Working the trail

You don’t decide to work on trails for the money. It’s not the notoriety, the appreciation, or the benefits. There’s no real job security and there’s rough competition. 

You do it, because you want to hike to work. Because when you have free time, you spend it in the woods. Because you enjoy coming home filthy dirty and exhausted. You do it for the pride, even if no one else ever notices. 

You fall in love with it… or you don’t. There’s not really an in between. And once you know this is what you want, you’d do anything to keep doing it. 

I’d be content living out my life in the side of the mountains. Swinging in my hammock each night, listening to the birds. Building, renovating and hiking these trails. 

I want to teach Ethan what it means to leave no trace. To have the same love and respect for the forest as I do. Then maybe once he’s old enough, he may choose the same rewarding life. 

It’s not easy. I’m sore and bruised and bug bitten. I’m covered in dirt and sweat. I eat the same things day in and out. But I’ve never felt more alive. If I could have my family with me, I think I could truly feel whole for the first time in my life. 



The things we hate.

During my time here, I’ve met hundreds of people. Most of them amazing, but only a handful could I begin to call… unforgettable. Fewer than that could I call friend.

That being said, many are characters in and of themselves. People come through to teach us lessons, care for us or give us something to care about.

One such character made me laugh more than anyone in a very long time. Be it stories, jokes, actions, or even just day to day griping (of which there was a lot). So much griping in fact that I started a list of all the things he hated. And then it kind of dawned on me that his list wasn’t so specific. It was a reflection of things many of us despise.

We yell at other drivers on the road. Grumble about people refusing to take personal responsibility. All of these characters… we all have things in common. It’s how we band together and make connections.

But sometimes we end up being so self absorbed, that we forget to allow ourselves to learn from others. The differences. We get closed off, set in a rut and let our who dictate life. There’s always something these characters can teach us. It doesn’t matter if those people are our elders, or in this case ten years our junior.

I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned, professional, technical and personal. I hope you all strive to be open and learn something new every day. Learn something new from every person you meet. Don’t let your ego get I  the way. And appreciate those you meet, even if you don’t expect them to be around for very long.

My office

My office is different than most people’s. In my office there is the rustle of a breeze blowing through the leaves on the trees. I have the trickle of a stream or roar of a river. The dawn chorus is my soundtrack with foxes and black bears as my visitors.

In my office, I restore trails. I build stone steps and walls. I construct fences and drains. I make the wilderness more accessible to families so that more children can fall in love with the outdoors as I once did.

After a day in my office, I can go home with a smile on my face. I’m tired and sore and dirty, but I can see the work I completed. I can feel the pride of knowing that hundreds of people are going to benefit from what I did, even if they never realize it themselves.

Only six months?

Six months ago, I loaded up the little Blue Traveler and set out to change my life… To learn new things, find a new me, find a new home and a new career.

I left in March, and I can’t believe it’s already been six months… I have one more to go… just four more weeks until the adventure with ACE comes to a close. But that’s not where this path ends.

I didn’t find a new me… but I found my voice, I found my strength, and I found that I don’t have to be afraid that my life is passing before my eyes. My biggest fear upon joining this program was that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with the other members, who are all 10-15 years younger than myself. The only thing that my age has held me back from however is the ability to extend my term since ACE will no longer receive any additional funding for me.

I have had the opportunity to travel all over the Southeast and even out to California. I knew I wanted to work outside, but it wasn’t until I actually started the work that I realized just how fulfilling it would be. I step back from each project with a sense of accomplishment. Sure, I may have only affected one small section of trail, but it’s tangible and visible. I’m blissfully tired at the end of the days. I sleep better, I eat better, I breathe better and because of all of this feel a thousand times better.

Between the work, hiking, sleep, and limited stress, I’ve gotten in better shape than I’ve been in thirteen years.

Never have I felt such gut wrenching anxiety than the prospect of being trapped back in the hole that is Florida. I can’t go back. Keep your fingers collectively crossed for me that I can secure the job that I just applied for, that I can find a place for my family to move up to, and that all of this wasn’t just a temporary escape from a soul crushing fate.

Looking for a sign

It’s difficult to write when it’s hot. All you can focus on is how stifling you feel. That’s how Caribou is at the moment. Because the weather is kind of temperate, and the place is old, no one messes with the AC. Oh well. I finished submitting my time sheets and I’m heading out for the day.

Last weekend was pretty dismal for me. I was lonely, and depressed. Missing my mom, my family, familiarity in general… I drove up to the top of Mount Pisgah all alone to think about things and ended up sitting there eating my amazing French Onion Soup (go get some) and crying the whole time.

I sat out in the rocking chairs over looking the blue rolling mountains and asked for some sort of sign that I was on the right path. That I’m doing the right thing.

Well flash forward to this week… Dream of dreams came true and I found myself scheduled to work on top of Mount Mitchell. My absolute favorite place ever. It’s partially nostalgic, and partially sheer majesty… I commented to my crew mates that it would be a dream come true to be able to work seasonally at the Mitchell Park.

Our project partner wanted us all to appreciate the work we were doing so he wanted everyone to hike up to the summit for a good view of everything. Because of my pace, I wound up hiking to the top alone, which is fine for me. As I turn one of the corners, there carved into the sand is the word MOM with a heart around it.

I stood there for a moment, staring at the message from the universe with a smile on my face. Thanks for the reassurance… I kind of needed it.

The universe is talking, if you’d only listen

I woke up feeling grumpy. It happens. I probably didn’t sleep well, or I just couldn’t get motivated. I had dreamed of mom, and that always makes me sad. I was down because I’m still in Florida and it’s been so atrociously hot that I can barely breathe. I’m stomping through the house trying to get myself ready, feed the animals, contemplate lunch.

I let out a huff. I don’t want to be grumpy all day. It makes the day miserable.

I take my first sip of coffee and relax a bit. It tasted good. Sometimes you nail that perfect amount of creamer and sugar and the coffee just tastes amazing. I grab my purse and step outside… and can breathe… It’s amazing outside, only about seventy degrees. The last few weeks had brought oppressively hot temperatures so even at eight in the morning, it’s in the eighties.

I stand there for a moment, my bad mood has lifted. I remember someone talking previously about how it was supposed to be a one day reprieve because of the storm North of us. I glance up at the sky and smile and get in my car.


I pull up to the stop light that will take me toward work when I see her. She’s a hundred feet away, frolicking in the tall grasses beyond the school. She popped her head up and looked my way and began dancing in the grass again before vanishing beyond the building. Now you can take seeing a red fox in the morning any way you like… I chose to take as the universe reaching out to me. You see, they’re one of my favorite animal. And the only time that I’ve ever seen one in the wild… was on Curtis Creek road in Old Fort, North Carolina.

“Okay Universe, I’m listening.”

I’ve started listening to a podcast called Park Leaders, hosted by John Maberry. It’s a wonderful program, and I started it from the very beginning. You see I’ve been thinking over these few years how much I love the mountains. How I’d give anything to spend my days eyeballs deep in the Blue Ridge. And how the park ranger program might actually be something for me. I had actually emailed the Park Leaders website the night before asking for any suggestions.

The problem with getting into the program – is one – you have to be there. But you have to have experience or a degree, or be able to volunteer your time. Currently – I’ve got none of this. When they emailed me back in the late morning, they confirmed everything that I’ve been reading about these last few years. So I file away the desire as something to follow up on once I make it to the mountains.

As I sat and listened to the podcast this morning, the guest speaker they had on was a member of the Conservation Corps based out of California. He was pretty much saying how the corps teaches these young adults all the skills they need to work hand and hand with the park rangers. It caught my attention and I decided to look up what he was talking about. It didn’t really appear that I qualified for the program, but if nothing else, I have three young nephews and a handful of young friends that might enjoy the opportunity.

The website was not very mobile friendly. So I emailed them some questions. I received a response by the next day.

To my surprise, not only did I qualify for the corps program, but there were some openings that fell in the perfect time frame for me.

We are just moving in with Terry’s grandma to save some money to move. What this means is that our current expenses fall drastically. Enough so that if I take this opportunity, we’d be able to make it on one income – which ISN’T something we could have done in the past, or likely again in the next couple of years.

It’s six months of the exact experience that I need for the park rangers, it provides me with the volunteer criteria, issues an education award at the end so that I can obtain further certifications – and the best part is that it’s based right in the heart of Asheville. My heart skipped a beat. I actually cried when I was reading the email. The thought that something so perfect could have fallen into my lap at JUST such a time…. I sobbed for a few moments, blubbering my thanks to the universe for stalling everything else out so that I would be available for this chance.