Tag Archives: Work camping

Don’t Forget the Tent

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Last summer while working at the Mercantile, I heard of not one, but two sets of campers who got all the way up the mountain only to realize they’d forgotten their tent. Groan.

Sandra the camp host told me the first story.

Photo of Blue and Yellow Lighted Dome Tent Surrounded by Plants during Night Time

Two couples showed up at her campground for the night. They arrived around 4 pm. Sandra checked them in and told then the Mercantile closed at five o’clock. Around six that evening, one of the couples was on Sandra’s campsite begging her to open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent.

What?

Apparently as they unpacked, they realized their tent hadn’t made it into their car. They didn’t have a tent. They needed a tent. Couldn’t Sandra please open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent?

Sandra explained she could not open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent. Not only did she not work at the Mercantile, meaning she had not been trained on the store’s procedures, but the cash register was closed and there was no money in the drawer. There was nothing she could do to remedy the couple’s lack of tent.

Sandra was perplexed. She’d told them the Mercantile closed at five o’clock. Why had the people waited two hours to try to buy a tent? Perhaps they didn’t started unpacking right away, I offered. Maybe the Mercantile was already closed when they realized they had no tent.

Sandra also wondered why the couple needed their own tent. Their friends

Man and Woman Sitting Beside campfire and in front of tent during Night Time

had a huge tent, Sandra said. It was an 8 or 10 person tent with plenty of room for four adults.


Maybe the tentless couple had been planning a romantic evening that didin’t include their friends, I guessed. Sandra just shrugged. I guess she figured people hoping for a romantic interlude would have planned better.

The second story of a tentless camper came from one of the other clerks in the Mercantile. This clerk’s husband was the camp host at the busy campground down he road. One weekday afternoon, a camper approached the camp host and said he’d forgotten to bring his tent. The camp host suggested the camper drive down to the Mercantile and buy a new tent. The camper said he would do just that.

Later that day, the camp host saw the camper again. The camp host asked the camper if he’d gotten a tent. The camper said he hadn’t. He said he’d been to the Mercantile but there were no tents for sale. The camp host said all the tents that had been in stock must have sold out.

When his wife came home, the camp host mentioned the camper who’d gone to the Mercantile to buy a tent only to find there were none left. His wife assured him there were at least a couple of tents available at the Mercantile. She also told him that no one had asked her anything about tents that day. She thought the camper had gone into the Mercantile and looked around but didn’t see the tents. Not seeing any tents (and perhaps not wanting to admit to another person that he’d gone on a camping trip without one), he simply left without asking for assistance.

I wonder if the camper even made it to the store where I worked. There was a general store very close to the campground where he was staying. I wonder if he thought that was the store the camp host suggested. The general store was going through a transition of ownership and had very limited stock. I would have been surprised to know that store had any tents for sale.

Person in Blue Denim Jeans Standing Outside the Rain

Of course, people forget things. When I was in my mid-30s I went on a fishing trip without shoes.I was barefoot when I got in the car. I thought I’d put my shoes in the trunk. Apparently not. When we arrived at the lake, I found I was without footwear. Luckily my friend had a spare pair of sneakers in the car. I wore them even though they were several sizes too big.

However, a tent seems like an integral component of a camping trip, especially if the camper is not driving a motor home or a camper van and isn’t towing a travel trailer or a fifth wheel. It seems as if one is going on a camping trip and is planning to sleep in a tent, the tent would be the most important item to pack.

On this day, the cultural beginning of summer, I offer you a bit of advice. If you’re going camping this summer or any time, be sure to pack the tent. Check to make sure you have it before you leave home. Ask yourself, Do I have the tent? Go ahead and double check, triple check, and check one more time. If you find the tent is not in your vehicle with the rest of your camping gear, you’ll be glad you looked for it yet again.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-blue-and-yellow-lighted-dome-tent-surrounded-by-plants-during-night-time-712067/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-and-woman-sitting-beside-bonfire-during-nigh-time-776117/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/feet-rain-wet-puddle-105776/.

Why I’m Not Going Back Up That Mountain

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A hand holds the book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
My book

It was a good run. I worked four seasons on that mountain, a total of 18 months. My first two seasons I was a camp host and a parking lot attendant. (See my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods for a collection of humorous essays I wrote about my experiences during that time.) The second two seasons I worked at a campground store.

The short answer to why I’m not going back up the mountain comes down to ice. I got tired of making 25 mile round trips to buy overpriced ice. There were two general stores on the mountain that sold ice. One sold eight pound sacks for $3.69, and the other one sold seven pound sacks for $4. Halfway down the mountain a general store sold 10 pounds sacks of ice for $3. In civilization I could get a seven pound sack for 99 cents.

I understand why I had to pay more for ice I bought on top of the mountain. That ice had to be trucked up there. The stores had to pay for the ice, pay to have it transported, and still make a profit. The stores also had to pay for electricity to keep the ice frozen. Believe me, I get it. I think I could have stomached the high prices on ice if I hadn’t had to drive so dang far to get it. Twenty-five miles for a bag of ice is just too far! After I paid for gas and wear and tear on my van and wasted so much of my time (driving 25 mountain miles took about 45 minutes), I shudder to think how much those sacks of ice were really costing me.

You might suggest I do without ice. Sometimes I did, but I love drinking very cold water. If my water’s not cold, I don’t drink enough. Also, ice in a cooler was my only form of refrigeration. When all the ice in the cooler melted, my food (eggs, cheese, produce) was at risk of spoiling; that would have been another waste of money.

A road between trees curves twice.
Driving those mountain miles

Being so far from civilization was a bigger part of the picture of why I’m not going back. I was 60 miles (again, mountain miles) from the nearest Target, Wal-Mart, or supermarket. My third and fourth seasons up there I could access the internet at the store where I worked, so technically I could shop online, but the post office where I picked up my mail was a 25-mile (you guess it, mountain miles) round trip from the campground where I stayed.

Having internet access at the Mercantile did help me stay in touch with friends and family. However, it didn’t help me much when it came to keeping up with my blog. I could only work inside the Mercantile when it was closed. If I wanted to work on my blog on my day off during the eight hours the store was open, I either had to sit on the deck in front of the store in full sun or in my van. Almost every time I tried to work in my van or on the deck, one or more of my coworkers came over to talk to me, usually to complain. What’s a writer to do? The only thing I could think to do was go down to the valley where nobody knew me.

There was a coin laundry on the mountain. It was 25 (mountain) miles away and consisted of one washer and one dryer. I could have gone there to do my laundry. Considering that each week I typically had a load of work clothes and a load of other clothes, it would have taken me a minimum of 1 and 1/2 hours to wash and dry my clothes, plus about 1 and 1/2 hours making the round-trip drive. If I had been doing The Man’s laundry too or if the two of us had been doing our laundry at the same place on the same day, it would have taken five hours, including driving time.

A carved wooden bear holds a welcome sign. It and a wooden chair sit on a wooden deck in front of a yurt.
The front porch of the Mercantile with no shade

Shall I go on? (Feel free to stop reading here if you’ve had enough of my whining.)

My first season working in the Mercantile I decided I liked working there more than I liked working as a camp host and parking lot attendant. The next season I wished I wasn’t working in the store. More of the questions I got in the store seemed substantially dumber than the ones I fielded in the parking lot and campground. People let their children run amuck in the Mercantile and expected me and the other clerks to babysit them. The temperature in the Mercantile rose to over 90 degrees if we weren’t able to use the swamp cooler. Last summer we had a lot of problems with the solar panels and batteries and the generator that powered the store; on many days we had no power to run the swamp cooler. I was overheated a lot last summer and would often stand outside and pour water over my head and neck to try to cool off. If I were working a retail job in civilization, at least I’d be in an air conditioned environment.

The prices of everything in California are freakin’ high. The prices of everything–gas, food, propane, water, (legal) recreational marijuana, auto repairs, tires, other consumer goods, and the taxes on everything–are higher than in Arizona or New Mexico. Yes, minimum wage is high in California, but companies raised their prices to cover the increased expenses when they had to start paying their employees more. (You didn’t think the shareholders were going to take a hit when companies were required to raise wages?)

Looking up the trunk of a giant sequoia to see the top.
A giant sequoia because we could all stand to think about a big tree right now

In the end, I barely broke even while working in California. I managed to save a little money, but not nearly as much as I hoped.

I figure if I’m going to work retail, I can get a job as a cashier in a supermarket or even a Dollar General and at least spend my work shifts in air conditioned comfort. I figure I can go to a tourist town in some state where prices are less than they are in California and not have to spend so much of my wages on survival. I figure I can find a way to live in my van or find a long-term house sitting gig in a town where I can walk or take public transit to the library or a coffee shop when I need to work on my blog.

Four years was a good run, but I think it’s time to try something new.

I took all of the photos in this post.

My First Raccoon

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To be honest, it wasn’t the first raccoon I’d ever seen in real life, but it was the first raccoon I’d seen on the mountain.

The other raccoons I’d seen had been spotted in Texas. On several occasions, raccoons tried to break into a house animal, raccoon, whiskerswhere I was staying, and one time while sitting on the back patio of a coffee shop in a major city, I saw a lumbering raccoon bigger than the biggest cat I’d ever laid eyes on. That sucker was huge. I guess everything really is bigger in Texas!

In the first three seasons I’d worked in campgrounds on the mountain, I’d never seen a raccoon, never heard one break into the garbage cans, never received a complaint from a camper who’d been the victim of raccoon crime. I’d occasionally wondered about the lack of raccoons, but since I knew about their persistence in the acquisition of food, I certainly didn’t wish for any of these critters in the campgrounds where I stayed.

During my second summer as a camp host, I’d asked my coworker about the lack of raccoons. He’d lived in the area for nearly 20 years, so he was my main source of information about local flora and fauna. He postulated that a lack of water kept the creatures off the top of the mountain. That seemed like a logical explanation to me, but the next year was wetter with still no sign of raccoons.

The raccoon made its appearance during the last week of July of my fourth season on the mountain. It first showed up in the campground where the Mercantile is located. Sandra the camp host told me on the night it arrived, it went from campsite to campsite, scavenging. On site #1, the raccoon stole a cheeseburger off the table while the camping family sat there eating dinner. It was certainly a bold creature!

The Man had come back to work a part-time maintenance job which required no dealing with money, paperwork, or the general public. Of course, Jerico the dog had come back with him. We were all staying at the group campground together. Maybe a week after the cheeseburger incident, the raccoon made an appearance on our campsite.

We’d been to civilization that day and come back with plenty of supplies. The Man had loaded all his food into his minivan but hadn’t yet put away a 15 pound bag of dog food which was leaning on a stump outside the van.

The Man had come over to my rig but left Jerico in his van. It had grown dark while we lay in my bed talking. Suddenly from the other van we heard Jerico start barking, and he didn’t stop. There were campers on the other end of the campground, and I thought one of them had approached our camp.

When Jerico started barking, The Man jumped out of my van and went over to his to see what the commotion was about. In less than a minute, he was hollering, Honey! Honey! Bring me my headlamp!

There’d been a raccoon out there, and now it was in the tree! Jerico had treed a ‘coon from inside the minivan! What a hound!

The raccoon was still moving up the tree when I got outside, so I threw a couple of pine cones at the tree for good measure.

Don’t hurt it! The Man said, but I had no intention (or ability) to hit it. I just wanted it to find the environment of our campsite inhospitable.

It might have rabies! The Man said, which was possible, but unlikely if it was content to slowly climb a tree. I heard a terrifying story on This American Life once about a woman attacked by a rabid raccoon and that motherfucker was aggressively going after the woman, not trying to take refuge in a tree. Our raccoon was obviously trying to practice avoidance.

With the light from my Luci lamp, I could just make out the raccoon’s glowing eyes high above the ground. With The Man’s bright headlamp, we could see the raccoon splayed out on a branch ten or twelve feet up. This one was much smaller than the lumbering beast I’d seen at the coffee shop in Texas.

The Man put the dog food in his van, and we made sure there was no food left outside to entice the raccoon. We all went to bed and didn’t hear from the raccoon again.

A couple of days later in the Mercantile, I heard about the further exploits of what must have been the same critter.

Two young men were in the Mercantile early on Sunday morning. They reported they’d seen a raccoon in the campground the night before. They’d actually seen the raccoon on their very own campsite. In fact, the raccoon had stolen a bag holding the swimsuit and towel belonging to one of the guys. It had been too dark to find the bag right after it was stolen, but he’d found it that morning in the bushes. The raccoon had ripped the bag trying to get to the contents. We joked about the raccoon being sad after it discovered that the bag it had just grabbed contained the worst snack ever.

I wondered aloud why, after three and a half seasons of seeing no raccoons, this one had suddenly appeared. The other young man said the raccoon must have been pushed out of its territory, and now had to find a new home. I suspect the young man was right. Maybe a wildfire had pushed the raccoon out, or maybe it reached maturity and had to leave the territory of its birth. I spent the rest of my time on the mountain doing my best to put food away so the raccoon wouldn’t try again to make my territory its territory.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-whiskers-raccoon-16605/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/zoo-bear-raccoon-saeugentier-54602/.

Sloth?

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The cars in a caravan of about 15 parked in the overflow lot in front of the Mercantile. I don’t know if the people in the cars were a family or friends or what, but the folks from the group who visited the Mercantile ranged in age from babes-in-arms to senior citizens. Of course, the children who came inside ooohhed and ahhhhed over all the things they wanted but their parents weren’t going to buy.

A little boy who was maybe five walked right over to the wagon full of stuffed animals and pulled out a monkey.

Wait? What? A monkey? On a mountain in North America? Why in the world were we trying to sell a stuffed money? Those were the questions I wanted answered.

The plush toy in question is not visible in this photo.

I’d just pulled the monkey out of our plush toy back stock earlier in the day. Why are we selling a monkey? I’d asked the other store clerks. Neither of them had any idea. I tossed the monkey into the big wagon with the stuffed bears and raccoons and other woodland creatures. Maybe we’d sell it eventually.

The boy honed in on the monkey, picked it up, and carried it over to his older sister who seemed to be about nine. Look, a sloth! he said as he handed the plush toy to her.

The sister looked as confused as I felt. A sloth? Really? While selling a stuffed sloth in the middle of a North American forest on top of a mountain made about as much sense as selling a toy monkey in that location, I didn’t think what we had was a sloth. It didn’t look a bit like a sloth to me.

The sister was scrutinizing the tag attached to the toy’s ear, trying to find an indication of its species, I presume. I sidled up to her and said, I think it’s a monkey. She looked startled. Maybe she was surprised to find an adult getting involved.

My brother said it’s a sloth, she told me.

I know, I acknowledged, but I think it’s a monkey. I walked away from the girl then. I didn’t want to creep her out by hanging around.

A few minutes later, a man who turned out to be the dad of the two kids came into the Mercantile. He looked around at the goods for sale and found himself in front of the wagon full of stuffed animals. His daughter must have returned the monkey to the wagon because there it was, looking up at him. I’ll be damned if he didn’t exclaim, Look! A sloth!

The father had an accent that led me to believe English was not his first language. Had he somehow gotten confused in his study of animal names and thought the critters English speakers call “monkeys” are called “sloths”? Had he taught his son the names of animals, thus passing down the monkey/sloth confusion? Had the girl child learned the proper animal names in school, but the boy child hadn’t gotten to that lesson yet? Or could it simply be that what looked like a monkey to me looked like a sloth to others?

A few weeks later, a different little boy solved the mystery.

He was probably seven or eight and made a beeline to the big wagon filled with stuffed animals. A Sasquatch! he exclaimed as he plucked the monkey/sloth from away from its furry companions.

A Sasquatch?  I pondered. This kid might be on to something.

Is this a Sasquatch? the kid asked the adult who seemed to be his father.

I don’t know, the father said. Why don’t you ask? he said, gesturing to the other clerks standing behind the counter.

The boy marched up to the counter with the monkey/sloth/Sasquatch in tow. Is this a Sasquatch? he asked one of the other clerks.

I have no idea, she told him.

I took a good look at the plush toy. Yes. I could see how it was possibly, maybe, perhaps supposed to be a Sasquatch.

I want the Sasquatch, the boy told his father,

You only get one thing, the father told his son. He mentioned a half dozen other things the boy might want from the Mercantile, but the boy stood strong. He wanted the Sasquatch.

Just before the other clerk rang up the purchase, I ran over behind the counter. Let me see that! I demanded, grabbing the plush toy and finding the tag attached to its ear. Yep, there on the tag with the barcode and item number, in tiny letters it said, “Bigfoot.” Mystery solved. Why hadn’t I just looked there in the first place?

I took a photo of the stuffed animal in question and planned to share it here, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. It probably actidentally ended up in the wrong folder and I’d never renamed it, so itsname is just a bunch of random numbers. Sigh. Blogger fail.

I took the photo in this post.

Wad of Cash

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It was a Saturday afternoon in mid-June and the Mercantile was busy. A group of tween Girl Scouts and their families were scooping up souvenirs throughout the store. I was working the floor, helping people find sizes and doing my best to watch out for shoplifting.

I asked two young adult women standing by the shelf of t-shirts for kids if they needed any help. One of the woman asked if I had anything in XXXL. I told her I had one design in that size and led her over to where those shirts were stacked on a shelf. I reached to the bottom of a pile and pulled out the XXXL shirt.

The woman had a handful of stuff, mostly brochures for tourist attractions from what I could tell. She set all the stuff she’d been holding on the shelf between two stacks of t-shirts so she could take the shirt I was holding. She held the shirt at arm’s length and cast a critical eye upon it. I think this will fit my husband, she said. I’ll take it.

Rolled 20 U.s Dollar BillShe draped the shirt over her arm, grabbed her stack of stuff from the shelf and turned away from me. I glanced at the shelf, and lying where her tourist attraction brochures had been was a wad of cash. It must have been on the bottom of her stack and was smaller than everything else, so when she picked up her stack, the money was left behind.

Sometimes we have time to deliberate over our moral dilemmas and sometimes we make our moral decisions in an instant.

I reached out and grabbed the wad of cash. It would have only taken me an instant to slip it into one of the pockets of my apron. When the woman realized it was gone, she probably wouldn’t remember setting it on the shelf. If she did remember where she’d last had it, well, there were a lot of people in the store and any of them could have picked up a wad of cash found sitting on a shelf.

Instead of putting the money in my pocket, I called out, Ma’am? Ma’am? Man Holds 10 U.s Dollar Banknote

The woman turned around, and I held up the wad of cash. You forgot this, I said to her.

She looked sheepish and said, I won’t be able to buy anything without that.

I reached out and returned her money.

It was the right thing to do.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/rolled-20-u-s-dollar-bill-164527/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-holds-10-u-s-dollar-banknote-928201/.

Treachery

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It was the morning of the first day of training for my seasonal job. About a dozen of us workers sat in the small conference room of a shabby Best Western, learning the ins and outs of our jobs on the mountain.

We were wrapping up from a short break when The Big Boss Man said for all to hear, Blaize, it’s a picture of your van!

He was looking at his phone, so I thought a visitor had posted on some review site a photo that included my van. The real story was much more complicated than that.

The message my boss received came from the Forest Service. A visitor to the trail had taken a photo of my van in the parking lot and sent the photo with a message to someone in the Forest Service, but whether the message went to some national email address or directly to someone local, I have no idea.

This is the iron ranger The Man and I were accused of robbing.

This is the (paraphrased) story the visitor told in the message to the Forest Service: The visitor was in the parking lot and saw a van pull up to the iron ranger and two people who didn’t look like they belonged there retrieved the money from the iron ranger. The people seemed to be “under the influence.” After taking the envelopes from the iron ranger, the two shady people stayed in the area, probably to hit other locations.

I don’t know what day or time the reported incident occurred. The Man and I had gone together to empty the iron ranger a few times in the six days we’d been on the mountain before we received this report. Depending on what day the visitor saw us empty the iron ranger, the circumstances were slightly different. The Man thinks the incident probably happened the day he opened the ranger and 35 or 40 envelopes fell into his lap, causing him to yell exuberantly to me, Honey! Honey! Get a bag! Get a bag! I think the incident happened the day I emptied the iron ranger, then The Man and I stayed in the area (parking lot, campground, trail, highway) picking up trash. In any case, please allow me to separate the fact from the fiction in the visitor’s tale.

FACT: The company I work for does not provide me with a vehicle to drive between campgrounds, so I drive my van to the parking lot when I go there to retrieve money from the iron ranger. My van sports no decals or magnets with the company logo. So, yes, the visitor did see my hippie van with out-of-state plates in the parking lot. There is no disputing that the van in the photo is indeed my van.

FICTION: Two people who didn’t belong there retrieved the money from the iron ranger.

FACT:  The Man and I very much belonged there. We were on the company payroll, with instructions to empty the iron ranger.

It seems to me that seeing us emptying the iron ranger in broad daylight would have been a clue we belonged there. It seems to me the fact that we had a key to unlock the padlock protecting the money would have been a clue we were authorized to retrieve the envelopes.

FACT: To be fair, we weren’t in regulation uniforms. I had not been issued uniform pants, so I was wearing a uniform shirt, my uniform jacket, and my nametag from last season along with a pair of tan Carhartt-type pants. The Man was wearing a uniform shirt and uniform jacket with grey sweatpants because he was on his way to paint and didn’t want to ruin his uniform pants before the season even began.

So maybe our attire did not scream professional, but if the concerned citizen had spoken to us, even casually, we could have explained who we were and what we were doing there.

FICTION: We were “under the influence” (presumably of some illicit chemical substance).

FACT: We were certainly not under the influence of any illicit chemical substance. I don’t know where the visitor got that idea. Maybe because we were laughing and joking? Maybe the visitor thinks only people who are chemically altered can have a good time at work?

FACT: Yes, we stayed in the area after we emptied the iron ranger. We either went next door to the campground to work there, or we spent the next couple of hours picking up trash.

Honestly, I’m not upset my boss was contacted, although I have to admit I’m a bit miffed about that “under the influence” part. I know The Man and I were doing nothing wrong. However, why can’t people just talk to each other? If the concerned citizen had only spoken to me or The Man, we could have cleared everything up.

 

 

Thieves!

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The Man and I got up the mountain early and started our season of work. He was hired to be the camp host at the campground where I’d held that position for two seasons as well as to work at the parking lot for the trail. I was hired to work at the store, but it wasn’t scheduled to open until Memorial Day Weekend. Before the campgrounds were even open, The Man was working to get his and the one next to the parking lot ready for campers. I worked at the parking lot on the weekends, collected the day use envelopes each evening, and spent my nights babysitting yurts.

We worked on the mountain for six days, then went back down in the valley for staff training. We spent two days in the conference room of a shabby hotel with our work camper peers, learning about the company we work for and how to properly complete paperwork. Our two days off (Friday and Saturday) occurred immediately after our training. Friday was payday, so we stayed in town Thursday night and did our shopping on Friday morning. We were back on the mountain by early Friday afternoon. All told, we spent two nights away from the campground.

On Sunday I worked at the parking lot while The Man did more prep work at the main campground. On Monday I spent my entire work day reconciling the money I’d collected at the parking lot over the last eight days while The Man wroked at the main campground again, this time removing tarps from yurt platforms. We ate breakfast and dinner at our campground on those days, and The Man spent his nights there while I was away guarding the yurts, but neither of us ventured far from our campsite.

On Tuesday we planned to spend our morning at our campground. The store yurt was up, and the box truck with all the fixtures was supposed to arrive on Tuesday afternoon. The Man and I were going to help unload it. Before that, I wanted to give the restrooms at the trail a good sanitizing cleaning. The Man and I decided before we headed to our work down the road, we’d spend the early part of our morning working at our campground.

I was in a restroom on the back side of the campground wiping down the outside of a pit toilet when I heard The Man yell.

Honey! Honey! he shouted. Someone stole a fire ring!

A fire ring? I wondered. Those things were made of metal and heavy. How could someone steal a fire ring? Doing so would not be a casual endeavor. Why would someone steal a fire ring?

I walked out to where The Man was standing on site #1. Sure enough, it was lacking a fire ring. I remembered seeing it while raking on site #1 before we went to civilization for training, so I knew it hadn’t been stolen over the winter.

The thieves had pulled the fire ring up from where it had been partially sunk in the ground. We could see the marks in the dirt where it had been dragged across the site.

The Man wondered if someone he’d told the campground was closed and sent on their way had stolen the fire ring as a form of revenge.

I doubt it, I told him. No one in a Volvo stole the fire ring to bring it home to suburbs. I bet someone in a truck took it, but there’s no way we’ll ever know.

The Man said this was a wake-up call for us; we should put our things (water jugs, stove, propane tank) away when we left the campground. I just mentally rolled my eyes. I always put my stuff away before The Man came along and told me I was being overly cautious.

I can’t believe someone stole the fire ring, The Man said for the tenth time.

Actually, I counterd, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before.

If you enjoyed this story, check out my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. It’s all about my two seasons as a camp host and parking lot attendant at a very popular trailhead.

 

Welcome Back! (An Update on My Current Situation)

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I hadn’t beein in the forest three minutes, and already a tourist was asking me a question.

The Man and I had been boondocking on public land just outside a mountain town, waiting around until we were

This was the view the last time I dealt with snow in May.

closer to the day we had to report for training for our summer jobs. We could make the trip from where we were to where we needed to be in two days. We were more than a week away from when we planned to leave when I checked the weather forecast and saw we were facing a cold snap. The report said the high on Wednesday was predicted to be 44 degrees with a 70% chance or rain or snow. Snow! In May? Snow in May is not unheard of in the higher elevations.

I could wait out a day of cold at the library or a coffee shop, and The Man and the dog and I could cuddle down for a night in the mid 20s, but I was concerned about what rain and snow would do to the road that brought us into and out of our camping spot. It was a red dirt road, already rutted and rocky. I was afraid a day of rain or a melted blanket of snow would turn it into a mudyy, mushy, soupy mess. I didn’t want to get stuck in the mud, and I didn’t want to get stuck on our campsite because I was avoiding the road. The Man and I decided we’d leave on Tuesday, before the weather turned bad.

We were up Tuesday morning early. We cooked and ate breakfast, packed up our kitchen and the last few items we had lying around. Our last two errands in town were to dump our trash and hit up the food bank. We were on the road by 9:30.

We drove through rain, but made it to our stopping point just fine. We hadn’t been there long when my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered, I found The Big Boss Man on the other end of the line.

He had a favor to ask, he said. Maybe we could help him. The crew was coming to the main campground on our side of the mountain in the next few days to put up the yurts. Once the yurts were up, he’d need someone to babysit them, especially at night. Did we think we could get up the mountain before the training?

That might work, I said and told him we were already more than halfway there. We could be there in the next couple of days, I let him know.

I asked him if he actually had work for us so we could start earning money and he said we could rake and paint and clean firepits, and do whatever needed to be done to get the campgrounds ready to open. He could certainly keep us busy and pay us for our work.

When I got off the phone, I talked to The Man about the situation. We agreed we were ready to get up the mountain and get to work so we could start making money.

We drove the next day and made it up the mountain. Before we’d left cell phone service behind, I’d called The Big Boss Man and left a message letting him know we were on our way. I knew once we got on the mountain, we’d have no cell service and wouldn’t be able to call anyone.

I decided to go to the main campground first to see if the boss was there supervising yurt construction. I found myself driving behind a medium-sized rented motorhome. It passed the trail’s parking lot and pulled into the lower part of the long, wide driveway of the campground next door. I pulled my van into the campground’s driveway too, and The Man followed me with his van. The gate was closed and appeared locked. I jumped out of my van to determine if the padlock was actually locked or only dummy locked. It was actually locked; no one was working in that campground.

I walked over to The Man’s minivan to let him know the gate was locked. We decided to go to the campground where we would be living for the summer and wait for the Big Boss Man to come to us. The Man zipped around the motorhome and was out of there fast. I was climbing back into my van when I saw a woman emerge from the passenger side of the motorhome. She walked over to my van, a yellow sheet of paper in her hand. Oh no! Here we go! I thought as she approached me. Then I realized if I let myself be annoyed in my first three minutes back, it was going to be a long season.

I opened my door (because my window doesn’t roll down) and said, Yes?

She pointed to the map on her yellow sheet of paper. We are here? Her accent was definitely not American. She was looking for the trail.

I pointed back the way we’d come. The parking lot for the trail is about 200 yards that way.

The tourist season had officially begun for me.

I took the photo in this post.

10 Things You Can Do to Increase Your Chances of Having a Great Experience as a Camp Host

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Some aspects of having a great experience as a camp host are matters of chance. You have little control over the weather, the mood of your boss, the number of mosquitoes buzzing around your campsite, or whether your campers are nice folks or jerks. However, here are 10 things you can do to increase your chances of having a great camp hosting experience.

#1 Choose a campground in an area that’s right for you. If you read my previous post 10 Steps to Getting a Job as a Work Camper at a Campground, you’ll know you need to consider where you want to work. If you hate humidity, don’t take a job in the Deep South. If you love humidity, stay out of the desert. If you’re hoping for a cool summer, go up in the mountains. You’ll start out at a disadvantage if you hate your campground’s location.

#2 Ask a lot of questions before you accept a job.

The following are questions you may want to ask:

  • What is my pay rate?
  • How many hours will I be scheduled to work each week? What happens if I work more than my allotted hours? Will I get paid for overtime? Does overtime have to be approved in advance?
  • What duties am I responsible for?
  • How many days off will I get each week? Will I get the same days off each week? When does my time off begin and when does it end? What if my day off falls on a holiday?
  • Will my partner and I work the same hours? Will we get the same days off?
  • Am I allowed to have visitors while I’m on duty?
  • If I drive my own vehicle for work related duties, will I get a mileage reimbursement?
  • If I work after Labor Day weekend, will my hours be cut? If they are cut, by how much?

#3 Get it in writing. Ask for a contract. If there are any disagreements between you and the management in the future, you can refer to your contract.

Skunk cabbage growing in the campground where I was the host for two seasons.

#4 Research the area where you’ll be working before you go. Learn all you can about the nearby attractions as well as what animals and plants you might see. Keep learning once you get to your campground. Go to the places campers ask you about. Learn the answers to the questions everyone asks.

#5 During your research get yourself a really good paper map of the area. Some people are visual learners and will really appreciate it if you can show them how to get from here to there on a map. Also, if you are in a remote location, GPS systems and map apps may not work.

#6 Know the campground rules and follow them. It’s difficult to enforce rules if campers see you breaking them.

#7 Get paid for every hour you work. It’s only fair. Likewise, work every hour you put on your time card. That’s only fair too.

These are the comfortable, sturdy boots I wore during my first season as a camp host.

#8 Use gloves when cleaning toilets. If the company you work for doesn’t provide you with gloves, provide your own. Trust me, it’s a lot easier to clean toilets when you’re not overly worried about getting grossness on your hands.

#9 Wear comfortable, sturdy, closed-toe shoes. Break them in before you start your job.

#10 Laugh every chance you get.  People will be rude. You’ll have to pick up annoying micro trash. It will rain when you were hoping for sunshine or snow when you were hoping for warmth. A sense of humor will get you through the rough spots and make your entire camp hosting experience much more enjoyable.

Blaize Sun was a camp host for two seasons (mid-May through mid-October) in a remote Forest Service location in the mountains of California. She wrote a book about her experiences. It’s called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During her time as a camp host she chased a nursing mouse out of a restroom, cleaned feces off the floor, and discovered a dead man. Her sense of humor is all that kept her going on more than one occasion.

I took the photos in this post, except for the image of Confessions of a Work Camper. That’s an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on the image, anything you put in your cart and buy from Amazon during that session will earn me a small advertising fee.

 

 

10 Steps to Getting a Job as a Work Camper at a Campground

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Lots of rubber tramps, nomads, vagabonds, and van dwellers are drawn to the idea of work camping. Working a few months, accumulating a pile of money, then living several months without a job can be quite appealing. While there are a variety of work camping jobs available throughout the year (Amazon CamperForce during the winter holiday season, the beet harvest shortly after that), working at a campground during camping season (typically Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, but sometimes later in the year depending on the weather) gives workers the added bonus of spending time in nature.

People who’ve never before worked in a campground often wonder how they should go about getting such a work camper job. Today I’ll share with you ten steps to help you get a work camper job at a campground.

#1 Be honest with yourself about your strengths, weaknesses, desires, and dislikes. If the thought of cleaning pit toilets makes you gag, you may not cut it as a camp host. Perhaps you might be better suited to a job at a campground store. Not really a people person? Maybe you should get a job (such as doing maintenance) which doesn’t require contact with the public every day.

#2 Consider where you want to work. What state or region draws you? Do you want to be close to family members or as far away as possible? Hate sand? You probably don’t want to get a job at the beach. Have breathing problems? You may not want to work in the mountains. Can’t stand the heat? The desert is probably not for you.

Remember that as a rule, temperature drops with a rise in elevation. If you’re looking to escape from summer heat, get a job in the mountains. If you’re always cold, find a place to work at sea level.

Being flexible may improve your chances of getting a job. If you decide you’ll only work in Delaware, you might discover the job market is tight. If you expand your job search to the entire Eastern Seaboard, you’ll have a better chance of finding employment.

#5 Decide if you want to work at a private campground or on public land. Some facilities on public land are run by private companies who have negotiated contracts with the government agency managing the land.

#4 Think about the amenities you need. If you need electricity for medical reasons, don’t take a job at a campground with no electrical hookups unless you will be allowed to run your generator whenever necessary. (Many campgrounds have quiet hours when running a generator is not allowed.) If you can’t live without Facebook and YouTube, don’t work in a remote location without internet access. If you have to check in with a loved one every night, a campground with no landline and no cell phone service is not going to cut it for you. If you need a hot shower every morning and you can’t take one in your rig, make sure any campground you consider working in can provide that for you.

Find out not only how far any campground you are considering working at is from town, but also what is available in that town. Where I work in the mountains, there are communities where I can buy ice and highly overpriced food eight and twelve miles from my campground, but those communities offer no WiFi and no cell phone service. I have to drive a minimum of 30 miles to get to even a small town grocery store. You’ll need to decide how far from civilization you can stand to be.

#5 Assess your rig. Can it make it across country to get to a job? Will it make it up a mountain if that’s where the campground you’ll be working at is? If you’ll have to drive it back and forth to civilization on your days off, what’s your gas mileage like?

Some companies only hire workers with newer rigs. Check with the companies you hope to work for to determine if your rig matches their criteria.

Some companies also require a photo of your rig before they’ll make a hiring decision. When you take the photo, be sure you get your rig’s “best side.”

Before you take a job, make sure your rig will fit in the site reserved for the camp host.

#6 Look closely at your financial situation. Can you afford to work in exchange for a only spot to park your rig and full hookups or do you need to earn an hourly wage? Some state parks do give campground volunteers a small stipend, which can help offset your costs.

Consider how much it will cost you to get to your job. Are you going in the hole to get to work? How many hours will you have to put in before you recoup your expenses?

If you’re working in a remote location, how much will it cost you each time you go into civilization? Factor in the amount of gas you’re using, wear and tear on your vehicle, and the amount of time you’re losing driving.

#7 Start your job search.

If you’re on Facebook, join the groups relating to work camping. Some of these groups include Work Campers Mobile Jobs, RV Hosts & Work Campers of America, Workampers, Journey RV Workampers, and The Camphosts.  Members of these groups share information about work camping jobs, including jobs at campgrounds.

Private companies that hire camp hosts and other workers for campground jobs include American Land and Leisure, California Land Management, Recreation Resource Management, Hoodoo Recreation, KOA, Rocky Mountain Recreation, Scenic Canyons Recreational Services, and Thousand Trails. Go to these companies’ websites to find out what campground positions are currently open.

Several job search websites list camp host and other campground jobs. Try Indeed, Happy Vagabonds, and Glassdoor.

If you’re interested in a volunteer work camper position, go to Vounteer.gov. You can put in keywords (such as “camp host”) in the search bar and even choose the city and state you would like to work in.

Workamper News is another source for finding work camping jobs. There’s a free membership which includes the digital version of Workamper News Magazine and a $47 a year membership that includes the printed version of the magazine and a lots of extras like a résumé builder and a member directory. I’ve never had a Workamper membership, but I know the company is highly regarded by the people who use it.

Another resource for nomads looking for campground work is the job board on the Your RV Lifestyle website. Campground jobs listed on the board range from store and office workers to camp hosts to grounds maintenance staff.

#8 Write an awesome resume. If you’ve never been a camp host or work camper, accent how the jobs you’ve had in the past relate to the job you want. Research I’ve done indicates that even if a potential employer asks for a resume, the person actually reading it appreciates applicants who keep things concise and relevant.

#9 Interview like a champ. Make a list of questions before your interview. You can find a great list of questions to get you started on the Workers on Wheels website. Take notes during the interview and repeat what you’ve heard to make sure you understand what was said. Ask for clarification about anything you don’t understand. Be honest, but don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Let the employer know how you will be an asset to the operation.

#10 Apply early and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Work camping positions in popular locations fill up fast. If you are willing to apply for several different positions, you increase your chances of being hired somewhere. If this is your first shot at work camping, you may want to take a position that is less desirable to you so you can get your foot in the door and some experience under your belt.

If you are offered employment as a camp host, be sure to read my post “10 Things You Can Do to Increase Your Chances of Having a Great Experience as a Camp Host.” This post will give you tips for for getting the most out of your job in a campground.

Blaize Sun got her first work camping job as a camp host and parking lot attendant in 2015. She wrote about her work camping experiences in her book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. She also worked in a campground store for two seasons.

I took the photos of the pit toilet and Smokey the Bear. The photo of Confessions of a Work Camperis an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it, whatever you add to your cart and buy while on Amazon will earn me a small advertising fee.