My first seasonal job was working in at a place called the Trail Lake Lodge in Moose Pass, Alaska. I had just finished my junior year of college and had decided that I really didn’t want to spend another summer working at some grocery store or pizza place back in North Carolina. I probably should have applied to internships, but my college major never interested me as much as it should have. The job at the lodge itself wasn’t anything special, but the people I met and the exposure I got to the Alaskan wilderness completely changed my life.
Prior to this experience, I spent a lot more time inside. I played video games and watched too much TV. My diet was poor and my fitness level even poorer. At the time I didn’t fully realize how badly in need of a change I was, but now I can clearly see just how much that decision to go to Alaska for the first time has improved my life.
A couple coworkers who became very good friends both got me into fishing and renewed my interest in hiking. I could spend days writing about Alaska, but all I really want to impress is that working seasonally up there exposed me to things that have made me who I am today. I spent two more summers at the lodge and after I graduated even tried out a winter in Alaska. It didn’t go quite as well.
With a strong desire to return to the lower 48, I began looking for seasonal work that directly related to my stronger-than-ever love of the outdoors. While browsing through the AmeriCorps website, I found something that caught my eye. A member position on a trail crew with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. I’d had friends in Alaska who did trail work and it had always interested me, but I didn’t truly know that much about it. Regardless, I applied immediately and was hired within a few weeks.
So, in May of 2012, I found my way to Steamboat Springs, Colorado to join my crew for my first foray into trail work. I had the great fortune to be placed on one of two CFI crews that operated that year. That is, two RMYC crews contracted out to a Colorado Fourteeners Initiative project to support CFI staff on one of its fixed site projects. For me that meant spending ten weeks working on North Maroon Peak with CFI staffers Miriam and Andy, helping them build a major reroute. RMYC is a great program and I am very thankful for my experience with them, but personally what made that summer so amazing was discovering CFI and the work that they do. I believe I had found my calling, of sorts.
I just didn’t realize it yet.
Following that season with RMYC, I returned to North Carolina for my brother’s wedding. I didn’t really have a plan for what to do next and spent the winter working a job I didn’t like and taking classes toward becoming certified to be a wildland firefighter. At close to the last minute, I applied with RMYC again to be an assistant crew leader on another CFI project. I was offered the job but after mulling it over for a week, ultimately decided to decline. I had gotten it into my head that I couldn’t keep doing seasonal work like this. I thought I needed to find some sort of full-time career to get into for my life to play out as it was supposed to.
So, I did find a full-time career. A successful craft brewery had opened a second location in my hometown and I got hired on to the packaging crew. Turns out I was quite good at it and worked my way up quickly. It was, by every metric, a good job. I was paid well enough, had all sorts of benefits, kept getting promoted, got to work in multiple departments learning a wide range of skills, and had job security year-around.
But I hated it.
I was completely miserable. Being inside all day doing monotonous work creating a product I didn’t really care about was killing me. I knew I had to get out. A couple trips back to Colorado to hike and climb just reinforced this in my mind. I had made a mistake. A three-year mistake. I belonged on the trail, even if I could only do it for the summer.
I had to make a change again. With a lot of help from my friends and a lot of luck, I was able to get hired by CFI for their 2016 summer staff. It was the best decision I’ve made since Alaska. I came back for another season this year and certainly plan to apply for the 2018 season as well.
Seasonal life isn’t always easy. The uncertainty of the off-season can be very stressful, indeed. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find winter work you can come back to every year. But it’s not that easy to do and you often may find yourself working a job you don’t love while you wait for the next trail season to roll around. The CFI field season is only about four months long. So, I have to fill the other two-thirds of the year with something I don’t care about as much. That is difficult, to be sure.
But it is completely worth it. The seasonal lifestyle isn’t always easy, but it can be wonderful. Stagnation is easily avoidable, travel is far easier than with most year-around jobs, and flexibility can be almost unlimited. I’ve made easy moves in the past couple of years to make it work even better for me. I’ve eliminated more possessions and I’ve bought a truck and set it up to live out of. I’m more mobile than I’ve ever been and even though I don’t yet fully know what I’m doing this winter, I am not worried because I know I can go anywhere and do most anything.
And ultimately, I’m doing this because I love CFI. I love the work we do and I truly believe in it. This is what I want my career to be. One day I’d love to have a year-around position with them, but I am completely satisfied with making this my seasonal career.