Be nervous and psyched up about heading to any river, even if you've paddled it many times before.
Gather your gear together. At a minimum, this means a paddle, helmet, lifejacket, and clothing. Any more means a map, sprayskirt, and shoes. If it's multi-day, throw in your toothbrush. The tent and sleeping bag and other stuff is there to protect you to a degree. Don't sweat the equipment make or type, or the temperature rating of your bag. Regardless of the level of sophistication of your stuff, you will be cold and wet anyway, and that is a part of running a river. Bring food; all food will taste wonderful.
Show up a little early before the starting time so you can be self-righteous around those who can't get the gist of getting anywhere on time. This way, too, you have money in the bank for any grievous errors you may make on the rest of the trip.
Drive the drive and talk the talk of friends, even if you have just met.
Get totally confused about how the shuttle is going to work so no one will ever engage you in future shuttle negotiations, even though you are capable of coordinating an entire battalion of beagles let loose on a rabbit farm. If, in the future, you still can't avoid the shuttle debate, wear a baseball cap backwards.
Unload gear. Reload extraneous gear making sure that you end up with more tie-down lines and bungees than you came with.
Thrill to the feel of your first sensation of your boat on the water. Let every muscle relax as your face spreads into a grin, your back straightens, and your shoulders remember why they exist. They are not just for lifting and carrying the worries of the world.
Read the water as others have instructed you and as you have discovered and are still discovering on your own.
Let the plants, the rocks, the sky, and the weather create an image that you want to hold onto forever. Many days are gray and dreary and sometimes there isn't enough water to run, but this is a part of how to run a river.
Synchronize your mind and your body by doing ferries, surfing, and eddy turns. Work those liquid features till you can't work them anymore.
Ignore media-induced experiences such as, extreme, rad, marathon, and epic until you know that you are ready for them. Part of the beauty of running a river is knowing your limitations and practicing good judgment for you and others in your group.
There is one hard and fast rule concerning river lunches: always, always eat below major rapids and never above them. If you don't know the reason for this, you are not yet ready for anything rad or epic. However, the lunch location should be varied as much as possible, e.g., on a sandy beach, on a log, by a perfect wave, by serene water, in the boat, under a rock overhang, on a big rock, or by a bed of trillium. Eat in the rain; eat in the sun; eat where you can see sunlight dancing off of rippling water; eat where you can laugh at others; eat where you can feel the earth. You may forget your lunch and mooch, or you may bring treats to share. Sharing is another part of knowing how to run a river.
See exactly how and where you are going to put your boat. Watch wave patterns and streams of bubbles. What you were taught in formal classes will be remembered and forgotten at the same time as you interpret textbook teaching and turn it into real knowledge. Body English no longer means reading between the lines of what someone is saying, but a way to move your slender craft through the complexities of moving water.
Hustle your experiences ahead. Big water seems scary, but the bigger that it is, the closer it is to you, the more you will understand. Watch select others run a river. You will know them by the way they move; they are a part of every living thing around them. Duplicate their moves so you will know too. Do intricate moves in tight spots and grandiose moves when you feel yourself being swallowed by squirrelly eddies and surging waves.
Be last to the take out and sorry that you are there. Carry your boat, it has carried you all day. Repair your gear, study maps and plan for the next trip. Run rivers for many seasons and for many reasons, and you will always know how to run a river. Cherish all friends who run rivers. They will be there, for you, forever.
You learn river running only on viable, natural rivers. Truly knowing how is sharing how with others, and by making sure that river running will continue on, long after you are gone.
Preserve the Experience.