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Rachel S. Thurston: Entertaining and Lovable

When I think of our most entertaining and loved guides over the last 12+ years at SBACo, Rachel S. Thurston has to be at the top of the list. If you have ever had the good fortune to go on trip led by Rachel, you know just how entertaining and lovable she is. Not only is Rachel a skilled leader and naturalist; taking guests kayaking, hiking and biking through Santa Barbara’s front country — the girl can sing! For the last 10 years Rachel has been the front woman for the band “King Bee.” She can often be found belting out classic hits at Cold Springs Tavern and local parties and weddings. And when she isn’t singing or writing or off traveling, we have been luck enough to have Rachel exploring, laughing and entertaining with our guests and crew. Recently we caught up with Rachel for a quick interview … not an easy task, this girl keeps busy!

Favorite quote: “You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.” -Colette
Philosophy for life: See above.
Greatest Adventure: Probably crossing the world’s highest pass, The Thorung La (17,769 feet northern Nepal), with my mother in early February through blustering winds and sub-zero temps or trekking for a week to Everest Base Camp at 17,590 feet and having tea and chocolate with the Brazilian Climbing Team right below the Khumbu Glacier.
Best Friend: That’s a split between two very precious people to me: World’s Best Travel Partner, Mama Chihuahua, and my Sugar Love Mr. Steve Abbey!

Rachel and Mama Chihuahua (Karen Custer Thurston) on the summit of Volcan Pasochoa (13,779 feet) in Ecuador.

How did you meet Michael and get involved with SBACO?
I think I stalked him early on when I heard he was running SBACO. I went up to him when he was getting ready for a kayak trip at the beach and boldly told him I’d be a great fit (I’d just moved to Santa Barbara and had been working for many years as a river guide and Outward Bound instructor). He looked at me a bit skeptically and never called back (no big surprise). I think it took a mutual friend a year or two later to recommend me for Mike to actually believe I had the chops to be an SBACO guide! I ended up working on and off for SBACO the following five/six plus years. Once an SBACO guide, always an SBACO guide!

Any funny memories from your guiding days – with SBACO or otherwise?
One of the best trips was taking the Archer Girls up to the American River for the week. It was truly an incredible week to spend along the river where I had worked ten years earlier. Talent Show night was a standout when I did my much-famed Oatmeal Skit.

Another favorite trip was taking the top sales-men and women from Best Buy up to Santa Ynez Valley for a wine tasting trip. There were enough of them that Mike rented out one of the S.B. Airbuses which meant we were able to taste with them. Fellow guide Amy Di Chiro and I are both unabashed extroverts and love to sing. Someone got wind of that earlier in the night and made us promise we’d sing on the way home. By the time we were back in Santa Barbara most of the sales team were tipsy on Everclear and had taken turns on the bus mike belting out Aretha Franklin and Salt n Pepa tunes. Good Times!

Rachel and her “Sugar” Steve enjoying wine at sunset along the Atlantic Coast in Essaouira, Morocco.

Guests always loved you, what do you think is the secret to a great trip?
I’m glad to hear that b/c you try your best but can’t control everything on a trip! The secret to a great trip is planning it well, keeping it safe and fun, having scrumptious food (with plenty of Pringles on hand!), and ultimately, having a divine repose with the guests. If you and the other guides aren’t having fun and you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s going to show and the guests will know it. You have to love every minute of it and you have to love the people you’re with (or pretend that you do really we

Your band “King Bee” is so fun to listen to – you guys rock, how did you get involved in music? Where are you guys playing?
How did I get involved with music? I think it’s in my blood! I grew up dancing with my Mom who was a performer. I think she literally had to drag me off of the stage when I was five. I was in front of 500 people and I was absolutely mesmerized. When my number was over, I kept dancing. She was part furious she had to come up and drag me off the stage and part amused I had inherited her love to perform.

Rachel and the Boyz in “King Bee”

I feel truly blessed to have so much music in my life here in Santa Barbara! Our band King Bee has been together for TEN years now…we just celebrated our anniversary up at one of our favorite local haunts Cold Spring Tavern. The five of us play retro rock n’roll from the 50’s to the early 90’s. It’s truly been one of the greatest joys in my life to have the opportunity to perform so regularly throughout Santa Barbara over the years. Many other musicians, clients and fans of ours have become good friends over the years. You can come check us out at Soho on Friday May 13th from 8-10 p.m. or Saturday June 4th at the Creekside from 9-midnight.

I’ve also been blessed to have the opportunity to dance West African and Bollywood and play with the Djun Djun Mamas over the past several years with local dance teacher and choreographer Lisa Beck and her partner and drummer/teacher/musician Budhi Harlow. She’s a close friend and a true goddess in every sense of the word! We just had a performance in Hahn Hall at Academy of the West and will be performing in the upcoming Summer Solstice. You can check out their classes and our upcoming performances at

Arielle Christner, Lisa Beck (choreographer and teacher with “Panzumo”, and Rachel S. Thurston preparing for their Bollywood Performance at the Tribal Arts Fair.

What are you involved with now?
Musically, I have completely fallen in love with the ukulele! I can’t get enough of it! I’m so excited to finally learn to play an instrument. After all these years playing with a band I’ve never actually known how to play an instrument or read music. I’m really digging the community of super supportive joyful men and women around the world who play the ukulele. I’m taking two classes a week now locally for the ukulele and find it brings me so much joy! I’ll be tearing it up in a year or so…

Professionally and on another creative front, I’m a freelance writer and photographer (working under the name “rsthurston”). Since coming to Santa Barbara I’ve devoted many of my years here to my writing career but in the past three years have been focusing more on developing my photography business. I just graduated from WEV’s (Women’s Economic Ventures) Entrepreneurial Business Course and am honored to be the featured artist of the quarter there. Over the years I’ve done a lot of travel photography but I’m now enjoying developing other specialties in events and lifestyle photography. I recently photographed events for Alpha Resource Center of Santa Barbara (Dennis Miller hosted), the Women’s Festival at Earl Warren, the Panzumo Spring Equinox Party, and will hopefully be photographing a fundraising luncheon for Women’s Economic Ventures.

Adventure books you’re reading?
A biography on Cleopatra…which is wild. I never knew she wasn’t Egyptian (she was the last in a long line of Greek Rulers), that she was the first ruler in 250 years who bothered to learn the local language, and that she married both of her younger brothers. The real life murderous, incestuous scandals from that time make today’s Jerry Springer Show look like Mister Rogers.

Upcoming Trips?
I have a trip to Yellowstone with my Sugar’s family this summer and then a fun trip to Yosemite this fall with hopefully a backpacking trip on the horizon. Looking forward to photographing the wildlife at Yellowstone with my new Canon telephoto lens! Mama Chihuahua and I are tossing about a couple of international trips…we’ve been going on a one-month international trip the last eleven years and half the fun is in the planning. Last time was Tasmania, Australia. Who knows what’s next?

I know for sure we won’t be going anywhere close to Tokyo or Tripoli~

What’s next?
Tea and then bed.

Just For Fun:
Check out Rachel on Facebook
Check out rsthurston photography on Facebook
Check out Rachel’s website
Check out Rachel’s band “King Bee”

Photos courtesy of Karen Custer Thurston and Rachel Thurston.

Thanks for sharing Rachel. If you have a memory or story about Rachel, please share it in the comment section below. I am sure she would love to hear from you!

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