I always love to get on my horses, breathe the unmistakably Montana air at my family’s place and just ride. One or two weeks a year, I’m lucky enough to get back to my dream job, brave the Montana elements and wildlife and totally shock a crisp new pair of Wranglers off at least one unsuspecting guest looking for a true Montana experience.
(This article appeared in the summer 2006 issue of Montana Living magazine)