Living & Working in Great Places
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I had been cooking for more than 10 years when I first heard of people that would work seasonally. I was a sous chef at a local resort in Wisconsin and was training a cook for the summer. He told me about how he had worked at the Grand Canyon and at Yosemite National Parks, but that summer he had two sisters getting married and his grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary and decided to stay home for the summer.
A couple of years later in 1996, I was surfing the internet and came across a new web site called CoolWorks.com. I think it was about a year old when I first came across it. I was thinking about changing jobs and searched through the site regularly. I happened to take another job, but it was local. I had some questions. I was no longer in my 20s, I had benefits to think about, 401ks, what was I going to do with all the items I had accumulated over the years? I was also a little worried about what to do in the time between jobs. But every couple of months, I’d look at the site again. I joined their forum section and asked some questions now and then.
I was always planning to do a lot of traveling once I retired. But that job I picked up...it was at a retirement community. There I met a couple of people that did a lot of traveling and they told me how they wished they went earlier in life. They would just stick to the tours and cruises for the most part, because the physical hiking and climbing were just getting to difficult. I had also met a few that said they had planned on it, but then there were the grandchildren and all the various groups and charities that they belonged to they were actually busier than when they were “really” working.
One sunny June afternoon in 2005 I was walking across a street. I was within the crosswalk and had a walk signal. I kind of saw the car a second before I was landing on the hood and rolling over the top before crashing onto the cement roadway. The driver said she didn’t see me. Luckily, she was driving a Neon, it has that kind of sloping hood. If she were in anything like a truck or SUV or even a boxed-front I would have been roadkill. As it was my right shoulder was 4 different shades from light blue to brown and black...it took the brunt of the hood where I dented it. The left side of my pelvis hit the ground first, it was cracked in three places. Then there were several other scrapes and bruises.
As I lay there most of the summer, trying to find a comfortable position...right side my shoulder, left side my hip...I made some decisions about my life. One was that I would never work again just to pay the bills and worry about the future. Another was that I wouldn’t wait to travel more.
By the next spring I was all healed, but getting kind of bored with the work I was doing. I went to CoolWorks.com and the first place that grabbed my eye was for a breakfast cook at Signal Mountain Lodge in the Grand Teton National Park. Um, I didn’t even know where that was...but I filled out the application online and started looking for another. I was about to fill out another application when my cellphone rang. It was from the people at Signal wanting to talk to me. We talked for about half an hour, and she asked me if I could be there in 10 days. I said that was fantastic.
Since that first season I have learned to ride horses working at a dude ranch in the Sonoran desert. Learned to ski at a couple of ski resorts, sharpened albeit to a dull point my golf game in Vermont, learned about dog mushing while working at an Alaskan lodge owned by an Iditarod veteran, salmon fished the Kenai River and Resurrection Bay, explored historic Mackinac Island, lived a couple hundred feet from the rim of the Grand Canyon, enjoyed expansive Denali.
It’s not the places that first come to mind, though. It's the number and diversity of the people I have worked along side. I have met, lived with and worked beside people from every state and many countries including the Czech Republic, Russia, Kazahkstan, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, China, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Serbia, Jamaica, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Japan.
I have also met several coolworkers with similar life changing stories. A couple of cancer survivors, a fire escapee, and a person amazed they lived car accident and saddened because not everyone did.
I have also seen a lot of wildlife and new plants and geologic formations that I didn’t have a chance in those suburbs of Wisconsin. All the big ones people think of...bears, and moose, and elk, and wolves and whales. Mountains, oceans, and desert. Most of all..I have become really interested in birding. There seems to be a whole new set of birds wherever I go, it is quite fascinating.