I’ve been working here at Vogel for 2 weeks now and have worked as a camp host for 2 months. I had anxiety about any form of work after being a stay at home Mom for a year and a half now. I had the return-to-work jitters that took a minute to wear off, but I really feel like I’m getting into the swing of it now.
I have almost completed two full rotations of work at Vogel. I work 4 days on and then have 4 days off. The work is definitely tougher than at Tugaloo but the 4 days off make it a lot easier.
Each day of work begins as any other: my wonderful husband wakes me with hot coffee and, if I’m lucky enough, a bowl of cereal which I end up sharing with Junior who lights up at the sight of the bowl, stomps over, frowns, points at the bowl, and opens his mouth. He gets his eloquence from his father.
After getting dressed and wrestling the reluctant child into some clothing and then his stroller we walk the 1/3 mile to the visitor’s center to pick up our list for the day. On brisk mornings I have a neat little sleeping bag for Junior complete with holes for the stroller straps. It’s waterproof, lined with thick fleece, and zips up to his nose, so he stays toasty and looks like an adorable little eskimo. This usually catches the attention of the campers who are bustling around the campsite, and most mornings we’ll stop for a chat with one happy camper or another.
At the visitor’s center we spend a few minutes catching up with the ladies there including one Ranger who Junior has taken a particular liking to and will channel his inner Chris Seeley charm to coax smiles and giggles from her. Once the ladies are thoroughly smitten, we grab our list and head off to work.
The list consists of 2, 3 or sometimes 4 pages of incoming and outgoing campers for the day. It details which sites need to be prepped for campers arriving before their 3pm check in (though most come early) and which sites need to be cleaned up after campers check out at 1pm. Prepping the sites and cleaning the sites are largely the same thing and consist of leaf-blowing (an arduous and never-ending task at this time of year), picking up any litter, and cleaning out the fire pits of excess ash or trash. Being that 9am is a little early for the irritating whine a leaf blower, we begin by cleaning the bathroom blocks.
Vogel is a large park with 4 “loops” and 4 bathroom blocks. We are responsible for 2 of those loops; the first standard campsite loop and the walk-in site loop. Standard campsites consist of pull-through and back-in campsites with electric and water hookups and a picnic table – there are 31 on our loop. Walk-in sites can be accessed by foot only and are for tent campers looking for a more primitive setting, and there are 16 of these. Loop 3 is another standard campsite loop with 29 sites across Wolf creek toward the back of the park, and loop 4 consists of 25-foot sites for smaller campers – of which there are 23. Another set of hosts is responsible for loops 3 and 4. Our neighbor and fellow host is responsible for our loops on my days off.
Cleaning the bathrooms takes about an hour for each block and is usually a pretty easy task. I bring Junior in his stroller and he happily jabbers away telling me nonsensical stories while I set about my work. Most days I get compliments from campers on the cleanliness of the bathrooms and my ability to balance a 1 year old and my volunteer duties. I do believe that Junior’s presence invokes a certain sense of sympathy from the campers as they pass by and this makes them more likely to be respectful of the bathrooms and the park in general – after all, who wants to make more work for the struggling mother who volunteers to clean bathrooms at the state park?
Around 11am, bathrooms clean, we head back to the camper for Junior’s lunch and nap, though he sometimes falls asleep during the bathroom cleaning. While he’s napping I grab the opportunity to do some dishes, have a tidy up, and, if I’m lucky, I’ll grab a quick shower. When Junior wakes up, usually after an hour or 2, he has a quick second lunch and we head back to work.
On weekdays the list can take as little as an hour to complete, but on weekends it can take much longer. My first Sunday here had me going non-stop from morning until sunset trying to get through the list and blow leaves off the roads. Of course, this was the peak leaf-changing season and so it seems to be gradually getting slower since then.
To complete my list with Junior in tow I usually opt for the backpack carrier, as he is usually tired of the stroller by now. It can be pretty rough on a busy day with the weight of him on me as well as the leaf blower and we will usually cover a couple of miles like this.
It is also my responsibility to stock the firewood and ice at the visitor’s center throughout the day which can be laborious, especially on busy nights in the colder season. I’m fortunate that the hosts on the other loop are kind enough to take over that responsibility for me most days.
After our work is done for the day we are free to spend the afternoon as we choose. Most of the time I get Junior out for a run around to burn some of the energy he has pent up from being strapped to either a stroller or me all day. This is usually when some friendly campers will stop me for a chat.
Most people tend to be quite curious about us. Most campers come to state parks often, and Vogel is a park that many return to time and time again. Some of the regulars have been coming here with their families for generations. Being that we don’t fit the usual profile of campground hosts, this sparks curiosity and thus conversation.
Last week I finished blowing the leaves off the last site on my list when a camper began talking to me. He was sitting in a camping chair on the neighboring site with his wife and they were enjoying the peace and quiet before I came along. He was friendly and inquired about how I managed to balance my responsibilities, I told him that it wasn’t terribly difficult most of the time – but it definitely required some tact. He asked about how we had come to be hosts and before I knew it I was sitting with them drinking hot tea and they were playing with Junior as I told them my life story.
Larry and Pat were from Louisiana and had been married a long time. Pat was a retired school teacher and Larry was retired from the insurance business. It was Larry’s idea to get the camper and Pat, not much of an outdoor’s woman, seemed to try her best to enjoy the excursions they take in order to be a supportive wife. They were a very sweet couple who I found very easy to talk to. We shared many of the same world views and they admired the lifestyle that we have chosen for our son.
I spent about 2 hours chatting with them that day, and returned each day until they left to swap stories and enjoy each other’s company.
On the day they left I wasn’t working so I took my time getting out of the camper. By the time I did, Pat and Larry were all but packed up and ready to hit the road. Pat’s face lit up when she saw us walking down the road and it was clear that she had begun to feel disappointed that we might not come and say goodbye – until we showed up. She gave me a big hug and expressed how nervous she was about the drive back down the mountain. I tried my best to reassure her by reminding her that millions of people go RVing ever year and many of them are a lot dumber than her – so if they can do it then so can she. She leaned in close and told me in a hushed tone that she had forgotten to get her jewelry out of the drawer but that it couldn’t be accessed while the slide was in so she was dreading telling Larry that he’d have to put the slide back out. I giggled and told her that she’d better do it sooner rather than later, as he was about to hitch the rig and lift the jacks.
She turned and called to him: “Larry!”
Pat’s voice seemed to cut through Larry and he slowly turned and poked his head from behind the camper. He looked at Pat and shuffled over to me. He leaned in and said “When she says “Larry!” like that, I shudder.” Then he smirked and turned to Pat who gave him an endearing eye roll. I chuckled. I liked them a lot; they were polar opposites in some ways but they seemed to love each other dearly and make an effort for each other even after all these years. She was still fearful of disappointing him and he was happy to do things at her pace. Pat told him she had left her earrings in the camper and that she needed him to put the slide back out and retrieve them for her. He sighed, smiled sweetly and said “of course, dear”.
It makes me think of Chris and me. I think I hold him back from really running head first into adrenaline and risk sometimes because I’m such a nervous Nelly, but he seems to genuinely be ok with going a little slower sometimes or passing up the odd adventure when I’m feeling particularly anxious or uneasy. In turn I try to push myself a little more and step outside my comfort zone so he doesn’t have to choose between me and whatever adventure he has his eye on. I think it’s something that is important to any marriage; it’s the need to gauge each other’s comfort levels and never stay too firmly in them but never force the other too far out of theirs. Pat and Larry seemed to have that down.
After I hugged them goodbye and Junior blew them kisses we continued on our walk through the park and around the lake – a walk that has become something of a favorite. I took yet more pictures of the lake – something which I didn’t think I would spend so much time doing. But every time I walk that same trail around that same lake I catch a different view. When the sun catches the leaves in the morning the mountains turn a beautiful golden color that glows against the blue sky and illuminates the landscape with a peaceful aura. The afternoon sun seems to catch more of the reds and oranges giving the hillside a more lively energy. But when a storm is moving in and the dark clouds begin to gather around the mountains and creep down the peaks casting shadow over the lake, the scene becomes an entirely more sinister and foreboding one.
Having snapped my pictures, I headed back to camp for snacks and playtime. Along the way I bumped into Jason, a fella that I had been seeing around the campsite the last few days and exchanging pleasantries and idle chatter with. He’s younger than the usual weekday camping crowd by about 25-30 years and was visiting from South Florida with his wife, April, and their 2 young daughters. April’s mother and father, Sandra and Jerry, who live close by, were also camping at the park. Jerry and I had also chatted a few times and I liked him a lot too. In fact I adored the whole family. These people were not the kind of people that you can take a disliking to – they are some of the most likable people I’ve ever met. Each time we passed by them in the park they would take the time to ask how we were, see what we’ve been up to, and would also ask about things that we had talked about in previous conversations. Jerry and Sandra even helped me numerous times to try and catch a hungry but friendly stray dog that had been running around the park for days (we still haven’t caught him).
Each one of them were so warm and friendly, easy to talk to, were fun to laugh with, and made us smile. They were genuine and made us feel welcome at the park that they have been coming to for decades. Jason and April came and sat with us by our campfire one night and we had a couple of drinks and chatted, swapped stories and laughed – it is exactly what camping is all about.
April and Jason had to leave for Florida the next day but we got a few more days with Jerry and Sandra before they, too, had to go. But we thoroughly enjoyed meeting them. Jerry and Sandra asked for our numbers to keep in touch and said they think of us as family now. They even invited us to Thanksgiving with them!
A couple of days ago a retired couple named Stan and Ann arrived to stay for the week. It turns out that they have spent a good bit of time in British Columbia, the Canadian province that I’m from, and share my adoration for its unique beauty. I’m sure I’ll enjoy more daily conversations with them until their departure on Friday.
When I took on this adventure, much like I do with everything, I worried. I worried that I’d be isolated and wouldn’t have many people to talk to, or that if I did they’d be unfriendly or rude and that I would end up dreading leaving the camper each day. I imagined that maybe after a while we might be lucky enough to meet some folks whose company we enjoyed and had some good conversations with, but I never imagined that we would come to meet so many memorable and wonderful people.
There are many things about what we are doing that have helped me to begin restoring my confidence – after all, it took a pretty brutal thrashing after all we’ve been through in the last couple of years. Going back to work – though it is volunteer work – gave me a sense of purpose and pride outside of motherhood that I had forgotten I needed. Making the leap to live this lifestyle reminded me that I am brave and that our marriage is solid. Climbing a mountain with my son on my back reminded me that I am strong. And making so many great new friends reminded me that I am worthy of love.
These are the lessons that I believe are essential to not just learn, but constantly re-learn over and over as the seasons of life can take their toll and bury those lessons deep within us. They are lessons that I have always hoped to teach my son over and over as he grows. They are lessons that I now know he is learning everyday of this adventure as he watches me relearn them.