There are a wide number of fields to choose from for those who want to make their living working in the great outdoors. Working at camps, guiding glacier hikes, battling wild fires, educating people on busy rivers about how to deal with bear encounters, and trail building are just a few examples of the options out there for people wanting to make a career outside.
There is also a field known as wilderness therapy. This generally involves taking a group of people of all ages with issues such as depression and substance abuse into a wilderness setting and using non-confrontational techniques involving developing simple outdoors skills and hopefully allowing the therapy itself to develop organically within the group.
While wilderness therapy is a field unto itself, I feel that anyone who works in or spends most of their time in a wilderness setting has an amazing opportunity to use that setting to heal or strengthen themselves in a number of ways. As a trail worker this season and in the past, I have seen that the work and the setting itself have made me stronger. Not only in a physical sense from moving around heavy rocks and hiking all day, but in other ways as well.
I’ve struggled with anxiety problems for most of my life. In 2012 I did a season of trail work with a youth corps in Colorado. While I feel that organization had some flaws, that season of trail work was still one of the best experiences of my life. It made me a better person, it made me like myself more and it improved my anxiety. Since that season, I’ve spent several years working in another industry and living a lifestyle that just wasn’t for me. As time went on in this field I could feel my anxiety as well as a general unhappiness growing. I finally decided enough was enough and that I didn’t need to spend another day doing something I didn’t love.
I love trail work. There’s only a month left in this season with CFI, but I can say without doubt that it has been the best summer of my life. Being in the wilderness is where I feel I belong. It puts me at ease like nowhere else. My issues with anxiety may never fully disappear, but as long as I continue spending my days outdoors I strongly feel they will be reduced to a minor inconvenience.
I sleep so well under the stars and I hike to work under the most beautiful sunrises in the world. I meet and work with dozens of amazing people from all over who come out to spend their time volunteering with CFI to help protect and restore our beautiful peaks. I work with my hands and build awesome structures with five-hundred pound rocks that will help sustain trails for a hundred years. I eat delicious dinners every night with my wonderful crew, I read or write down my thoughts alone in my tent in the evening, and I fall asleep delightfully early under the stars again.
We do this job for the mountains, but I feel I, as well as all other trail workers and all those who spend most of their time outdoors, would be remiss if we didn’t take advantage of the wilderness setting we operate in to restore ourselves as well as the peaks.