This week I got to know former raft guide and current co-owner of Serenade, Kaela Fox. She and her partner (& fiancé!) Austin organize beautiful events in and around Portland, combining their two passions: local food and local music. Once a year they bring those two lovely elements to our Serenade Rogue River trip, making for an incredible feast of the senses.
1. When did you start working as a river guide?
I started working for ECHO River Trips in 2011. As the child of former ECHO guides, I knew that at some point in my life I wanted to work for ECHO and be part of that wonderful community. So many of the favorite adults I admired had worked as guides for ECHO and it seemed like an inevitable part of my future.
That summer in 2011 I was at the Rogue River for a private trip with my family when I ran into the area manager for ECHO at put-in. He offered me a job and I somehow cleared my entire summer schedule to make it happen. That first summer with ECHO was a wild ride but I grew so much and became absolutely hooked on guiding.
2. At what age did you start rafting? Did you always love it?
I always loved rafting. It was my family’s favorite way to be outside and spend time with our close friends. I’m sure I started rafting very young, but it wasn’t until my brother was at least 3 or 4 (making me 5 or 6) that we started going on multiday trips.
Those early river memories are filled with songs, hours spent swimming, collecting rocks, racing toy boats in creeks and my brother catching water snakes to torture me with. I grew up on rivers which instilled in me a deep respect and love for them. Rafting is my happy place and there’s nothing quite like the feel of oars in your hands while floating down a river.
3. Where did the passion for food come from?
I’ve always been passionate about food. Both my grandmother and mother are excellent cooks and so much of my childhood revolved around eating, cooking and food. My passion for food evolved after working at a farm to table restaurant during college in Santa Cruz. There I was exposed to new flavors, ingredients and introduced to seasonal sourcing and cooking. I gained a whole new perspective on the entire food system and fell in love with food all over again.
Tied into my passion for food is the community that comes with food. I always associate food with community, whether from the potlucks my family had growing up, the folks I’ve met through restaurants and farmers markets or just seeing a group of strangers come together over a shared meal. Food connects us and can be used as a universal love language no matter our background or culture. Sharing food and eating food brings me so much joy.
I’ve had quite a few people in my life tell me that I am one of the more enthusiastic or passionate eaters they have ever met. I’m still not sure if that is a compliment or not…
4. What brought you to start Serenade?
We wanted to find a way to share something unique with our community through our two passions, food, and music. Portland has a vibrant music and food scene but there are few opportunities to enjoy both of these at the same time. We are fortunate to spend much of our life enjoying live music and sharing meals with others so merging these two elements was a natural transition.
Overall, it was important for us to create an event where others can experience the magic of an intimate live concert paired with the connections of a shared meal. Equal focus is placed on both the chefs and musicians to break down barriers and foster participation and community. Similar to a river trip, we’ve seen guests arrive as strangers and after sharing this experience together, leave as friends with plans to see each other again. I love watching Serenade connect guests, musicians, farmers, chefs, and makers and my community has expanded so much because of these connections we are creating.
The idea for Serenade started as a pop-up and has continued to grow and evolve into an interactive sensory experience. It’s been humbling and exciting to take Serenade as far as Georgia and California to share our experience. And if there is one excursion that truly captures the spirit of what Serenade is about, our river trip is it. With our history so intimately tied to the river, this adventure down the Rogue is a personal and heartfelt culmination of everything we love and want to represent through the dream of Serenade.
5. What did you love about guiding and how long did you guide?
I loved the ability to constantly be on the river and the opportunity to share rafting and the Rogue with people who had never been before. There is something special about seeing the river through other people’s eyes that kept it fresh and exciting. Also sharing a four or five-day trip with strangers changes and connects you. We would start trips as strangers and leave as friends or family having shared this unique experience together. There are many guests that I am still in touch with and are now part of my life.
On top of that, I loved the community of guides that I worked with. They became my river family and are still very important to me today. As you can tell, the importance of community is a common thread throughout my life and I’m fortunate that the river and guiding expanded my community.
Guiding is hard work, but the river, guests and my guide crew made it all worth it.
6. How did you and Austin meet?
Austin and I had a serendipitous meeting on the American River in California. I finished a season on the Rogue and went down to California with some fellow guides to run rivers for fun. Austin had finished his day of work and was sitting on the banks of the river panning for gold. He happened to be sitting next to Zach Byars, a fellow ECHO guide, and when we floated by Zach saw us and called us over. There was something about that chance encounter that stuck and we like to joke that he certainly struck gold that day.
If you’re interested in joining Kaela & her team and the Northwest Rafting Company crew on the Rogue River next year, give us a call. The dates are June 11-14, 2020.