Monday, January 19, 2015

Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole

When I finished thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, the only thing I wanted was a job at REI. I put in an application only days after getting off the trail, before I had even returned home from my brother's in New Jersey. I began going in the store and incessantly bothering whoever seemed to give me enough time of day. I must have left my name and number with about 5 different people. The shitlessness of thru hiking had not left me yet and I desperately wanted a job at REI the way I desperately wanted a ride into town from the trail and would schmooze up to day hikers when I knew the parking lot was coming up. Eventually, one day in November, well over two months after placing my application, I was in the store buying a down jacket for an upcoming backpacking trip. Mine had been lost in the mail when I sent it back home when summer hit Virginia and the purchase of a new one was my present to myself after receiving my first Starbucks paycheck. This purchase was rung out by the main hiring manager at REI and he seemed to remember my face and that I had been seeking employment. With my receipt, he also handed me his business card and told me to get in touch with him after I got back from my trip. From this was born an interview and from there I was given a job, but not quite that simply. In all, my efforts from placing an application to being offered a position took the same amount of time as thru hiking the Appalachian Trail did. Six months.

REI was my first dream job. The first job I really, really wanted because it aligned with my life choices, not because it paid me money and I had none. But after a year of being paid to talk about backpacking, camping, and thru hiking (once unimaginable things to me), I am no longer employed by REI. I usually love, absolutely love, quitting a job. It is a sign that new experiences are around the corner. This time around, it was more sad than it has ever been before. REI is an excellent company to work for but the idea of REI is not the hard part to leave behind. The entity of each store, the family unit of store #125, Kennesaw, is what hurts to leave behind. 

As I came off of the trail, I was splitting up with a family I had spent hundreds of miles walking along side with. We had spent months fighting the same exact battle in our lives. Suddenly, they were gone and I was lost back at home. Within a few months of working at REI, I was beginning to form new friendships with coworkers who shared a lot of common traits as me: big, big dreamers who loved the outdoors and would take on any adventure in order to just get out there. I fell in love with them as they rescued my heart from a dark, dark place. Leaving REI is sad because I am leaving a strong family. But much like the family I left on the trail, there are telephones and social media sites and cars and roads and intensely tight bonds that will keep us together over distance and time. 

I left my post thru hike dream job for a revised dream job. Another outfitter, but this one is more steeped in backpacking and thru hiking culture. I mentioned the place in my first blog post while on the AT back in 2013. Mountain Crossings is the first hostel and outfitter that one comes upon along the AT. It is a check point for many hikers to rethink their decision. On my own hike, I saw several hikers throw in the towel here. But I saw many more rethink their decision, get some help and recommit to their hike -- and finish. When Georganna, the one half of the current owners of Mountain Crossing, asked me to come work for her and her husband Logan, I immediately said yes. To live in the mountains, over an AT hostel, in a stone building whose door opens up literally onto the Appalachian Trail, which I will take a couple steps on each morning as I walk a few feet to work, where I will help out thru hikers all season long... would I like to? THIS EXISTS?! I CAN HAVE IT?! YES! INCREDIBLE! 

I will be starting this new phase of my life at the beginning of February. It is building off of the knowledge I gained at REI as a backpacker. Learning new techniques and memorizing gear specs has been my life for the past year. Now, all of that has been narrowed down and greatly deepened. Mountain Crossings is a well where as REI is a lake. Almost all the customers will be thru hikers on their journey northward. Some will only need a shower and a stay in the hostel. Others will need a resupply and a bit of encouragement. And still others will need us to comb through their backpacks and dispose of all the unneeded items holding them back from a more enjoyable experience on the trail. I will be a part of a small group of former thru hikers making up the employees at Mountain Crossings who will be working to help out the new flock of hikers in hopes of seeing them make it to Katahdin. 

I never fathomed I would walk 2,000+ miles through the Appalachian Mountains and I never would have thought that it would transform and enrapture the path that my life was headed down, but I am sure glad it has. 

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