There’s a month left. That’s it. A month left in the half-year I signed on for, up here.
What the hell happened? It seemed like such a looong commitment when I signed the contract.
Hell, a month ago it still seemed like a long commitment.
“Nah, not gonna think about afterwords. There’s plenty of time.”
By my estimate, I’ve hiked about a thousand miles total…I’ve had close encounters with five bears (three grizzlies, two black bears), and more distant encounters with half a dozen more…I’ve had to make my way around more bison than there are pigeons in NYC…and I’ve dealt with enough tourists to well-and-truly renew my loathing for Homo Touristus.
So, after all that, I figure it’s time I gave some thoughts and/or advice for anyone considering doing something like this (whether in Yellowstone, or elsewhere):
First and foremost: do it. The opportunity to live in a National Park is the opportunity to know and understand that Park in ways that no tourist ever will. You will see and do things that most people never realize is even possible.
Second: be prepared. No, really…be more prepared, and plan better, than I did coming up here! I left behind things – for reasons of space – that never should have been left behind (more on this later).
Third: understand what you are in for…the environment up here is a whole lot like a mix of freshman year in college and summer camp, especially for the first two months. Relax and go with the flow, get to know your co-workers – the socializing and friendships you build are tied with experiencing the Park for importance in why you came.
Okay, so you’ve signed a contract with one of the concessionaires in the Park system and you’re committed to coming. Here you go, the important shit.
- Pack smart. By that, I mean don’t pack shit you don’t absolutely have to. Whether you are driving up, or flying in and taking a shuttle to your new “home”, space & weight are very much at a premium. On one hand, I didn’t pack a whole lot of crap…but on the other, I could’ve left behind half of what I brought in favor of a couple of those things I left behind.
- Amazon is your friend. Basics like laundry soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc… can all be bought at (or near) where you’re working, but you’ll save money and frustration by just ordering it. This also means, of course, that it makes no sense to pack that stuff in the first place. Just bring enough for a week or two, then order what you’ll need for later.
- Do your research on the Park. You will be confused and out of sorts for the first month, so have ready a small list of the stuff you want to do in those first weeks. There is so much to do, and so many returnees who are already “experts” on the Park, that you will be overwhelmed…give yourself some structure to start with, then you can go free-form after you’ve settled in and mastered the basics.
- Do random shit. In spite of #3 above, when someone offers a midnight hike to somewhere you’ve never heard of, or there’s an easy group stroll to Bumfuck Falls, do it! You will regret neither the time nor the energy…even if the hike/trip/excursion isn’t your thing, the time getting to know your fellow inmates is worth it. As time goes by, you’ll have all the time in the world to do the “killer hikes”, or solo fly fishing trips, or camping outings, or whatever else draws your fancy.
- Don’t judge. The folks you work with will, in the main, be either young college kids or older, (semi)retired folks. The young kids are gonna go get drunk every night…and sometimes the older folks will, as well. Go with ‘em. Relax and enjoy life. Keep in mind, you will be working with international kids with varying levels of English and different habits, as well as with gay folks, social misfits, and even a few people so socially awkward (or just plain nuts) as to make you uncomfortable…deal with it. You have your own life, let them have theirs.
- An RV or trailer beats the dorms, every time. If you have the means, just go with me on this. I have my own room and my own bathroom, i am a hundred yards away from the employee dorms, and I still regret being this close. That being said, the best parties ARE in the employee dorms! (Ahem…there’s a future post there…oh, yes sir, is there a future post in that)
- Believe the horror stories. The “long-time” returnees will tell horror stories about weather and animals and rangers…and pretty much everything else you can imagine. Believe them. I can, err, well, confirm a lot of those. From getting three feet of snow in late June, to almost getting eaten by the biggest fucking grizzly you can imagine, I can most definitely now add my own “wisdom” to those stories.
- Be prepared to suffer for your fun. The hours can be long, and the work surprisingly hard. Specific to Yellowstone: the altitude can and will fuck with your system. It will also make your hangover MUCH worse…and, if you have even the tiniest of social bones in your body, you will get a hangover or two…
- Cell service, cell service, cell service. It’s still chancy, but it’s better than nothing. Research the main provider in whatever Park you’re going to – here in Yellowstone it is Verizon. Since I have Verizon, I get decent download speeds at night…in the day it ain’t worth it, since everyone and their five cousins are all hitting the same cell tower that I am.
And, finally…that which I dearly wish someone had given me before I left for Yellowstone: the packing list!
- You’re (presumably) a big kid – figure out your own clothing situation. Believe people when they tell you it can snow in mid-fucking-July.
- Bring separate shoes for work and play: I originally used the same pair of boots for work and hiking, and I walked through ‘em in three months.
- Bring a good daypack. You will either never hike a bit (about 10% of folks), or you’ll hike your ass off. A good daypack, and plenty of water, makes all the difference.
- Bring camping stuff. Your know: a tent, a good sleeping bag (small, for backpacking, and cold-weather-capable for, well, snows in June), a backpack stove, that kind of thing. One additional pice of advice: get a good backpack hammock and tarp. Trust me on this – it can actually take the place of a tent 75% of the time, and is a hell of a lot smaller and lighter.
- Don’t bother with a bike. I love riding…for the last couple of years, I’ve done a lot of it. Riding in a National Park just plain sucks: you can’t go on the trails, so all you have are the roads…and the most dangerous things in the park system are the tourist drivers.
- Equipment is more important than clothes. Since I got here, I have either been given (by my company) or bought (at discount) something like ten t-shirts, a couple of fleeces/sweatshirts, and a bunch of other stuff. I could have left a lot of stuff at home in favor of some equipment that I badly miss right now…
- Bring a laptop that has TV shows and movies loaded on it, or on a removable hard drive. You absolutely cannot count on the internet (trust me on that!), and DVDs take up a lot of space. A big 500 GB, or 2 TB, portable hard drive packed with music and videos will make you the most popular kid in school.