With summer hiking season in full swing it seems like I'm hardly ever indoors anymore! If I'm not out on the trails for work you can usually find me out in a state park or national forest with my dog and NoKey. I recently had a client ask me what it's like to have your passion and your job be the exact same thing and if I found it hard to find a balance between the two. For me the balance isn't tough because I do my guiding in the Smokies and I do my hiking for pleasure outside of the national park. There are a few reasons for this - heavy traffic near the Smokies, the fact that no dogs are allowed on trails, and the fact that the trails I hike for work are usually incredibly popular day hikes are some of them. For me though, being a guide feels like a natural thing and it feels like it is truly where I need to be in life right now. I feel incredibly fortunate to be doing what I do for a living. For today's Friday Five post, I'm going to tell you the five things I love about being a guide.
It might sound cheesy, but there is something really incredibly satisfying about teaching someone how to find what they're looking to learn out in the woods. Whether it's taking a one-hour nature walk and showing someone they can chew on a particular leaf or taking someone out for a customized backpacking trip and seeing them become more confident with their gear, the fact that I've taught someone a lesson they will remember is incredibly satisfying.
2) InTroducing People to Nature
Sometimes I'm guiding a nature walk for a hotel or resort. While these nature walks aren't strenuous or even long, by taking these groups out on a gentle walk away from the hustle and bustle of gateway towns around the park I'm showing them something they've possibly never experienced in life - and something they may never experience again. We often get people from flatter places in the midwest or from large cities like Chicago or New York who don't make it out to the woods often. Showing to people how much beauty you can find just beyond the concrete jungle can be such a rewarding experience.
3) The unpredictability
It's pretty fair to say the outdoor industry is incredibly unpredictable. Over the winter several of my hikes had to be canceled altogether due to weather-related road closures. Sometimes my high ridgeline day hikes have to be rescheduled or even moved to a low elevation route due to thunderstorms. Living in the mountains of East Tennessee will definitely keep you on your toes weather-wise! Some days I'll only be scheduled for a short 2.5-hour walk only to be working an additional 8 or 9 hours due to unscheduled hiker shuttles or last-minute getaway hikes. The unpredictable nature of my job always keeps me on my toes!
4) The Unexpected
Like the weather isn't the only thing that can throw curveballs at me out in the woods! Sometimes it can be difficult to predict how our clients will react outdoors as well. Even though we are filling out waivers and doing health questionnaires the physical ability of our group on a hike can keep us on our toes. I had a scheduled hike up a difficult mountain where the first two miles were faster than usual and the clients were laughing and having fun. The next two miles up, while not any more difficult, quickly fell apart and turned into me having to decide to make the call to turn around. It took me 11 hours to hike approximately 7.5 hours on that trip and we never did make it to the top. The clients, however, were still happy with the hiking and the interpretation I provided during the walk so it at least helps you feel better about making a difficult call.
5) The People
There is something incredibly satisfying about introducing yourself to a group of people you're going to see over the next several hours and knowing that you're going to be able to show them things they've never experienced before. Even though my job relies heavily on being able to do interpretation on the things around me, I often get to know my hiking clients on a more personal level, especially on a longer day hike or an overnight trip of any length. Getting to learn things about people on such a personal level and connect with someone on a trip is the single greatest thing about my job. Building a close report during such a short period of time really can't be done in any other setting.
These are just a few of the things I really love about being a hiking guide. When I first got into guiding I had no idea what to expect but now I can honestly say that I have found where I need to be right now.
Is your passion your career? What is it you love about what you do? Would you be able to work at a job that closely mirrors the hobbies you have?