Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Syncline Trail, two years later

Hiking the Syncline Trail in Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park trail two years ago, I was at a turning point. After a lifetime of working in academia doing scientific research, backpacking for a season on the PCT made me realize I needed to do something different with my life. Surrounded by inspiring backpackers at the Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador retreat gave me a chance to ask, “How do you find a balance between long-distance backpacking and work?”
Syncline Trail, ISKY
The answers I got all pointed one way. “Find a well-paying day-job that pays good money and allows you flexible time off to backpack.”

Not what I wanted to hear. Sitting in front of a computer all day? Dedicating my time to something that no longer fueled my passions? Been there, done that. Being on the PCT and having every day feel like “wow I’m doing exactly what I want to do and believe in” showed me I could no longer comprimise on a day job that made me feel burnt out. 
Back to this trip... I'm out here solo now. Piecing together several trails with roadwalking to create my own route. Now I live here. A few steps closer to finding my own solution to the work-backpacking balance problem. This winter, I’m an SCA at a park, though last year I was an NPS employee and hope to (update- will!) be again. The pay isn’t much but my days are spent taking children to the park on field trips, or roving park trails or talking to visitors at the front desk. And I get all the free backcountry permits I want for my days off.
Under a ledge out of the rain, I look back to where I've been, close my eyes and inhale the refreshingly rain-scented air.
Because I am curious about an Ancestral Puebloan tower called Fort Bottom, I going beyond where we hiked last time, following the Upheaval Canyon down to the Colorado River.

A pool of water is teeming with critters. With this much water, there should be birdsong and buzzing insects, the sounds of life. I wonder why I’m not having to swat away mosquitoes and noseeums or bees. It is so silent.
Whirlygig beetles whirl and the water striders stride around.
After descending to the wash, there is sweet music of dripping water. I stand on the bank trying to see where the water is flowing and a bug flies into my eye. As I try to retrieve the dead body out of my eye with my sunscreen covered fingers, my eyes start to sting and water up until I can’t see, and yet suddenly everything is right with the world and I remember where I'm coming from and where I am going.
I join the White Rim Road for a few miles along the Colorado River, as the rain intensifies.
Sometimes mud happens.
Weathering the storm.
Colorado River wanderings.

Fort Bottom Ancestral Puebloan site perched on the high point above the Colorado River.
Narrow trail out to Fort Bottom.
Climbing up to see the Tower.
From the White Rim Road, it is 11 miles back to the Alcove Spring Trailhead through Taylor Canyon. Then about a mile roadwalk to the Syncline Loop trailhead. There’s no sunset with the dark rainy skies.  So I lay in my tent and think about what if felt like two years ago to not know what I would do next. I wonder where I will be two years from now.
In the morning the moon hangs low as the rain gives way to morning glow.


  1. I did the first option...because for me the well-paying day job lets me take time off to backpack and lets me fret less about being broke in retirement (I'm older than you are). I get bummed out when people diss this (you aren't, but others often do) because what works for one person won't work for another. For me I hope to get out early because I have saved and then have lots of free time without money woes. Of course, I was a penniless seasonal through all of my twenties so I got to experience that kind of life too. I do wrangle with this--I'd love to just be seasonal again but it's not going to happen. Glad it is all working out for you. Stay with NPS if you can--the other agencies are in a world of hurt.

    1. I really respect that you have found a way to balance backpacking and working, AND that you get to live in a beautiful place where you can get outside year round. I aspire to get a well-paying day job in the near future (next few years) because of the reasons you mention-- it stresses me out that my retirement accounts aren't growing at the pace they were when I was making more money. But in the meantime, being a seasonal is bringing me so much joy.

      I'll have to ask you for job advice at some point. I just turned down a job with another agency and am going with an NPS interp position for the summer.

  2. Absolutely love this moment! Thanks for sharing it. - Uncle Roy

    1. Hello there Uncle Roy! Thank you so much for commenting and for reading. Know it's been a while since I saw you, but I have such fond memories of seeing you during my summer at Bodega Bay and I appreciate your advice all those years ago to go to grad school immediately-- I'm still glad I did that. I would have regretted it otherwise and wouldn't be where I am at if not for that.

  3. Nice to see you posting again . Still on the ground I see ! Stay well grounded .

    1. Thank you, Steve C! Yes, things are looking up and I'm feeling like writing again. That was one tough winter.

      On the ground for a bit longer, but making plans for hanging in the future. :)

  4. Thought it was a tough one . Looking forward to reading more of your adventures and journey. Stay safe.

  5. I think if we hadn't had the desire to have a kid and to kind of settle down we might have grabbed hold of the field work jobs and stockpiled money that way after we discovered that world in 2010-2011. Work hard for a season or two, take off and do some hiking---wash, rinse, repeat for awhile.

    Congrats on your NPS job! I'm glad it worked out!

  6. I saw a lot of hiring freezes come and go. Usually it's a doofus move to impress the natives. Paper and smoke. Freezes blow in and out with the seasons. Everyone lives through them.

    The key phrase from the news item you linked to (lightly edited) is: "necessary to meet workloads". They gotta have people, else they don't do diddly. And then the partisans who were screaming for tax cuts begin screaming over collapsing bridges and locked gates.

    Anyhow, you're in.

    For the future, for free investment advice, I really like podcasts from Ric Edelman: He has a lot of books out too. Real good plain practical sense. No tricks, no BS. Put yourself in control.