First Time Working In A Utility Co. Park – Record Temperatures

Disclaimer: The company we are working for this summer has a very specific media policy. I will not be mentioning them by name, or mentioning the specific names of anyone I am working with, except for Lee.  Also, because it’s not really that difficult to figure out which company it is, I want to be clear: I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences.  Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part.  

The Weather Channel was predicting a high of 108 on Wednesday and needless to say we were concerned about working in that level of heat.  It is highly unusual for this part of the country and Extreme Heat warnings were all over the news.  Thankfully we had Tuesday and Wednesday off so were able to mostly stay in the air conditioned rig on Wednesday but we did have several errands that needed to be done.

We love having guests and going to beautiful places on our days off, but real life continues and by Wednesday at 11am when Jim and Diana left I had a major list.  In the past I would obsess about the list and let it tie me into knots, but instead I talked it through with Lee first thing in the morning and he said he would help me with as much as he could.  So over the next two days I fixed my job searches, called the auto insurance company about our rates rising yet again.

Long story short I was given a $30 a month credit for signing up on auto bill pay but that was only good for the first year and they had raised every rate for everyone in Florida the next two years.  At this point I am paying almost double what I started at, and although I like this company very much and appreciate how they handled the incident where we put regular gas in our diesel engine and killed it, in February I am going to have to shop around. The only price break they were willing to discuss with me was if I put a GPS device on our truck that “graded ” our driving and although I know we are excellent drivers I am absolutely not going to do that unless forced to it.  A little too Big Brother for me.

I also called the dentist and worked with them to get our new insurance information from our current employer (appointment is on August 15th) and fielded a call from the colonoscopy center about my upcoming procedure.  Speaking of that, I needed a prescription for that and my Blue Cross ACA plan did absolutely nothing for me in negotiating a lower rate.  Our out of pocket costs were $87 for that which is ridiculously high for basically prescription Ex-lax.  Our other alternative was to drive an hour to Portland and try to get a free sample, but ultimately we just used our HSA card and paid Walgreen prices.  Lee went and picked it up for me.

Lee also went and got our mail, fan our budget reports, made a grocery store run to get a few items we needed for the weekend, flushed the tanks, and did the mounds of laundry that had been piling up. I went through all the pictures, wrote three blog posts (to get caught up), got my eyebrows waxed, read the instructions again for the colonoscopy as some things (like not eating any food with seeds start a week in advance) and made a large pot roast so we would have leftovers for the weekend.

Yes that is a lot, but that’s what happens when your work schedule is as heavy as ours is for 4 days out of the week.  Thursday actually wasn’t that bad though, because we both started early in order to beat the worst of the heat. My Thursdays are so much better because the guys at Timber are covering for us on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I am not sure why this wasn’t happening before, but they started last week and what a difference.  One guy filled the truck with trash on Tuesday and the other pulled 4 bags out of trash in the Culvert on Wednesday (which was packed according to him because of the high temperatures.  Normally I would have had to deal with all of that on Thursday and since I pulled an additional 7 bags of trash and cleaned one pretty messy bathroom, which would have been a long day for me.  But since I had the help I was done by noon, and thank heavens for that because it was 103 by the time I was done.

The temperatures were actually lower than expected because of smoke in the area.  The river was full of haze (which we later learned was smoke) but because there was no smell we weren’t sure what it was.  Turns out the smoke had traveled down from British Columbia and the Mount Jefferson area and actually worked to our benefit.  The haze cut some of the worst of the suns UV and instead of 108 degrees we only got 103 which was a blessing. I felt bad though for some fellow dreamers Steve and Diane who have been working in BC all summer and I know from Facebook they have been dealing with the smoke for a couple of months now.  We were happy to have it though because by the time Lee finished his shift at 1:30pm he was drenched with sweat.  It’s pretty shaded in the campground, and he tried to take it easy, but it gets hot in some of the cabins and yomes and they needed to be cleaned for the next round of guests.  Finally after eating lunch and finishing off a couple more errands we were ready to relax and watch some TV.

My mom recommended this show called Bloodline and it is really fantastic.  It’s about a family who lives in the Florida Keys and if you haven’t seen it, it’s absolutely gripping.  The acting is amazing and the plot is original so I never know what is going to happen next, I love that in TV Shows and it is pretty rare as so many shows are formulaic.  IT’s intense though and after a few episodes, I needed a break.  I am not sure if they can keep this quality up for future seasons but so far Season 1 is fantastic.

Despite what you might think, most people I know watch quite a bit of TV.  There are rainy days, hot days, and days where you are just too tired to do anything.  Yes we are in a beautiful place and in theory would like to spend our free time out in nature, but the reality for us (and many of our friends) is sometimes you just want to chill. When we first started on the road I used to feel vaguely guilty about that, but now I am glad we are able to relax in a comfortable environment and veg out on occasion.  After all in the grand scheme of things we are way more active than we used to be in New England or Ohio.

Friday I spent more time in job searching, finishing up a blog post and starting a new one, and setting up the new Fitbit Lee had bought me while at Walgreen’s. I have been talking about wanting a step counter for quite some time, but wanted something small with minimal bells and whistles.  The price of the basic Fitbit Zip was only $60 though and he went ahead and bought it.  I was hoping setup was included in the present, but alas that was on me, so I sat down to see how difficult it would be to set it up.

First I had to download the program on my computer, Iphone, and Ipad, which all took a while because it was 59 MB per device. Next I had to “Join Fitbit” which was essentially setting up an account. I put in my age (50), sex (F), height (5’4″), and weight (132.5).  Then my name, email, and password.  At this point it occurred to me they would be collecting quite a bit of information about me, but then I shrugged and continued.  Yes, I try to be cautious about the data I have online, but I am not super diligent about it.  Plus what was the alternative. I did take a moment and read their privacy policy where they say they will never sell your data, but I largely take those promises with a grain of salt.  But then again other than 100% keeping your info offline, it’s part of the world we live in.

Next I had to put the battery into the Fitbit and although I am sure I could have figured it out I carried it over to Lee and had him do it.  He needed to get involved somehow 🙂 I inserted the “Dongle” into my computer and then did an update.  Apparently this was necessary for the first sync so keep that in mind if you don’t have a laptop or computer handy.  The update was quick and then I had to enter the numbers on the screen.  Unfortunately I had it upside down and entered the wrong numbers, but then tried it again and it worked.

There was a dashboard and badges and all sorts of interesting things, but since I didn’t have any steps yet I decided to wait until the next day to check all that out with real data.  I also had to setup the apps on the devices.  I turn Bluetooth off (to save battery power) but since that is the way the device syncs needed to go back and turn it on.  I also had to go into my email and verify my account so I could use the pre-existing account to sign in. Got all that setup up and then took another look at the dashboard.  The food tracker seems kind of interesting, but then again let’s wait and see how well it works. Update: Turns out on average work days I am walking about 5100 steps or 2.1 miles with a 1500 a day calorie burn.  That’s not bad, but since I did a quick calorie count and am eating more calories than I am walking off (I’m hungry while working), I need to either walk more or more likely be a little more careful about what I am eating on these long work days.

Friday we start at 3pm and unfortunately weren’t really able to change our schedule to avoid the worst of the heat.  I have never worked outside in temperatures like this and it gave me new respect for people that do it all the time.  We have great AC in the truck, but when we left it to empty trash or check a restroom we were slammed with a wall of heat.  Both of us were sweating in no time and the heat made us feel a little nauseous.  Because of the temperatures the lower launch and culvert areas were very busy with locals and consequently many of the trashcans were overflowing.  So not only were we standing in full sun pulling trash, but in some cases we had to manually transfer the overflow into a second bag so we could lift them.  Not fun.

It wasn’t all bad though.  Our water tank came in and Lee was very happy getting it setup with a hose and spigot.  This is going to make our lives so much easier and we were both thrilled it finally came in. It does move around a bit though (even filled with water) and Lee is trying to figure out how to strap it down.  The only downside is less room in the truck bed for trash, but we will be changing our route to make more frequent trips to the dumpster to accommodate.  Since most of what we do requires water, it is well worth the inconvenience.


We also came upon the coolest thing up at the “kid hangout” place in lower launch.  A clean cut young man was there with his group of friends and they had a device that was on wheels.  I walked up to ask what it was and immediately he looked worried.  Turns out he built a motor that pulls a line across the water.  It was his invention and totally amazing. Why he invented it was of interest to me as well.  He doesn’t have a boat but wanted to water ski, so built a motor that allowed his friends to do that. Gotta love American ingenuity and I told him he should definitely go to engineering school.  Lee talked to him about how it worked for some time and then they showed us with one of his friends skiing.  Really, really cool.  And I should say as much as we hear about kids in trouble and drug use in this country, there are also kids like this one who are out there inventing things.  Fantastic!

The wipeouts are the same lol


And finally we got to see the baby ospreys out of the nest.  They have been getting bolder and bigger and two of them were standing on the nest when we went by in the evening so I got some pictures.  Not sure if the third one made it or not, but I was thrilled to see these little guys out and about.  Can’t wait to see them start to learn how to fly.

They were definitely the babies because we have seen the parents and they are much larger than this

Plus the babies were screeching at the mama

Who was flying over by the dam ostensibly looking for fish for them

So so cool, but unfortunately no third baby


Saturday was MUCH better from a heat perspective.  Yes the temps were in the 90’s and it was still hot in full sun, but it was manageable, especially when we managed to stay in the shade.  We were using our new water tank quite a bit, which helps cut down on the need to run back and get water and the extra time made the evening shift much easier.  In the morning, while it was still cool, I spent some time in the men’s restroom at Faraday covering some obscene comments someone carved into the wall with the putty I bought a couple of weeks ago.  That was actually less unpleasant than it sounds, as I propped open the door and we have managed to get the smell largely under control in those bathrooms.  I’ve seen graffiti in bathrooms my entire life, some amusing some not, and this definitely fell in the uninspired category.  Plus one poem took up a largish section of wall and it took quite a bit of putty to cover it.  For the record I have seen very little of this during the summer and like everything else hopefully removing it quickly will stop others from adding their words of wisdom.  The job didn’t really bother me and since I found a relatively easy fix I was happy to take care of it.

Oh and one really cool thing happened on Saturday.  There was a man in the morning at the lower launch with an absolutely beautiful wooden canoe and I stopped to talk to him.  He said he had built it himself and it was the first time he had put it in the water.  He invited me to take a closer look and the inside was absolutely stunning.  The detail work was amazing and the wood was so beautiful.  Looked like a work of art.  When I asked how long it had taken him, he shied away from the question and said he intentionally did not keep track of the hours.  He had made a commitment to himself that he would work on it until it was “done” with no outside enforced time frames.    There is a lesson in that and I stood and watched him as he put the boat in the water for the first time.  It floated and good for him, I hope he enjoys it.  It really was a beautiful job and I wish I had my camera with me so I could share a picture, but I don’t usually take it unless there is something specific I want to take a picture of.

Sunday was hot again, manageable but the humidity was a bit of a challenge.  Plus the smoke was back and air quality wasn’t that great.  On the plus side, folks have been leaving me little bags of recycled cans all week along our route and I set a new recycling record with over $39.60 in cans.  Not all the trash can users are so nice of course (see picture below from one trash can this weekend, but I have definitely seen an improvement overall and I do like getting those “presents” if recyclables.

Seriously?? Could have been animals I guess since the bag is ripped up so bad but we haven’t had much of that.  This looks human made.

And lastly  we had a beautiful sunset on Sunday evening.  For some reason the lyrics, “smoke on the water…fire in the sky” came into my mind as we closed the lower launch and I sang them to Lee softly.  It was a beautiful sunset and just one more day and then it’s time for the weekend.  Most of that will be taken up by my colonoscopy and the prep for it, but at least we can stay in the AC.

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Time vs Money vs Quality of Life

Now that we have worked on four different work kamping jobs in a row I wanted to take a step back and talk about how things were going in general.  This post (as many of them do) actually comes out of a conversation Lee and I had along those same lines.  It’s easy to look at every job as a unique set of circumstances (and I am trying to do exactly that in my “First Time” posts), but it’s also important to not get so caught up in the immediate that we lose sight of the big picture.

I think it’s fair to say at this point that this life looks very different than we both expected it to. We didn’t start this life just because we wanted to travel (although there is nothing wrong with that), we chose it because we wanted to improve our quality of life.  For a long time we believed that when you looked at life as a triangle of money/time/quality we could only pick two.  But we thought with this life and “coloring outside the lines” we might get all three. And because I like pictures, our old life looked something like this.

Obviously these categories are completely subjective, but since we are judging our life, subjective is really the only thing that matters. We had lots of money, very little time, and the quality was so-so. These are oversimplifications, of course.  Defining quality of life in particular is challenging, and personally we include both work and home life in this equation.  Some people would feel differently of course, but again, our life, our definitions.


                                                 OLD LIFE

This is our frame of reference.  And since we spent a solid 10 years living in that reality, it’s what we are comparing our current life to.  And I think it’s important to do that once in a while.  Not only because this is so new, but also because it’s easy for two people to not be experiencing the same thing.  I thought that might be the case with Lee and I, so that is what prompted the conversation.  But let’s go back a little.

The first year we spent on the road I kept my corporate job and Lee worked on getting his business started.  Working the corporate job on the road radically changed the time category from red to yellow.  We did more things because we were geographically closer to them on the weekends, and we had more energy for it.  Quality of life also vastly improved although we did have additional stress from working and moving that kept it in the yellow but closer to the green.  The money of course was stayed green.  That triangle looked like this.


                                          MOBILE CORPORATE JOB

After I quit my corporate job I continued to get paid for quite a while as part of the buyout, and we did some volunteer jobs (that was awesome), but eventually took our first work kamping job camp hosting in Alaska. I didn’t write a summary for that one (although I did write a summary on visiting Alaska), but it was a pretty good experience.  The quality of life was very good, the money was good, and although we worked slightly different shifts we had time to see things.  Lee really liked what he was doing, and my job got better as I settled in.  So far it is the closest we have come to experiencing “green” in all three categories and the triangle would look something like this.


                                        ALASKA CAMP HOSTING 

We made enough money to cover our costs and saw amazing things.  Time is only yellow, because obviously we would have loved more time off to explore, but that would have impacted our money.  Of course we were jealous of our friends who traveled there and didn’t have to work at all, who wouldn’t be, but even taking that out of the equation I would still give it a yellow because we were on slightly different shifts. We could have changed that by moving Lee to 11-8 with me, but still working a swing shift did reduce the amount of things we could do on work days.  The longer daytime hours really helped with that though, and overall even this category was closer to green than red.

Next was the beet harvest and I wrote a really solid summary of our experience there. The money was great (although this could be different in a different harvest year or piler yard) and there was absolutely no time.  Lee and I disagree on the quality, because we did different jobs.  He really liked being an operator (except when they changed pilers on us), but I struggled with being a helper.  As a couple I am giving it a yellow though, which may surprise some people, but I was never bored, and that goes a long way for me towards making a quality experience.  Plus I was in the best physical shape of my adult life when we ended, which is no small thing.  Call it an orange for me, but for Lee definitely a yellow, so I am moving it into the yellow category for us as a couple.


                                       BEET HARVEST

Then there was Christmas trees, which we both hated.  I wrote my summary here and unlike beets and Alaska, which have gotten better in my memories with some time, this has actually gotten worse. Again, totally subjective, but no time, so-so money, and the quality of life was terrible mainly because we were working so hard and simultaneously uncertain about what was going to happen.  Terrible way to live.


                                          CHRISTMAS TREES

And now gate guarding.  Two weeks in, I think we have seen enough to rate this experience (preliminary at least).  The money is so-so, time is great, but quality of life only so-so.  We are in an uninteresting place, somewhat at the mercy of the elements, and because of the opposite shifts can’t go anywhere together.  The work itself is easy though, boring but easy, and because we work from the rig we are able to accomplish chores during our work day.  All of that combines to raise quality from a red to a yellow in our minds, pushing it closer to green.  I say that with the understanding that the weather has been absolutely great.  Give me several days of bad weather and it would push it more down into towards the red. This is where we are right now though.


                                          GATE GUARDING

So what are we looking for?  And are we being too picky?  Trust me, it’s a question we ask ourselves all of the time.  Obviously we would love to see this, but maybe we don’t get that.


                                           IDEAL LIFE

I certainly never had it in my old life.  Never even expected it, to be honest, but this life…well we thought it would be different.  That’s not totally true.  I was pretty skeptical from day one it was possible, but I believed in the dream enough to quit my job to try and find it.  And we certainly haven’t given up hope. We believe it is certainly possible, at least for short periods of time, and that is more than we ever had in our old life.

And for the record I still don’t regret giving up my old job at all, and as of today’s conversation Lee doesn’t regret giving up his either.  We both believe that taking these jobs will allow us to improve some areas of our work personalities.  Lee says it’s like the movie Groundhog Day. We get to try new things out without having our mistakes follow us like in a typical job.  Also, being put into all these different work environments with different types of bosses really stretches us, usually in a good way.  Plus Lee feels he is beyond the need for external validation (I’m still working on getting there), and that allows the conversation to really be about the work.

Lastly, I know our situation is different than most people.  Lots of folks look at these jobs as “fillers” or extra income and as such their rating systems would be totally different.  Others are just biding their time until their retirement and/or investments kick in.  For us though, at 48 and 50, we need to continue to take the long view.  For us it’s not just about whether the lifestyle is financially viable long-term, but also whether or not our quality of life (on balance) has improved.  It may be a simplistic way of looking at things, but over the last year we have had less red in our lives (Christmas Trees aside). That’s a good thing.

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