Monday, December 31, 2012

Quality of Life Part I

Riding the chairlift the other day, I had plenty of time to myself as it glided 1,610 feet up the mountain. My mind wandered to how lucky I am to be able to do that any given day.  I also have access to snowshoeing, and cross country skiing-and all world class, at that.

I like to think of it like this: I live where you vacation.  Every weekend of mine or half day off before work is your dream vacation played out.  That one you wait all year for.  Now that is living.

My commute to work is a 25 minute ski in crisp mountain air, which invigorates me on the way there and helps me relax on the return trip.  The late night ski back after a long, stressful night of running around the restaurant is often the favorite part of my day.  A couple of times people have offered me rides, to which I respond, "I wouldn't miss it for the world."

I am in my best shape since swimming in high school.  My diet has been almost exclusively vegetarian, varied, and delicious.  My cooking skills get a little better every week with the addition of new recipes to my repertoire.  Work at Devil's Thumb is stimulating and challenging, yet not usually stressful, and next summer I will be returning to Mountain Sky Guest Ranch up in Montana, a place where I could not be happier.

In a nutshell, things have never been better.

Rewind to my senior year of college, with graduation fast approaching.  I had no clue what direction to take.  Everything sounded OK.  Nothing sounded great.  The position at Mountain Sky came out of the blue of an internet search one day in January, and was meant only as stepping stone between college and...a career.

Only looking back can I see how close I was to jumping on the hamster wheel.  The mainstream go-go-go of Western culture.  In other words, a position at a random company that I would adopt as 'a great place to work and that values employees' that would pay a decent salary I use to buy a house, a car, etc.  My time consumed by work would not be unpleasant, I would spend my days in a cubicle/desk, and my precious free time would be spent 'recreating' myself and escaping the city or at least the indoors.

What a fine and praised existence according to our society.  That is what I was expected to do, especially a student with a 3.95 GPA who graduated with highest honors.  Climb that corporate ladder!

Instead, during my year and a half after college I have learned more important things, namely, what I really value, not just the things they spoon feed you in college.  As well, I have spent my time learning to ride horses, hiking the great wilderness of Montana, skiing my butt off, and learning to make bagels, among other things.  Maybe not career furthering skills, but they have been very interesting and rewarding for me.

All this leads me to believe that this is what really matters in life.  My finances are in order, and despite how comparatively little I earn compared to a corporate job, the perks of my positions really add, but are hard to quantify.  How would you value being able to run on endless trails in the woods compared to running on sidewalks city block to city block?  How do you value waking up to see a sunrise like this in Moab?

Or fly fishing some of the finest waters in the world on my morning off?

Money cannot be used to value these things.  This really perplexes some people.  Their measure of value is money, and so I appear poor in a relative sense.  You could be making good money doing __________ (insert shitty job here).  They only see the dollar signs $$$.  They see the dollar bills and miss the forest that was used to make those dollar bills.  The forest I hike through on my way up the mountain to the priceless view of this beautiful land we call Earth.

Monday, December 24, 2012

November Vacation: Moab

Now that I am settled in at my winter digs and the ground is blanketed in snow, it is time to revisit November.  After leaving Mountain Sky, my travels took me to Moab, Utah, a land of sand, rocks, sun, and scrub brush.  A place molded by wind and water that is unlike anything else I have ever encountered.  My week in Moab was spent exploring Arches & Canyonlands National Parks, as well as the myriad state and federal parcels of land that surround the town.

A swimming hole!  Took my only bath for the week here.

Needless to say, it is like nothing this Midwesterner has ever encountered.  Here are some Arches National Park pictures.

And a pic of one of my campsites, along with some night photos I took during the full moon that coincided with my visit.  Cameras are fun.

One of the most mind boggling things in Moab is the amount of petroglyphs on canyon walls from hundreds or thousands of years ago when the area received more rainfall and Native Americans had permanent settlements in the area.

While Arches is relatively small, Canyonlands National Park is enormous, with three main areas and two different entrances that do not connect to one another.  Let's start with the sunrise I awoke to my first day in Canyonlands.

As the sun was setting...

Makes you feel small, doesn't it?

And of course I couldn't leave this pic out, being in Utah and all...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December Update: Winter Park, CO

It has been a while, and I have been lazy.

Here is an update on my life:

I arrived in Colorado November 11, and started work the following day at my winter gig, Devil's Thumb Ranch.  Go figure, another ranch, right?  It is bigger than the other ranches I have worked at, with an entire spa area, lodging for over 200 guests, and two restaurants, an upscale casual one where I work, Heck's, and a fine dining establishment, the Ranch House.

The ranch takes its' name from a Native American legend surrounding the local geography.  The story goes that the Ute and Arapahoe tribes were warring over this land and each chief lost a son.  They were distraught and declared a truce, realizing the ravages of war were never worth the land, and so decided to bury the Devil.  His thumb was left protruding from the rock to remind the people of the horrors of war and that the Devil could easily grab a fistful of rock and climb out of the mountain if the people were not careful.

Check out the little nub below, right in the middle of the frame.

I work as a server in Heck's, as previously mentioned, and will most likely work a few banquets as the Christmas season gets rolling.  The food is pretty excellent, and my coworkers are a friendly bunch, and of course a motley crew as in any restaurant.  It is the largest company I have ever worked for though, and so is a bit more impersonal, and more bureaucratic-e.g. as a server I do not have access to dry storage, so in order to stock even paper towels I must get a manager's keycard to access it.  A keycard is required to even enter the building.  I find this quite foreign.  With size, trust and relationships diminish.

For housing, I was lucky enough to nab a spot in the limited employee dorm-most people do not live on ranch-and was even luckier to be picked to move in to a new house the ranch just acquired.  Let's just say it is a step up from the other dorm.  It is starting to feel like home.

I took these pictures last week, but now everything is finally covered in snow.  Right now things look more like this picture I took yesterday while skiing at Winter Park.

Currently, work has been a little slow, i.e. only four days of work per week, so I have had tons of time to putter around and wait for the snow.  I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in three days, and have been baking like it's my job, well second job, I suppose.  Bagels, brioche, and naan specialties, along with buttermilk, wheat, rye, caraway, sunflower-molasses, and potato & garlic loafs.  Quite tasty.

Now that there is snow, I plan to continue baking and cooking new recipes while skiing daily.  Between the ranch's 125km of trails and the huge amount of terrain at Winter Park I will be quite busy. Things are shaping up nicely here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thompson Lake

While Labor Day weekend is a chance-or the chance for city folks to get out of town and enjoy the outdoors-aka clog all nearby recreational sights-I was happily working.  Let them.  At least they take the time once or twice a year to enjoy our greatest asset: nature.  I will never understand the love of cities, people, cars, office jobs, and hustle & bustle over nature, but hey, that leaves more of nature for me!

My days off were Monday and Tuesday this week, so by the time I did my business Monday and we got to the trailhead, everyone else were heading home, leaving it all to us.  In the case of Montana it is not that bad if you are not talking about Jellystone and such.  "Busy" means a family of seven hikers in the case of our trailhead.

We headed across the valley from the ranch to Mill Creek and did a 5 mile hike to Thompson Lake, a small body of water nestled in the mountains.  Our goals: catch a slew of trout and eat one, try out my new sleeping bag (rated to 6°), and not get eaten by a bear.  Keeping trout out of rivers is not cool in Montana, but from lakes it is just fine.

I caught two cutthroat trout the first night and then about 8 more the following morning, all on streamers and woolly buggers, losing almost as many flies in the process as there were logs galore in the lake.  We ended up keeping one trout to supplement our dinner, and cooked it on a rock by the fire.  Delicious, even without salt.  Local, organic, and fresh.  And, trout are just unbelievably beautiful.  Check out the brilliant orange under the jaw that gives cutthroat their name.

In the morning my fish got progressively bigger and the scenery was unbeatable.  Made me appreciate that I can do this any week while some people only make time for it once in a while.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Beartooths

This past weekend found me with a couple Mountain Sky friends in the Beartooths, an incredible area just west of Yellowstone.  It might just be my favorite place in Montana.  While Jellystone, Glacier, and the Tetons are crawling with tourists, the Beartooths fly under the radar.  Check it out.