I arrived at my Maine Guide Oral exam appointment early, 24 hours early in fact. There were already two candidates standing there and looking at me. They asked if I was here for the 9:30 appointment too. At first, I thought the IF&W had screwed up. In the end, one of the guys was supposed to be there Wednesday. One was there at the correct time. I was was a day early. So fate brought 3 of us there at the same time. The IF&W was trying to figure out how to deal with the guy that was 24 hours late so I left and went to the sales counter.
I bought a neat book to help me with mammal and bird identification called "Critters of Maine Pocket Guide". I'll go through it this weekend and, once I take the written exam, provide feedback as to how good it is. The IF&W guy also gave me a book called "Fishes of Maine" published by the IF&W. Hopefully that is adequate to prepare me for the fish identification portion of the written.
At that point I had another 24 hours to mentally prepare myself for the oral exam which took place on Friday morning. The Suunto A10 compass I had been using to practice had been driving me crazy as the left side and right side were not parallel (in fact they were 3 degrees different). I stopped at EMS in Portland and traded up to the next model, a Suunto M2, which was shorter and wider. I like the design of the more expensive one but the bezel doesn't fit into the base plate tightly and it is possible to slide it left or right. When I got to the actual exam, the compass they provided me was an even more expensive model that had this same type of bezel so I was comfortable using mine.
I spent a lot of time recording my lost person scenario plan and going over the details of the contents of the survival pack. I then listened to myself and tried to determine how I could do better. There was always room for improvement even when I got to the actual exam. I spent much less time preparing for the client care portion of the exam as I was very nervous about the compass and lost person scenario.
In reality, the compass portion and lost person scenario portions went extremely well as I had overprepared. I walked into a little room with pencils, tape, rulers, and a compass on a 3x6 folding table where two examiners sat, one a man and one a woman. There was also a little wooden table in the corner by a window that looked out onto the capital building in Augusta. I was given an 8x10 map of an area north of Jackman by the Canadian border. The map had a 3/8" circle on it at the inlet of a stream to a pond. They told me to start there and give them a bearing to the outlet of another pond. Then I was to give them a bearing to the inlet of a different pond. Then I was to give them the bearing to the point of origin. I was a bit concerned because I was so nervous and the whole table was shaking. I oriented the map between each bearing. I also double checked with their compass since I was allowed to use anything on the table to get my bearings.
In about 12 minutes, I provided them with 6 correct answers for magnetic and true bearings. He was very reserved and I thought I must have done something wrong but then he said I had passed. He then told me that a lot of candidates had been to guide school and he wanted what I would do in a lost person situation not what the guide school told me to do. He explained that while he was marking up my map, he wanted to hear what information I would get from the clients on a phone call in February for a trip in September. He then wanted to know what I would do for a pretrip briefing when my clients arrived for the trip. I was unable to finish telling him about what I sent the clients for information before he sped me along to the pretrip briefing. While I was discussing my pretrip briefing he sped me along before I could discuss my signal system. He handed me my map with all sorts of black lines on it. He told me I had 2 couples that had come for a moose photography trip. When we left on the hike, one of the woman was too sick to go with us and stayed behind in the tent to read her book. We left at 9AM and when we returned at 4PM she was gone. She left a note saying she felt better and was coming to meet us.
In my hasty search I looked around the campsite and ran up and down the trails close to the campsite looking for clues. I had no last known direction for the woman and was given none. That is how the scenario started and it went on from there. By looking at the map, I was able to give him a plausible theory of where she had gone. I explained that when I taught her how to read the map and had gone over the days hike, I had mentioned a stream which she should not cross as she would be going in the wrong direction. I also said our hike was to be along the lakes all day so she would know she was headed in the wrong direction. Eventually I found a fresh footprint. This went on until he sped me up and said "where do you think she is and why?" I said she would have returned to camp before nightfall if she wasn't hurt, I think she is here on the steep section of trail with an injury. He said we were done and I had to wait for 10 minutes while they debated whether or not I had passed.
In 10 minutes, he came out and got me. He gave me no clue as to how I had done, then said I had passed, and that other than missing a couple of details, I had done fine. We moved onto 25 questions or so some of which were worth 12 points each and he'd tell me when those were. There were a lot of questions and things are already blurry in my head. I was tired and stressed and he didn't want me to write anything down. Writing things down helps me to slow my brain down and helps prevent me from saying stupid things. For example, name two ways to purify water. Did I say "filter it", no, first thing out of my mouth is boil it. How long? Six minutes. Only six minutes? Well, I'd boil it for 10 but 6 is what the book said.... Give me another way to purify water. Again, I took the more difficult route. Chemically, like with drops of bleach. Really- you are going to provide your clients with bleached water. How much bleach per gallon? Only a couple drops... we moved on.
Things I know I messed up- I didn't provide enough symptoms of hypothermia, though I believe I did fine in describing the treatment. Getting my clients to strip down and get into a sleeping bag with him. That always makes for a trip to remember. Of course, then he took the sleeping bag away from me so I had folks trade clothes with him and huddle under a survival blanket. He seemed satisfied.
I totally switched out the treatment for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. I identified the problems fine but treated one for the other. I was really tired and stressed out after and hour or so of this grilling. For the most part, though, I was very comfortable with my answers and there weren't a lot of curveballs. He was looking to trip me up and got me with his last two questions. I was able to give answers and stuck to them. I'm sure I got partial credit.
I'd guess my scores were A, A, C for the total exam. I needed to spend more time on the client care part of the exam, specifically on first aid. If you plan to take this exam, brush up on your first aid treatments. This exam is tough. Fortunately, I'll never have to take it again. I need to take a 200 question written exam to become a Registered Recreation Maine Guide. I can also take other exams to become a fishing guide and a hunting guide. I would describe the process as tough, challenging, but not impossible.