Sunday, April 26, 2015

The 2015 Adventure Wishlist

With a more intense craving for pure wanderlust, the fix is going to be lots of travel. Lots of it. A new career job means good chunks of my monthly paycheck will be spent on outdoor rec hobbies I pursue and epic adventures taking place over the next 8 months. My goal is, starting with this month of April, to go camping or backpacking at least once a month. So far I've been off to a good start since coming home from my seasonal six-month life in Colorado. In the mix of a hectic work-life balance, I'm trying to plan some epic adventures. Ones inside this country, ones outside the US of A, ones in Wisconsin, ones that can be done in 2 days, ones that can be done in 10-15 days. Ones that involve backpacking and camping, ones that involve kayaking and others that involve just a long, road trip. Here are a few hopeful options.

Ideas for Domestic Adventures:
-Devils Lake State Park, Wisconsin
-Porcupine Mountains, Northern UP of Michigan
-Arches National Park, Utah
-Red River Gorge, Kentucky
-Newport State Park, Wisconsin
-Big Bend National Park, Texas
-Mauthe Lake State Recreation Area, Wisconsin
-Craig Lake State Park, Northern UP of Michigan
-Ozark Moustains, Arkansas
-The Ice Age Trail, Wisconsin
-Denali National Park, Alaska
-Jacob Hamlin Arch Trail, Utah
-Horicon National Marsh, Wisconsin
-Bryce Canyon, Utah
-Isle Royale National Park, Northern UP of Michigan
-Copper Falls State Park, Wisconsin
-Olympic National Park, Washington
-Glacier National Park, Montana
-Peshtigo River State Forest, Wisconsin
-North Cascades National Park, Washington
-US Virgin Islands

Ideas for International Adventures in 2015:
-Vietnam (again)
-Germany (again)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kohler-Andrae State Park, WI

With about 18 hours off of the normal work schedule, I took some inspiration from an article I recently read in Outside Magazine about the concept of "Microadventures," studied by Alastair Humphreys. After getting home from a few errands and a stint of rock climbing on Sunday afternoon, I swung by my local REI, packed up the car and headed for a state park just under an hour north. Kohler-Andrae State Park, south of Sheboygan WI is set right alongside Lake Michigan. Strands of winding, board walk trails takes you through tall pine-tree forests and more importantly- miles of sand dunes along the shores. How'd the dunes form? Ages ago when glaciers carved out this land, silt, mud and sand remained after they melted away. Sand from the beach to this day continues to be blown on to and around the dunes. Cool stuff. Arriving at the state park around 6pm, I set up the tent, collected some firewood and then hiked for a few hours in the dunes. A typical, stunning Wisconsin sunset fell westward, lighting up everything in vibrant colors including a grouping of birch bark trees (see picture 10). At late dusk, I cooked a quick dinner, potato steak stew over my gas stove, got a roaring fire going and then crawled inside my tent to do a bit of writing and crash. I woke super early in the morning to strong wind and rain. Waiting it out, I went back to sleep and woke up around 9:30am, had a quick breakfast, drove home and was at work by 1pm. Quick? Yes. Very cheap? Yes. Tons of fun and a nice escape from the daily grind? Absolutely. This was the first, of many, microadventures planned for this upcoming year.

Get up and bask in the dunes here at Kohler.


*Kohler-Andrae State Park is a state park located at 1020 Beach Park Lane in Sheboygan, WI 53081 just 52min from downtown Milwaukee. Admission fees are required (daily or annual). There is a nature center, many miles of hiking trails that trek through the sand dunes, forest, lakefront and marsh areas, large campground with electric and non-electric sites, interpretive nature trails, fishing pond, a mountain bike trail and picnic area.*


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Work a Seasonal Job, Do It.

Seasonal jobs aren't really understood by those that have never done it. When I was in college at Loyola University Chicago. getting my B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations - the words "Seasonal Job" never came up in classroom discussions, one-on-ones with professors and academic advisors and in casual chit-chat with friends and family. We're so focused on getting that expensive piece of paper wrapped in a leather-bound cover with our school's insignia on the front of it and instantly starting a 9-5, traditional career job, the second we cross that graduation stage. And while I'm not going to tell anyone that's the wrong path to follow- I will recommend thinking twice about it.

Why? As we grow and the years rapidly fly by after graduating, we need time to explore. Not just this incredible planet we live on- but to seek out who we really are as a person. Between finishing college and starting my first career job, I had less than two weeks of 'life' before BOOM... two years filled with commuting more than four hours a day to sit in a poorly lit, bland cube staring in front of excel sheets and coding boring amounts of copy for eight hours a day. Wake up, do this, go home, sleep, repeat. It was honestly miserable and after about a year in to this routine- I was immediately regretting everything. Sure the money was excellent and living this polished-up image of a young professional wearing business casual clothes may have been impressive. But my work/life balance was overwhelmingly harsh and it eventually felt so fake, hinting that this wasn't a lifestyle for me.

So in desperate need of a change of pace, I quit that job, and spent the next 12 months working three, contracted, full-time seasonal jobs across the country.

In the spring I spent a little over two months working as an Environmental Education Naturalist at a YMCA camp located on a beautiful lake teaching school groups and rental outings about outdoor recreation and natural sciences. Did I know anything about the material I was going to be teaching? No, of course not, but my passion for the outdoors was unchained finally and allowed for eager, quick-learning. The pay was embarrassing, like in all seasonal jobs. The free housing and food were...meh, but the memories and experiences, were filled with pure joy. This 'new' lifestyle was relaxed, slow and I liked it.

After my Spring contract was up, I continued to work another seasonal job, this time a six-month position as an Activities Director at a different camp, YMCA Camp Matawa, a place I grew up at as a kid and had worked before. 14+ hour work days. hundreds of kids from around the globe, living in the rural Wisconsin country, the best sunsets, spending all day and night outside, a whole family of fellow co-workers I treasure dearly and... cheddarwurst, after cheddarwurst, after cheddarwurst (camp food at its finest). A typical day ranged from teaching wilderness survival and mountain bike classes, driving a heavy-duty truck towing 10 canoes, fixing hardware on top of a 60ft climbing tower, playing capture the flag, singing ridiculous songs and acting out skits around a campfire. Don't let anyone tell you wrong, working at a summer camp is the best job you'll ever have. It was quite possibly the most enjoyable summer of my life. It had been half-a-year since I left my horrible, post-college, full-time career job and I could already tell my life --on all different levels-- was on the upward swing and I was growing.  The best thing about these two seasonal jobs I already had under my belt, was that every single day, you felt like you were making a difference and positive impact on someone's life.

It seems like people my age these days, go West to start something better and new. That's what I wanted to do next and Colorado was calling. YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch was hiring Rec Attendants and Rec Programs Supervisors. As the cool, fall Wisconsin winds began to arrive, I packed up my car with almost everything I owned and drove some 2,000+ miles out to a tiny town called Granby, located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains at nearly 9,000ft of elevation. I had my departure date set for October 7, with the return date to WI was unknown, and I was okay with that. A completely new state, new people, new job, new me. I was intimidated and scared sh*tless at first, but the reality set in soon and I began what would be so-far, the best life decision I've made thus far. I learned more about my self, what I want in life and what's important to me in those five months than I did in the past 25 year's I've been alive combined.

Sure, I lived in a small 10x10 furnace with no windows, shared a community bathroom where you disposed your used toilet paper in a trash can and yelled out 'flushing!' to avoid third-degree burns in the shower, ate glazed plastic cafeteria food and drank piss-poor coffee, mug after mug... but I had mountains. Tall, prosperous snow-capped mountains, 360 degrees around. Had a rough day or an ounce of stress? Just look up and awe. Those mountains were also the stage for some of the most picturesque sunrises at 630am. The sky lit up with fire, every morning over Berthoud Pass, the Indian Peaks and Snow Mountain. Even now back home, a few thousand miles away from Grand County, I still get the chills thinking about just how breathtakingly beautiful Colorado is. Colorado was my escape, freedom and pure adventure.

Most people I've met in 9-5, full-time career jobs think that seasonal jobs aren't "Real Jobs." Sure at a laughable $5.25 an hour, it may not seem fiscally so, but with the work you actually do- you are working a real job. I got a chance to work outside every single day. How great is that?  My work uniform usually consisted of flannel plaid shirts, jeans, sunglasses and winter boots. Daily duties of the job including anything from teaching rock climbing and teambuilding classes to teens, educating inner-city middle-schoolers about avalanches and snow science, helping run a tubing hill, chopping cords of firewood with an axe, leading snow shoe hikes in the woods to see moose, putting down (good) coats of ice on our ice rink with a bootleg mini zamboni called the 'Bambini', repairing anything from vacuums and pool tables, to computers and broken bows for archery.  The best part- I even worked on our dog sledding team at YMCA of the Rockies, grooming miles of trails at dawn on a snowmobile, handling all 19 characteristic Alaskan Huskies and managing the program's logistics. Where else do you get experiences like this? It was never-ending fun during the day followed by campfires with s'mores under starlit, Colorado skies in the evenings to be later capped off with late-night N64 'Mario Kart' or 'Goldeneye' marathons after. Another key difference I've noticed between working a traditional career job and a seasonal job, is how much more personable and caring your bosses and other superiors are. They're role models who actually want to get to know you and help you succeed. You're not just known as 'employee____'.

We lived as glorified ski-bums in a small mountain town. One of the best benefits of having this particular seasonal job was the free access to ski world-class mountain resorts like Winter Park, Copper and Steamboat. A $20 season pass to a small, family-run ski resort just minutes down the road allowed for daily skiing in the morning before work at noon. Unique bar after bar in the county had its own character and charm for apres-ski with your best friends. With the few dollars we brought in each week from our hard-earned paychecks, we drank craft beer from Colorado's best microbrews. And if your car didn't have a roof rack for skis or snowboards, you stuck out like a sore thumb.

The most valuable part about this seasonal job out in Colorado, and the other two I worked this past year, were the people I met. People come from all over the world and from all different backgrounds and situations to work seasonal jobs. We all do it for a reason. Maybe you just got out of a divorce or graduated from college and are taking a gap year before jumping into the real world. Maybe you just needed a break from your old routine and craved  just something different. Maybe you just want to ski. Maybe you want to grow closer in faith, building your relationship stronger with the man above. Maybe you want to travel across the country and this is a temporary stopping point. Maybe you're retired and looking to volunteer and give back. All of us, use this seasonal job as a prime opportunity to discover who we really are. We see what our strengths are, what we suck at and what needs rapid improvement. We might being trying out this job, to find what we want to do professionally down the line, using it as a resume builder.  We're all here for a reason. And that's a solid commonality that bonds us all together in a special way.

We learn what we value in people, whether it be in close relationships or best friendships. When you bounce between so many seasonal jobs, in so many different places meeting a complex variety of so many people- it really comes down to quality versus quantity. You'll meet and get to know people who are ever-inspiring, motivated, genuine, loyal and just- honest. These are people you can go on hikes with in a blizzard up a mountain, hang out with in a hammock during a two-hour off period, have deep, real conversations with while doing laundry, grab a bite to eat with off-campus and engage in epic venting sessions, stay up late with you on your last night of the job while you pack to go home and the ones who will hug you tight, lending a shoulder to cry on when you're shaken to your inner core. But you'll also come face-to-face with people who you just don't click with, are jealous of your work ethic or only get to know for a few days before their contract, comes to a close. While it will suck, it's just a part of working and living in a seasonal employment environment. You push to ignore this however, and surround yourself with those who treat you better. These new, similar-minded good friends who shine in your eyes everyday at this seasonal job, are the ones who matter. They'll engage in some of the most thought-out, real conversations, give you solid advice on everything, swap stories and tales and just laugh with you. These are the ones that that after weeks, months and years go by; you'll still be in contact with, laughing over past memories at that seasonal job you once worked at together. These are the ones who will call you up from half-way across the country to check-in on you and your next, new chapter in life. These are the people that really helped me (and will help you) shape into a better person and the thing you'll miss the most once your contract is up. I can't even find the words to express the gratitude for the best friends I met at all these seasonal jobs.

Seasonal jobs may have their ups-and-downs, but contrary to what so many people have told me... they are real jobs. You can stay in a seasonal job as long as you want or as short as you'd like. You'll learn way more than you'd ever imagine, see places of the world you've never set foot in before and meet some of the most important people in your life. There's no shame in working a seasonal job to figure out what you want to do next, and when you do, leave proudly with your chin up and head held high. Be proud of the opportunity you had and grateful for all it gave. And if down the line things don't go as well as expected or you're stuck in a rut, go back and find a seasonal job to re-light your flame. Do it and don't regret it.


Friday, April 3, 2015

Hawthorne Hills County Park, WI (9 pictures)

A day off of work from the new job means a day for exploring. After looking around online at county parks and nature centers in the area, I decided to check out a place that intrigued me- Hawthorne Hills County Park, located just past the town of Cedarburg. What was cool about this park was just the diverse amount of terrain you came across while hiking. Rising hills dotted with tall pine trees that swayed slowly back-and-forth in some choreographed dance, the cold Milwaukee River running along the edge of the park, swampy, damp marshland underneath a boardwalk and a small creek running through ice and rocks. I went in the end of March, a few weeks after the start of Spring rolled around. It was almost as if the winter season's last remnants were fighting to stay. A dark, gray sky and fierce...

 winds made wood above creak and crack and the nearby current rumble. An interesting thing I noticed almost immediately when hiking in Wisconsin for the first time since I moved from Colorado recently, was just how much more diverse the forests are here. In many places in CO I passed through, it was all one or two main types of trees, and that was it. Even in this smaller natural setting just up the road from my house, I came across ferns, pines, maples, oaks, birch and cedars to name a few. There's a crazy observation I made between the nearly-identical Colorado Aspen and a regular Birch Bark tree you'd see here in the Midwest. Out west, Aspens grow together in bunches, with all their roots inter-connected underneath the dirt, whereas out here, it's not unusual to see just one Birch Bark  standing solo in a diverse mass of other trees. So while the weather was a bit mopey, it didn't detract from how beautiful this quiet place was. See the photos below, which can be enlarged by clicking on them: