Wednesday, August 19, 2009

10 Down, A Lot More To Go

In the past couple of years, I made it a lofty goal to visit all the National Parks in the United States before I die. To make this goal a little more realistic, I don't really include the National Parks in Alaska that require private helicopter rides to get to. Maybe some day when I'm a millionaire, these will be feasible, but for now I will stick to parks I can actually afford to get to. Living in the West is really giving me the opportunity to actually make this goal happen.
A couple of weeks ago, I head to Bryce Canyon National Park. I had purchased a National Park pass for $80 back in May, which gets you into any park for free. The fee to get into Bryce Canyon was $25, so I am well on my way to getting my money's worth. I also stopped by Cedar Breaks National Monument on the way home, which is equally as stunning.

It was a beautiful day for a little bit of hiking and tourism. Ideally I would have liked to spend some more time there, but I still got to see some pretty amazing stuff. I plan on visiting Joshua Tree National Park in California in a few weeks.

Enjoy the Pictures.

Apparently Northern Utah is A Little Different...

About a month ago, I decided to take a trip to Northern Utah with one of my co-workers to climb the highest peak in Utah in the Uinta Mountains. The peak is about 13,500 feet, which when completed would beat my personal elevation record by about 4,000 feet. We headed first to Salt Lake City to check out Josh Ritter, a current favorite singer/song writer of mine. The show was in a really small venue and it was a lot of fun to see live music for the first time since coming out West.

The next morning we got up early and headed for the Uintas. We had planned a 3 day trip to hike in, summit the peak, and then hike out. Many lessons were learned on this trip.

Lesson #1: Just because you don't need bug spray in the desert, doesn't mean you wont need it in a much cooler and more wooded environment.

Lesson #2: The weather is extremely unpredictable at elevations above 10,000 feet.

Lesson #3: It takes a lot less time to hike with two people who do it for a living, than it does to hike with 10 clients who don't want to be hiking.

Lesson #4: It can and will get into the 30's at night during the summer in Northern Utah.

By the end of the first night I probably had about 15 bug bites and had accomplished killing at least as many mosquitoes. This pretty much meant that as soon as we had fed ourselves, we retired to the mosquito free tent. This would sometimes be as early as 7pm. This was partially due to the fact that we had underestimated the amount of time it would take us to hike and would get to our campsites late in the afternoon. The second day of hiking presented itself with a lot of cloud cover and thunderstorms. We got hailed on and rained on, but luckily this day was mostly flat and not challenging hiking. The day we summited the peak, however, the weather was even worse. We woke up to more rain, but decided to head for the peak anyways. I will say that it's pretty sketchy to climb up a bunch of loose rocks in the rain when a thunderstorm is threatening on the horizon and you are at the tallest height around.

We did successfully make it to the top and then briskly headed back down. By the time we got back to our campsite we had been hiking in rain and hail for hours, we were soaked and cold, had outrun a thunderstorm and were just generally pretty tired. Luckily we had some dry clothes and warm sleeping bags. The next day we hiked the 9 miles out to the car. Of course the weather was perfectly pleasant as we were leaving.

At the very least this trip prepared me, a little, for what is to come for the winter in the desert.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Jill's Birthday Bash

About a month ago, I flew home to help celebrate Jill's birthday and to visit with the family. The weekend began with a pizza party at Jill and Brett's, followed by ice skating at Fairfax Ice Arena where my Dad use to play hockey a lot. It was really weird to be back there, after not having been in so long. The whole group of us made our rounds around the rink and had fun being "kids" again. We then went back to the house for games and presents.
The next day, we all got hyped up for the Billy Joel/Elton John concert. First, I spent some time at the pool with Jill, Brett and the kids. My mom had bought the family tickets to the concert months ago and we were all very excited to go. We arrived at the Nationals Stadium and got comfortable for a fantastic show. The weather was perfect, but Elton's piano was not! A pedal got stuck, and he basically stormed off the stag
e in disgust claiming that, "we weren't going to do it like this." Bill Joel chimed in with, "That is what you call a Rock and Roll F*** up!" It was pretty funny. T
he show went on and the piano eventually got fixed. It was so fun to spend the evening with my Mom and Sister singing to songs we had grown up to.

Sadly, I had to fly home on Monday after a short visit. I was sad to not have the time to see some of my friends, but I really enjoyed the time I spent with my family. I hope we can have such fun weekends together in the future!


One of the most important parts of Second Nature's program is busting. This is basically the term we use for creating a fire. There are four parts to a busting set, that all play equally important roles in achieving the product of a fire. There is the fire board, used as the base for which an ember is created on. There is the spindle, used as the basis from which friction helps create the ember. There is the top rock, used to create down pressure on the spindle. And, there is the bow, used as the driving force behind the whole operation. This probably sounds confusing and the best way I could describe it, would be to show you. But, since I can't do that I took a shot at explaining it with words. Once you have an ember, you then place it into a next of bark and blow that into flames. The nest then has the ability to create a larger fire.
Busting has been one of the toughest challenges for me at Second Nature. In order to move up in the company and get promoted to a Level 1 staff and be able to actually do paperwork and be a "real" employee, you have to successfully create fire using a bow drill set and you have to do it in front of someone on the spot. For my three weeks as an intern, I was super nervous about this and worked hard to become a master at it, also called a "bustomatic". By my third week, I finally busted into flames.
When I got out of the field that third week, I took my test. I got my whole set prepped and busted an ember on the first try. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to blow it into flames so I had to keep trying. After about an hour of hard work and being ready to give up for the night I finally busted another ember and blew it into flames.

After a humbling experience with busting, I can finally take a breath and not stress over it anymore. However, it is still an important part of my job so I continue to work on it and try to improve my set. I only had one picture of busting and it's hard to see me, but I'm in the background getting ready to bust. I posted the other picture of me at work, just for fun.

Lightning Strikes!

One of the many safety precautions that we take at my job, is to take cover and sit in a safe position when lightning is less than 7 miles away from where ever we are. We call this "lightning drills." We spread the clients and sometimes ourselves as staff out, sit on our sleeping pads and wait for the storm to pass.
Here in the hot desert mountains, in the middle of summer, it is usually the rule and not the exception that we get a storm every afternoon or evening. This could mean that we are bogged down for as little as 45 minutes or as many as several hours. Depending on the time of day, this might turn into Staff cooking a meal for the clients. Apparently, our safety is less important than theirs.

A couple of weeks ago, we had several consecutive days of lightning drills. One afternoon on a sickeningly hot day, a storm rolled in quickly. We promptly got into lightning drills and waited for the storm to pass. As we sat there, the lightning got closer and closer to us and we could literally feel the ground shake on a couple of occasions. I the distance we hear a client say, "staff, I see smoke." We immediately ran over to examine this and realized a strike had started a fire about a mile away. Because there was a pretty major gravel road between us and the fire we weren't alarmed at first. But then, we noticed another fire about a quarter of a mile away. We quickly got the group and ourselves packed up, notified backup and started hiking away from the fire. Luckily, it started to rain and both fires seemed to diminish. That week, there were several fires causing groups to move and we were all being showered with ash. Thankfully, nothing major happened and all groups remained safe.

Some of the lightning drills that week lasted up to 5 hours. Us as staff were forced to cook dinner for the clients three times this week. Myself and my co-worker took on this task and actually had a lot of fun with it. One day we cooked in the pouring down rain. Because the clients have to stay put where they are, they can get rather needy during these times. They would shout out different requests for their "bear bags", "the spices", etc. I can tell you first hand that this gets a little annoying after a while. Luckily I was working with an awesome staff and we were able to laugh it off.

Mother Nature is a curious creature.

Fireworks Aren't Everyting, But Meat Is...

I had to spend the first of many holidays working in the field. Because Second Nature is a year-round program someone always has to be working. The first holiday that I spent in the field was the Fourth of July.

Luckily, Second Nature is awesome and tried their best to make these days extra special for us as staff and for the clients. One of the biggest highlights of every one's week is Friday night when we get meat in the field. Because the Fourth fell on a Saturday, we got "meat night" a day late. We had 24 Bratwursts delivered to us for 11 people to eat. Let's just say it was quite the feast. We also got two pies, potato salad, chips, condiments and a watermelon. That's what I call high class camping.

We decided to make the holiday as American a we possibly could and buried our meat in squeeze butter to cook with. As a staff team of 4, we ate 11 brats. It's amazing how wonderful meat and pie can taste in the woods. Because we were so full, we continued the celebration the following day by eating the watermelon.

We may not have had fireworks or a proper picnic, but there was something very American about the whole thing. We even got surprised with an awesome sunset. As much as I missed being around family for this day, I look forward to the surprises the next field holiday might bring.

I Get Paid To Do This?

As I have already mentioned, I recently moved to Southwestern Utah to pursue a career in the outdoors. After 7 days of training, I was offered the job and began working as an intern on June 2nd. My first week in the field was an interesting one as I was the only female working with an all male staff in an adolescent boys group. I again returned to this group for my second week, but had the company of another female staff. You quickly learn here at Second Nature that as a female you are the minority.

After my second shift, I got moved to the adolescent girls group and have stayed there for 3 consecutive shifts. This was a complete turn around from working with all guys. It has been an awesome experience getting to know the young ladies and working with different staff members that I have learned so much from. After being here a few months I have no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice moving out here.

I go into work every Tuesday and work 8 consecutive days backpacking and camping in the wilderness. While the program is very Therapy focused, a lot of what I do is simply keep our clients safe and help facilitate their daily lives in the wilderness. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I get paid to live out of a backpack, supervise a little, and help people attempt to better their lives. During my first couple of shifts as we would sit around the fire and tell stories, laugh, cry or just talk, I kept reminding myself how lucky I am to have a job that not only helps others grow, but also helps myself grow as an individual.

Don't get me wrong, my job is hard work and tolling at times, but I'm thankful to not be sitting in an office wearing business clothes in front of a computer all day long. It's also not the worst thing in the world to have 12 days off per month to explore the many things the West has to offer.

If you want to learn more about the Second Nature click here!