Tag Archives: Work camping

Wheelchairs and Work Camping

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A reader recently asked me for my thoughts on work camping by someone who uses a wheelchair. I wanted to give as complete and thorough answer as possible, so I decided to make my reply a blog post, in hopes of reaching as many people as possible.

First of all, I’m not really qualified to write about the topic. While I do have experience as a work camper, I don’t use a wheelchair or crutches or a cane or leg braces or any equipment to enhance my mobility. As of right now, I don’t have any mobility issues. (I know this could change in a heartbeat.) I’ll do my best to answer this question based on my experience as a work camper, but if anyone reading this post knows of an article about work camping while using a wheelchair or (better yet) has personal experience work camping while using a wheelchair, please leave a comment with more information.

Folks should keep in mind that there are a wide variety of work camper jobs available.

Amazon hires work campers during the winter holiday season to pull, pack, and ship items. I’ve not worked for Amazon, but I know people who have. Many of the jobs available require pulling items from shelves and moving those items across large distances in a warehouse from where they are stored to where they are packed from shipping.

Work campers are hired for the beet harvest season in Minnesota, Montana, and the Dakotas. Again, I’ve not worked for a company harvesting beets, so I’m not sure how a person with mobility issues would fair in such a work environment. My understanding is that there are different positions available for members of the harvesting team, so someone using a wheelchair might be able to find a specific job compatible with his/her abilities.

My work camper experience has included two seasons as a camp host/parking lot attendant and my current position as a clerk in a campground store/visitor center.

As a camp host, my duties included cleaning pit toilets, picking up trash, raking campsites, collecting money from campers, and completing paperwork associated with renting campsites. I can’t really say what a specific individual using a wheelchair could or couldn’t do. Different people have different abilities, and may be able to do some or all of those tasks, depending on their individual situations and whether or not necessary accommodations could be provided. The campground where I worked had no pavement, so a wheelchair able to easily roll on dirt would be necessary in such an environment.

If a person who uses a wheelchair feels s/he is unable to perform all duties required of a camp host, one way to handle the situation might be to work as a team. The area where I work has three campgrounds where there are two hosts, each working 30-40 hours a week. In many situations, these camp host teams are husband/wife duos, but such teams could be made up of two friends or a parent and adult child. In most situations, the camp host team would be allowed to divide up the workload however they want, according to their abilities and preferences.

Some work camper jobs involve working in an office, either as part of being a camp host or as a job in and of itself. I don’t have personal experiences with office job work camping, but people in a couple of Facebook groups I’m in have done it. Working in an office may be ideal for someone with mobility issues.

I currently work as a sales clerk in what is essentially a gift shop. Except for breaks, there are at least two workers in the store at all times. I believe everything I do (folding t-shirts, restocking shelves, talking to visitors, opening the register at the beginning of a shift and closing it at the end, ringing up sales, taking payment, and making change) could be done by a person who uses a wheelchair. My co-worker doesn’t like opening and closing the register, so while I’m doing those procedures, he puts out or brings in the furniture that sits on the deck during business hours, carries the snack food in from or out to the storage trailer, and opens all of the windows. We are allowed to decide how we will divide the labor.

The bottom line is, every work camping job is different, just as every work camper is different and has different strengths and abilities. I encourage every potential work camper—with or without mobility issues—to investigate thoroughly any job of interest.  Be prepared to ask a lot of questions. What are the duties of the person who will do the job? What physical abilities are required of the person who will do the job? Does the job require lifting a certain number of pounds? Is a camp host expected to get on his/her hands and knees to clean pit toilets? What tools must be used to complete a job? Is the camp host expected to empty garbage can? Can a camp host team divide the labor however the team members wish? Is the campground paved? Is the camp host site wheelchair accessible? Do your best to make sure a work situation is a good fit for individual strengths and limitations before accepting a job.

I don’t know much about the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), but it may offer protections as to what questions a potential employer can ask and what accommodations an employer must offer to workers with disabilities. If I had a disability and wanted to pursue a work camper positon, I would familiarize myself with the ADA and the protections it offers before I began applying for jobs.

As I said before, I would appreciate if readers with personal experience or links to information on the web would post in the comments section. Otherwise, keep in mind that every work camping job is different and every person using a wheelchair is different, so do your homework and ask a lot of questions about specifics before accepting a position.

12 Ways Being a Camp Host/Day Use Area Attendant Was Easier than Working in the Store

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My last post was all about the ways my current job as a clerk at a mercantile is easier than my former job as a camp host/day use area attendant. Today I’ll share some of the ways being a camp host and a day use area attendant was easier than what I do now.

#1 As a camp host/day use area attendant, I wasn’t expected to suggestive sell anything.

I took this photo of a giant sequoia.

#2 I worked outside and could catch a breeze. The yurt I work in now sometimes reaches 90 degrees and breezes are rare. The yurt has open windows, but most of them are partially blocked by shelves full of merchandise. The additions of a fan near the cash register and a swamp cooler help, but I often miss being outside in the shade.

#3 I’m currently tempted by consumer products all day.  There’s not a lot I want in the store (the clothes are either polyester blends or don’t come in my size), but I do find myself wanted ridiculous things like wooden postcards and patches that are supposed to deter mosquitoes by enhancing the B vitamins in my system.

#4 At the parking lot, I sat in my chair between collecting fees. There are no chairs in the store, and sitting on the counters is frowned upon. These days my feet and legs are quite tired at the end of my shift.

#5 I miss my parking lot co-worker who quit his job before I arrived.

#6 I no longer have my own campsite. The Man and I share my old campsite with the current camp host. It’s not terrible, but sometimes it does feel a bit crowded.

#7 In previous seasons, I was the only person who touched the money for which I was responsible. At any given day at the mercantile, up to four people could have hands in the cash drawer.

#8 I have to tell people about the yurts on site multiple times each day. In the past, I usually only talked about the yurts every week or two.

#9 It’s not fun to tell people items they want are out of stock.

#10 I seldom worked more than seven hours in a day as a camp host/day use area attendant. Working in the store, I pull two nine hour days each week. I’m looking forward to the overtime pay, but on those days, I miss the two hours of free time.

#11 While people don’t seem to care what a parking lot attendant or a camp host looks like, I feel I should look a little more presentable while working in the store. Now I try to keep my clothes clean and my hair (somewhat) cute.

#12 As a camp host, I set my own work hours. I could sleep late or spend a few hours writing in the afternoon before fulfilling my camp host obligations. The store has a schedule, and when I’m on the schedule, I have to be there, no matter what I’d rather be doing.

If you want to read more about my adventures in the campground and day use area, check out my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods.  The collection of essays is available on Amazon as a paperback and an eBook.

Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods

10 Ways Working in the Mercantile is Easier Than Being a Camp Host

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During the camping seasons (May through October) of 2015 and 2016, I worked as a camp host in a very small (nine rentable sites) campground in a remote area of a National Forest. In addition to my camp host duties, I worked in the day use area of a very popular trailhead. (To read about those adventures, get my collection of

Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
personal essays Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods, available from Amazon as a paperback or an eBook.)

This camping season, I was hired to work in the new “mercantile” (the word the Forest Service prefers over “store”) at the campground just down the road from the day use area. The store’s been open just over a month, and I’ve identified several reasons I think working in the store is easier than being a camp host.

#1 No pit toilets to clean.

#2 No raking sites or cleaning fire rings either.

#3 Less outdoor work and physical labor means I don’t get as dirty.

#4 I work out of the sun. Being indoors most of the day means I don’t have to wear a hat or sunscreen or long sleeves to protect my skin.

This photo I took shows the mercantile where The Man and I work. The mercantile is housed in a yurt.

#5 I don’t have to explain to people why the pass they paid a lot of money for does not get them a reduced rate on their campsite.

#6 I don’t have to keep large piles of the company’s money in my van.

#7 I work clearly defined shifts. As a camp host, I had to handle problems whenever they arose. As a clerk in the store, when my shift is over, I’m off duty.

#8 When my shift is over, I take off my uniform and nonemployees think I’m just another visitor. No one thinks to ask me questions when I’m on my campsite in “civilian” clothes.

#9 When new stock comes in, my co-workers and I have the fun of deciding where and how to display everything.

#10 So far, really obnoxious people have stayed out of the store.

Stay tuned tomorrow for ten ways being a camp host and day use attendant was easier than working in the mercantile.

Help

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The technology at the store had let us down.

The internet had glitched out around 10am, and we lost our cash register system. We waited around for it to reboot, and when the situation didn’t take care of itself, The Big Boss had The Man unplug and replug some equipment. When that didn’t work either, we put in a call to the company’s cash register maven. She wasn’t in, so a messagw was left, then we sat around the store hoping for a technological miracle.

Luckily, it was a slow day. It was actually a really slow day. When it was all said and done, after 8 hours, we’d only sold a few stuffed toys, a map, a couple tubes of sunscreen, a few t-shirts, and a handful of parking passes.

We had to do each sale the old-fashion way. We wrote a customer’s items down on a paper receipt. Next we added together the prices of all the customer’s items, then multiplied the total by 1.08 to get the total with tax. If the customer didn’t give us exact change, we used the calculator to figure how much money to hand back. In 2017, it felt like a long and antiquated process.

The Man had been handling most of the sales transactions. I was happy enough to talk to people and avoid the math.

The young woman came into the store late in the day. She had several young children in tow. She asked if we sold sunscreen. I said yes and brought her right over to the (admittedly small) sunscreen selection. I showed her the small tubes and the two varieties of sunscreen sticks. She was immediately unhappy.

Don’t you have anything bigger? she asked.

I told her I did not.

Then she looked at the price, which increased her unhappiness.

I admit, $3.95 for a tiny tube of sunscreen is kind of steep. However, I didn’t set the price. Besides, what did she expect up in the mountains? When you leave civilization, you have to expect to pay more for luxuries.

I guess I shouldn’t have left the sunscreen at home, she said in a nasty tone of voice.

I agreed with her in my head, but kept my mouth shut. I knew anything I said would only make the situation worse.

She took two tubes of sunscreen up to the counter while her kids ran around the store. The Man began to write up the sale while I pretended to by busy nearby. I didn’t really want to deal with her bad attitude anymore.

The Man was punching numbers on the calculator when I heard her ask him in a voice dripping with disdain, Do you need help?

He very calmly said, No, and completed the transaction, but when the store was empty again, he was hopping mad.

I didn’t blame him. The woman had insinuated he was stupid because he was going slowly and making sure he did the transaction correctly. Sometimes even when we know people’s nasty attitudes are about themselves and their own unhappiness, it can be difficult to let the negativity slide off our backs like water off a duck.

Dispatch from the Woods

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The Man and I weren’t doing so well in Northern New Mexico. The invisible biting bugs were horrible, really tearing us up. The intense heat, unusual in the mountains, was making our days, but particularly our nights, difficult to bear. Living in the van together day after day was making us edgy and irritable. Something had to give.

Our lives changed with a call from my boss from the last two summers. The store that was supposed to open last season was finally(!) about to open, and he needed two more people to staff it. He wanted to hire me and The Man. We’d have a free place to set up camp for the summer, and he’d work us each 40 hours a week. Could we be there in six days? We said Yes! and hit the road to California.

I wanted to write a dispatch from the road, but we stayed in the Worst Motel 6 Ever in Barstow, CA, and the internet was down. I was too tired to find either another hotel or a coffee shop with free WiFi.

Crossing the Mojave Desert in a vehicle with no air conditioner was no joke. Part of our problem was not leaving Flagstaff until 1pm. I’d wanted to leave earlier, but it was afternoon by the time we packed up camp; drove to town; bought water, ice, and a few groceries; bought a solar shower, privacy tent, and tarp at  Wal-Mart; went through a bunch of rigmarole to find out Wal-Mart was out of Blue Rhino propane tanks and couldn’t exchange our empty one for a full one; went to a herb shop downtown so The Man could buy loose tea, and (finally!) filled up the gas tank.

It was hot when we stopped in Kingman, AZ to do the propane tank exchange. The Man and Jerico stood in the shade under one of the few parking lot trees while I went inside to pay for the new tank. The Wal-Mart employee who came out to make the switch expressed concern for Jerico’s paws on the hot asphalt.

Back on the road, we soon passed into California. At the agriculture checkpoint, there was a big digital sign like banks have announcing the time and temperature. 119 degrees! It had been a long time since I’d been in triple digit temperatures.

The Man grabbed our squirt bottle full of water (hippie air conditioning, he calls it) and sprayed me down while I drove. He also discovered that opening the windows let in air hotter than the air in the van. Over the next few hours, we did a lot of opening and closing windows trying to catch a breeze or let hot air out, trying to get comfortable. Surprise! There was no way to get comfortable in a van without air conditioning in the Mojave Desert that June day.

I stopped at the first Dairy Queen I saw and got us both Reese’s peanut butter cup Blizzards. I couldn’t drive and eat, so The Man took the wheel. The ice cream didn’t last nearly long enough, and we were back to using the squirt bottle.

Late in the afternoon, the sun moved down the horizon, and the temperature dropped to hot but bearable. Still, as much as I hated to do it, we got a motel room in Barstow. Maybe I could have gotten a little sleep in the sunbaked van had I been alone, but there was no way two adults and a dog could have been comfortable sleeping in there. Even if the van had cooled after baking in the sun all day (which it hadn’t), the body heat of three mammals in the enclosed space would have been unbearable. Even with the windows open, there wouldn’t have been enough air flow to keep us cool.

The air conditioner at the Motel 6 was not up to the challenge of the summer night. Although the air conditioner was on when we opened the door, we were not met with the chilly wonderfulness I’d been hoping for. The room was stuffy, and I had a difficult time deciding if it was cooler inside or out.

The a/c wasn’t a wall unit like in almost every other motel I’ve been in. All we had was a vent above the bathroom door and an ersatz thermostat on the wall. All we could really control were the settings “heat,” “cool,” and “fan.” If I stood in just the right spot a few feet from the bathroom door and stretched my arms over my head, I could feel a bit of cool air blowing out, but it was no match for the desert heat.

I slept poorly all night, although the warm room probably wasn’t as uncomfortable as the hot van would have been.

The Man and I were both awake by five the next morning. We each has another shower and got our things together. The morning air was cool, but we were hot again before we finally made it up the mountain.

When we finally made it to our destination, the tall green trees and the cool mountain air were a wonderful contrast to the drab heat of the desert. My memory hadn’t exaggerated how lovely my home of the last two summers is. I’m glad this place will be my home for the rest of this summer and hopefully into the fall.

If you’re reading this, it’s because the mercantile (the Forest Service doesn’t like the word “store”) has WiFi, and the employees are allowed to utilize it. That’s a definite step up from years past.

This photo I took shows the mercantile/visitor center where The Man and I work.

Special thanks to The Man for getting my computer to connect to the WiFi at the mercantile.

 

 

Heavenly Father

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When I worked in the National Forest parking lot, I often overheard visitors saying strange things.

One day a car pulled into the parking lot with three people inside. A young man in a green t-shirt was driving. A woman of middle age sat in the backseat. A very old, rather feeble-looking man occupied the passenger seat. I wondered idly about the relationships of those three people. A mother, son, and grandfather?Was the young man the son of the old man, the product of his late middle age? Maybe they weren’t related at all. Maybe they were friends or business associates.

The old man wanted to use his Golden Age pass to pay the parking fee. I explained I couldn’t accept the Golden Age pass in lieu of the $5. I could tell he wasn’t happy about the situation, but he didn’t argue. The young man drove the car off to find a spot to park.

Later, as I sat in my chair between approaching new arrivals, I heard a woman’s voice from behind me.

I’ve been thinking about it, she said. The Heavenly Father is a record keeper. First day…Second day…

What in the world is she talking about? I wondered. Is she talking to me?

I looked over and saw the young man in the green t-shirt. Next to him stood the middle-age woman. She was the person I’d heard talking.

I took this photo of the iron ranger the old man was using as a writing surface.

The very old man was standing close to the iron ranger. He had a small piece of paper or perhaps a tiny notebook on the flat top of the iron ranger, and he seemed to be writing something. Perhpas this note-taking was something he did often?

Even a heathen like me could figure out the woman meant God when she said Heavenly Father. But record keeperFirst daySecond day? I assume she was referring to the Book of Genesis where a list is given of what God created on each day of the week. Was she equating the old man and his note-taking to Ulmighty God? (Also, if God is an all-powerful being, would he really have to keep records? Wouldn’t he just know what he created and when? Is it even possible for God to forget?)

I thought what the woman had said was interesting (and weird), so as soon as they walked off, I wrote down her words verbatim. When The Lady of the House visited me at my campground, she saw the piece of paper upon which I’d written the words. What’s this? she asked.

I told her the story of the very old man and the young man in the green t-shirt and the middle-aged woman who said the words.

Mormons, The Lady said.

What? I asked, confused. What did Mormons have to do with anything?

Mormons call God “Heavenly Father,” she said. The Lady has two best friends who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so she is my go-to for all questions related to the religion.

I had no idea, I said.

Yep, she said. If you hear people refere to the Heavenly Father, they’re probably Momons.

She’d just cleared up part of the mystery. Even though I’d already been pretty sure the Heavenly Father was God, it was good to have confirmation. But why was the old man taking notes? To assist a failing memory? Was he planning to write a book?

I have a theory that if a person lives long enough, all questions will be answered, but I’ll probably die before I understand what was going on with those three people that day in the parking lot. I doubt those mysteries will ever be revealed.

 

So Proud!

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My apologies for two posts in one day, but my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods is now live and available for purchase in the Kindle Store. I couldn’t be prouder!

Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
Click on the image of the book’s cover to go to Amazon to find out more or to purchase. (If you shop on Amazon using this or any other of my other other affiliate links, I receive an advertising fee.)

If electronic books aren’t your style, don’t worry! The paper version will be available soon.

Thanks to everyone who’s helped make this book happen…