Two down, Two to go

“A world without Rebecca is not a world worth living in,” she said.  A little extreme perhaps, but I appreciated the sentiment.  She was the dean of the natural sciences department.  I was a well-liked adjunct instructor of anatomy and physiology.  I had just told her I was leaving her institution to adjunct at another one that was closer to home and paid more.  (Not much more – adjuncts get paid peanuts, but that’s another story.)

When I told my mother I was going to another institution to teach a different course, she shook her head and laughed.

“Most teachers get their first couple years under their belts, then get to the point where they have all their materials set  so they can just focus on the teaching.  Not you.  You’ve got all you need to teach the same course, but you’re bored and move on to start all over again.”  Yeah, that’s me.

Every time I leave a job, I recall my most memorable resignation.  I was almost 26.  I hated my consulting job and no one there knew it, so my boss was shocked when I walked in with a resignation letter.  She said, and this is a direct quote, one I will never forget, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”  As if working for her was some grand opportunity I was giving up.  Ha!  I left and drove across the country, hiked the Grand Canyon, and never once missed her or that job.

I haven’t gotten anything near that response since.  Last Wednesday, I told my new department chair I would not be returning because I’m going traveling for a year.  She had the same look I’d seen on the face of my old department chair.  Maybe they get trained for this?  Maybe she had an inkling something was up when I didn’t apply for one of the three full-time positions they opened while I was there.  I explained, “I don’t really do full-time jobs.  I need a little more variety.”

When I told her all about my trip, she was excited for me.

“How did you keep this in all semester?!” she asked.  I explained that it had all been in my head, but plans hadn’t solidified til a few months ago.

“Send us a note, or pictures,” she said. “And if you decide you need to make a little money at some point, you can always call me up and we’ll have a course for you to teach.”

A bike ride (part 2)

Whoever said there are no hills in Iowa has never attempted to ride a bike across that state.  On the first day of our 490 mile trek, I spent just as much time walking my bike as I did riding it.  T. and I realized that we had been practicing on a Rail Trail in Boston – a FLAT paved surface.  I honestly don’t think I had ridden my bike up a single hill until I got to Iowa.

After 40 miles, I called it quits for the day.  The friend we brought with us to drive our gear from town to town met us at one of the stopover towns, threw my bike in the back of the truck, and drove me to our first overnight destination.  I thought 40 miles was such an accomplishment that I decided to take the second day off.  Besides the fact that it was too painful for me to sit on my bike the second day.

By the third day I was back in the saddle again.  I did about 40 miles and then hopped in the truck once again.  The fourth day it rained, and since I had enough trouble biking 40 miles in good weather, I wasn’t going to even attempt biking in the rain.  My boyfriend rejoiced.  He was doing his best to not take off ahead of me each day and this was his reward.

All in all, I biked about 150 miles over seven days and had a blast.  There was indeed food every few miles.  And not just any food – really good food!  Breakfast burritos, Mr. Pork Chop, church dinners.  Every Boy Scout troop and local charity from Onawa to Clinton was out on the route selling us something delicious – for a reasonable price, no less.  The people in Iowa were incredibly friendly, every rider was fascinating to talk to.  Every time I stopped, there were tons of riders coming in behind me.  I was never the last one, never alone.

It was an adventure I’d highly recommend to anyone with a remote interest.  Go with a group – there were six of us plus our volunteer driver.  You can go without a driver and pay to have your stuff carted from town to town if you want. Other states have similar rides, but Iowa was the first to do it, and in my opinion they do such a good job I wouldn’t look anywhere else.  Of course, I haven’t ridden any other states, so I’m a little biased.  In fact, I haven’t really ridden my $80 craigslist bike since RAGBRAI.  But that’s a Renaissance Soul for you.  We do something until we’re satisfied, then we move on.

For some great pics of RAGBRAI 2004, click here.

A bike ride

Renaissance Souls find something nearly every day they want to pursue.  Just today I saw a poster at my local coffee shop for a rain bucket building workshop.  I have no idea why I’d need a rain bucket, but I definitely thought I’d like to learn more about what a rain bucket is, why I might want one, and maybe take the class.

Us Renaissance Souls find ideas everywhere – in conversations with other people, on TV programs, on posters in the coffee shop.  Some we say “oh, that sounds interesting,” and it ends there.  Others we jump at as soon as possible.  And still others percolate and maybe only get pursued much later, should the right conditions arise.  Such is the story of how I came to find myself riding a bike across Iowa in the summer of 2004.

Four years ealier I met a woman who had ridden her bike across the country.  I can’t recall what the cause was, but I do remember thinking, “Wow, I wouldn’t want to ride across the country…but a big bike ride might be fun.”  I didn’t think about again until early 2004 when my native Iowan boyfriend told me about RAGBRAI.  It’s a seven day bike ride across the state of Iowa with 8500 of your dearest friends.

Let me interject here that I am not at all into physical fitness.  Whereas he was at the gym every day, I was bored to tears thinking about walking on some machine each day that got me nowhere.  So when T. asked if I’d like to do RAGBRAI, I don’t think he ever thought I’d say yes.  But I’m a Renaissance Soul (though I didn’t know it then), and so the idea struck me as enough of a challenge and something that I’d like to try once.  We signed up.  I didn’t even own a bike.

Within a week, I  joined a gym and bought a hybrid bike on craigslist for $80.  (Renaissance Souls are practical people.  I knew I’d probably get this bike across Iowa and never ride it again, so I wasn’t spending hundreds of dollars on a new bike.)  I took spinning classes a few times a week, and biked the local Rail Trail with T or on my own a few times a week.  Four months later, I could comfortably bike 10 miles at a stretch.  As good as this sounds, RAGBRAI would require me to bike 60-80 miles per day over seven days.  But my research said that there were food stops at least every 10 miles, so if you could do 10 miles, you were golden.  I was going to test that theory….

To Be Continued….

How I Became a Park Ranger

Mrs. R, my best friend’s mother, was always on the lookout for eligible men for me and her daughter.  On this particular night, she was eyeing park rangers.  We were at the annual Christmas Open House at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.  It’s one of four National Parks in my hometown of Hyde Park, NY.  The staff decorates the home for Christmas each year and, though it’s open nearly every day, the time to really see it in all it’s glory is at night.  So one night every year, all of Hyde Park comes out to see the Vanderbilt Mansion in its Christmas finery.

I wasn’t much for talking to strangers at this point in my life, but Mrs. R took care of that.  She loved chatting with anyone.  Especially good looking Park Rangers that may be marriage material for her daughter and me.   It was during one of these conversations that Mrs. R found out about jobs at Vanderbilt’s.  Not for her, but for us.

“That ranger told me you girls could work here!  They hire people to work just for the summer.  You two should apply,” she encouraged us.

I was more familiar with Vanderbilt’s than most people.  When I was in high school, I played the 110 year old Steinway in the living room for visitors as they toured the house.  As a shy teenager, I played piano for others only if they pretended they weren’t listening.  If we had company at our house, and I was asked to play, I would go into the living room and sit down at the piano.  My mother would bring our guest to another room where they could still hear me, and engage them in conversation explaining that if they stopped talking I’d get nervous thinking that they were focusing on me.

Playing at the Vanderbilt Mansion was a great place to fool myself into thinking the visitors weren’t listening.  The grand piano was in a dark corner.  And the music stand came up to such a height that it was difficult to see me behind it.  When visitors walked into the room, I would hear them ask, “is there a real person back there?”  They thought the music was being “piped in.”  The Park Ranger would tell them I was there, but rarely did I look over the stand at them or get up and talk to them.

So on the application, when they asked if I had any experience in a park, I listed my piano playing.  I came out of my shell that first year in college and was a tour guide on campus.  So I listed that as job experience.

And by April, I had been offered full time summer job at Vanderbilt Mansion NHS.  My best friend never applied.  But her mother was thrilled at the prospect of my meeting my future husband at the park.

How to Become a Park Ranger

Of all the things I’ve done, the one I get asked about most is my job as a Park Ranger.  I’ve met dozens of people who want to do it.  And I’m here to tell you how!

If you’re a Renaissance Soul like me, you don’t want to do it forever.  You just want to try it out.  And lucky for you there are oodles of positions for Seasonal Park Guides.  If you get one of these positions, you get allotted 1039 hours to work for the National Park Service (NPS) in that position.  Those hours equate to about 6 months of full-time work.  However, I know of parks that will take you if you can only work a few months, and some that will even hire you for part-time work.

For example, in 1995 I worked as a Seasonal Park Guide during a summer I was home from college.  It was full-time from June through August.  In 2006, I worked two days a week for a park.  I worked part-time for them from April until the following April as they needed me.  So you can work those 1039 hours in any way the park wants over the course of a year.  Or bundle them all up and do them full-time.

These are seasonal positions.  They don’t include any benefits except paid time off and sick time (which you earn based on the number of hours you work).  But the experience is priceless:)

If you want to become a bonafide ranger wearing that grey and green uniform, with the gold badge, and that lovely straw hat, the place to find your job is at usajobs.com.  Unfortunately, gone are the days of just walking into your local National Park and seeing if there are openings.  Openings for all federal government positions are posted on this site.

Unless you’re a student.  If that’s the case, you CAN walk into a park and see if they’ll hire you.  Students can get hired without the park having to put out an official announcement of an open position.

When you go to usajobs.com, you want to do a search for “Park Guide” positions.  When the list comes up, you want the ones that have an Appointment Term listed as “Temporary” or “Seasonal.”

Now remember, this is a government operation.  So there’s lots of paperwork and forms and backlog.  So if  you work in a school and want to work in a park for the summer, start looking at usajobs.com in November.  You can set up a search engine to send you an e-mail when a job in your radius gets posted.

Make sure you follow all the directions and send everything that’s asked of you.  If you don’t, you don’t make the cut.

Now, if you just want to work in a park, but not necessarily as a Park Guide, those positions are out there too.  The concessions in many parks are run by an outside operation.   For example, if you want to work at the lodges in the Grand Canyon, they’re operated by Xanterra (xanterra.com).  So you’d go to their website for more info.

I’ll write another post about my specific Park Ranger experiences:)