Grab some coffee, this is a long one.
You know when you’ve been doing something for so long it becomes second nature, and whatever the activity is seems somewhat easy? How about when you stop doing this activity for a significant amount of time and then try to start again. It feels like walking through molasses with cinderblocks attached to your feet. That’s how I feel right now trying to write a blog post. It feels like trying to find the ground in a deep pool of water.
I’ve been home from my adventure in Yellowstone for over a month, but I’ve struggled to find the motivation to blog. Granted I took a trip to Scotland somewhere in between, but I felt overwhelmed by all that I had to share. When I get overwhelmed, instead of diving in and tackling things I tend to do the opposite. I shut down. Despite feeling overwhelmed, I still had a desire to write and to create.
How could I possible share my experience in a single blog post?
Simply put there is just too much to share from my time working in America’s first national park, but a few moments stick out as highlights. My job itself was nothing exciting, I was a server in the Grant Village dining room. I made a shitton of money, but that was not the goal. I worked my ass off (literally, but a month back home with access to almond butter has brought it right back) with long shifts, early mornings, endless “clopens”, and brutally annoying foreign customers.
“I’d like the BEE-SON (bison) BOUR-GAIR (burger)”
Despite the chaos that was my job, the people and adventures kept me lusting for the weekends. I made lifelong friendships, explored over 200 miles of backcountry trails, went on 32 (35 if you count repeats) hikes, met hundreds of bison and elk, but most importantly I discovered a piece of myself that I knew was missing. My desire to travel and explore was nurtured in a way I hadn’t been able to do before. Spending nearly five months living in a national park is truly life changing.
I saw endless beautiful sun rises over Lake Yellowstone while working morning shifts at the restaurant.
I hiked my tallest peak to date, with three of the best hiking partners I’ve ever met.
I discovered another planet…over, and over, and over.
I made friends with people from all over the world.
I survived the biggest mind game while hiking 20 miles straight on Mary Mountain with my favorite person in Yellowstone. Getting lost over and over again, yet somehow managing to find our way out. Nothing was impossible after this, and there’s nothing quite like being 10 miles into the backcountry before heading towards civilization again.
I saw waterfalls a plenty, but none more magical than Union Falls, and suddenly any hike under 10 miles felt like child’s play.
I drove the Beartooth Highway, one of the most beautiful highways in America.
I fell deeper in love with the Teton Mountains the more I drove past them. Grand Teton National Park was my neighbor, and a common destination for my days off.
I rode a horse through a valley and up steep hills, which was equal parts terrifying and painful. My horses name was Slim Jim, and he pooped a lot.
I swam in the Firehole River, which isn’t actually on fire. Though my chest was from the adrenaline I felt after jumping into a raging rapid.
I learned how to get lost, and not to panic. To trust my instincts and use a compass/map.
I met a bison I named Biscuit, who became the mascot for my adventure. I was then gifted a bison stuffed animal on a very hard work day, which resulted in tears. Naturally I named him Biscuit (jr.)
I white water rafted on the Yellowstone River…twice…for free. #employeeperks
I said a very hard goodbye to my closest friend, that I still miss everyday. Living with people for months, eating together, working together, playing together, and then suddenly leaving is quite an emotional ransack. I’m emotionally crippled, but I’m not as emotionally dead inside as I thought.
It’s not often we find ourselves surrounded by people that are so similar to us, but I found that those who seek out seasonal work have a similar mindset. Sure, we had plenty of differences (I don’t drink, smoke, or stay up late) but we all came to work, and play in Yellowstone for similar reasons. We’re all a little lost, ironically trying to find ourselves by getting lost in other ways.
Leaving the woods and returning to society was hard. It was not only a physical shock, but I felt depressed without the comfort of isolation from society.
I was able to turn my mind off for the first time in years, all I had to think about was “where are we going to hike this weekend?” It was incredibly freeing. I didn’t worry about “what am I doing with my life” or “where do I want to live,” I was given a place to live, and food to eat, and all I had to do was show up. Thanks to my parents instilling good financial habits, I was able to save so much money, still contribute to my retirement fund regularly, all while exploring the world.
It’s more than possible to cultivate a future for yourself without a 9-5 job. It just comes down to preference.
My adventure doesn’t stop here, I plan to do seasonal work until I feel ready to settle down. I found that I was a bit older than most of the people that I’ll likely find in this type of work, but that didn’t stop me from finding a great group of friends. All it takes is confidence in your own lifestyle and people will have no choice but to respect you. I would have never been able to experience Yellowstone the way I did had I not done this, and like any first time, Yellowstone will forever have a special place in my heart.
We do this type of work because we want to live our lives right NOW, not tomorrow. Work and play can go hand in hand, you just have to know where to look.
Grant Village was small, and not a big tourist spot like Old Faithful or Mammoth Hot Springs, which made this the perfect spot for me. The feeling of being submerged in the wild would not have been possible staying anywhere else. I enjoyed walking outside, or walking to work and not running into hundreds of people. Visiting the bigger spots felt like visiting small towns. A smaller location meant the employees became like a family.
This CliffsNotes post barely scratches the surface of my time in Yellowstone, there was obviously so much more. No amount of blog posts will ever capture the magical adventure that was my summer. However, like anything in life, for every moment of magic there was a moment of pain. Stressful nights of endless tables, managers and employees not showing up to work, foreigners that didn’t understand what it meant to tip (I’m still salty that I got $0 on a bill that was over $200.) Seasonal work is not for the weak, but once you know…you know. I now understand why people return year after year.
In the words of a woman from a 1990’s documentary I watched in the Grant Village Visitor Center, “it’s just so, Yellowstone.”