The other day I was hiking alone up to the summit of Pemetic Mountain. Pemetic was the name given to Mount Desert Island years ago by the Native Americans who inhabited this region. It means “sloping land.” I’ve always wondered why we feel the need to change the names of places “discovered” by the early European explorers from their original designation. When Samuel de Champlain landed here, his September 5, 1604 journal entry described the island with this quote, “The summit of the most of them is destitute of trees, as there are only rocks on them. The woods consist of pines, firs, and birches only. I named it Isle des Monts Déserts.” (from his MEMOIR OF SAMUEL DE CHAMPLAIN Volume II 1604-1610 – chapter 5 found on http://mdi.mainememory.net) Personally, I think Pemetic Island is a lot easier to say – and we would not have to deal with the controversy surrounding how to pronounce Mount Desert Island – is it de-SERT or DE-sert? Better to just say MDI!
I arrived at the summit to find another solitary hiker sitting under the summit marker eating a snack. We struck up a conversation and, when he discovered I worked for the park service, asked me how I arrived at this point in my life. I recounted the multitude of occupations I’ve had over the years. After I was done, I laughed and said to him, “I guess you could say I’m a restless soul.”
I am a restless soul. I admit it. I’ve always enjoyed the anticipation of a new adventure – whether it was heading across the country for my first college experience, uprooting our family for a mid-life move to Vermont or planning our many family camping excursions. For me, the thrill of heading out for new territory with our Airstream in tow is exhilarating and energizing. Most RVing workampers choose this lifestyle because they want the freedom to move around and experience new parts of the country. This means picking up and moving every few months to a new location, often to an unfamiliar place. Many working RVers often return to the same work positions year after year – only traveling to new destinations in between work. But for me, the thrill of this lifestyle is discovering and experiencing new places and work experiences each season.
I am now positioned at my fourth workamping experience since hitting the road two years ago, and I think maybe that finally qualifies me as having enough expertise to relay some things I find helpful when settling in to a new job and location. While those who do not live this lifestyle might consider it stress-free and all fun and games, the reality is somewhat different. Even though we choose to live this way, there are still challenges and adjustments that have to be made on a regular basis. I thought I would document my main considerations and objectives when I arrive at a new place and set up residence. Focusing on this “loose checklist” of goals has proved beneficial to me in acclimating myself to a new place and feeling temporarily “settled.”
While many workampers live full-time in their RV’s and do not have a “brick-and-mortar” home base, we still maintain a residence in our home state of Vermont. We are working towards relinquishing this extra burden, but for now, we do still own property that must be maintained. My first task represented here is based on the fact that we still have this added responsibility.
Before you arrive at your new destination
Before leaving for a seasonal workamping position, review checklist for home-base property and be sure all major areas are covered for either winterizing the property or maintaining the property in your absence. I’m not going to go into detail here, because this is so variable depending on what you choose to do with your primary residence and where that primary residence is located. Each person’s checklist will be unique! Just make sure that you have a checklist of all things that need to be taken care of before you leave and follow through on it!
Whether you are a full-timer who has been stationary for a season or just heading out after your RV has been in winter storage, check all systems in your trailer, sanitize all lines and tanks, and make necessary repairs. Go over the maintenance checklist that comes with your RV manual and be sure that you are up to date on maintenance. Since we are not technically full-timers, we usually have a short period of time when our trailer is stored uninhabited for a few months. Our first task is to test all systems – heat pump/air conditioner, furnace, stove and oven, lights, solar set-up, refrigerator, water pump and heater, outside running lights and all water lines for leaks. Make sure everything is operational. This needs to be done well in advance of your departure date! After remaining stationary in Vermont this past winter, we tested all the systems in our Airstream at least three weeks before we were due to embark for Acadia. When we tested the toilet functionality, we found that it would not hold water, and determined that we needed to replace all the seals.
Jim – hard at work!
We had plenty of time to order the parts and schedule the work to be done prior to our departure. We also found a water leak in the line that goes to the shower due this elbow vibrating while traveling down the road. The fix was tightening up and remounting the line where it goes into the wall and the problem was solved.
Check your towing vehicle as well! Perform routine maintenance, replace tires as needed – make sure this critical piece of equipment is performing at its best!
Set up a forwarding mail address and be sure that it is as secure as it can be. Since we still maintain a permanent post office address in Vermont, in some cases I have had to open a temporary post office box in the town where we are located and simply request mail forwarding for the duration of our stay. In my opinion, this is the safest way to handle forwarded mail if you still maintain a permanent home. I have used a temporary post office box in June Lake, CA and also use one here on MDI at Seal Harbor. Last summer we altered from this method. Our employer had an internal mail system whereby our mail was forwarded to their physical location and then distributed to employees via the company mailroom. This was not ideal, and in the future, I think I would opt for just getting a post office box. The mail room employees at this location were seasonal workers, and not well-trained in mail handling protocol. We had some critical pieces of mail that never made it to us. This was stressful for me and resulted in some formal complaints to the mailroom personnel. A third method of receiving mail is what I affectionately term a “periodic mail drop.” For a very short-term position where a temporary post office box was not practical, we simply asked a family member to collect our mail and do a mail drop to us every couple of weeks – once while we were traveling for several months – and another time when we were stationary for just two months. Again, this is not ideal. I generally do not want to impose on family for this task. I’m hoping that we develop a routine whereby we are traveling minimally to longer term summer/winter gigs and, therefore, can avoid enlisting the help of family.
Many full-timers (those who do not have a physical home-base) have mailing addresses based on their state of residency (where they have officially domiciled) and request regular mail drops. There are several mail services offered for full-time RVers for a fee. Workamper.com has several of these listed on their website. I’ve provided links below.
Most employers allow you to move onto your campsite several days in advance of your first day of work. I take this time to get a few essential tasks completed.
One of my first priorities is finding a decent grocery store and/or co-op and investigating the time and day for any local farmers markets. I love to purchase farm-fresh produce and other agricultural products to help out the local economy. Here in Bar Harbor, the only large supermarket is a Hannaford’s. That’s it! Since this is a familiar grocery chain for me, this worked out well! Other options exist in Ellsworth which is a 45-minute drive. I found out that the local farmers market in Bar Harbor is on Sunday mornings – so that is not convenient for me since I work. The same was true for the other small towns on the island. I was somewhat disappointed until I stumbled upon a farm on Beech Hill Road on the west side of the island when I was on my way to hike Beech Mountain. I noticed a farm stand sign and learned that this is an organic farm run by The College of the Atlantic. They offer CSA’s but also have a farm stand open Tuesday through Saturday. They have hours that coincide with mine! Hallelujah! I will definitely be back there for some fresh local organic produce.
Another important task is locating the nearest merchants for RV supplies, propane re-fills and diesel fuel. Our first couple of days here, we noticed a leak behind the toilet and needed a new water module ASAP. I called several places and found a reliable, well-stocked RV supply store near Bangor – less than an hour away. Knowing the closest location and best price for propane refills and diesel fuel is also handy, not just for us, but also for the campers who visit the campground. I’ve been asked this question many times!
I am also once again in the position of needing to find a good, clean laundromat. Always a fun chore! It’s been interesting navigating the different laundromats across the country. The closest one to me is in Bar Harbor. I advise you to take the time to read the laundry instructions. All washers and dryers are operationally different. I can attest to that! The one in Bar Harbor has three different types of washers – depending on load size and content. I did not pay attention to this my first two visits. Also, read the dryer instructions before using them for the first time. On my first visit to this laundromat, I missed the fine print on the dryer and ended up spending double what I should have to dry my clothes! The second time I was there, a couple from Quebec were trying to figure out how to use the dryers. I was happy to explain the system to them! My mistake on my second trip to this laundromat was overloading the washer. I did not realize the subtle difference between the washer sizes. They all looked the same to me with the exception of 3 obvious large capacity washers. I loaded my clothes in an available washer (including one towel) and thought that it was totally within the capacity of the washer. I sat down to read and it was then that I noticed the wide-screen monitor with the capacity rules for each type of washer. I should have used a medium load washer, which were apparently the ALL stainless-steel washers vs. the regular washers. They sure looked like the same size to me! The screen also said that you should never put towels in the small capacity washers! It was too late to stop the washer. As a result, my clothes did not spin out properly and it cost me more to dry again!! They were dripping wet when I removed them from the washer! Good grief! You would think I could navigate this simple task without issues. I grew up accompanying my mother to the laundromat every Sunday morning. While most teenagers would find this a chore, I actually enjoyed spending this one-on-one time with her. She would probably be surprised that I remember this routine in such a positive light! That said, you would think I was laundromat-savvy! Apparently, 40 years of having my own washer has fogged my memory regarding laundromat protocol. They say the third time’s a charm, right? I think I’ll get it totally right on my next visit 😊
In every place we have workamped, I have visited the local town library and signed up for borrowing privileges. In my wallet are library cards for the June Lake Public Library in California, the Decatur Public Library in Texas, the Teton County Library in Jackson, Wyoming and now the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor, Maine. Libraries are a great resource. Not only do they lend books and DVD’s but they usually have printers, copiers and free WiFi. Most public libraries also subscribe to downloadable e-book vendors if you have a Kindle or Nook or any device that supports this functionality. When we worked for California Land Management in a forest service campground on June Lake in California, I had no access to WiFi in the campground. Since I do not have unlimited cell data or pay for satellite internet, I utilized the tiny June Lake Public Library all summer – borrowing reading material and using the WiFi for my blog postings. I have the same situation here in Acadia. I signed up for a library account during my first week and use their WiFi frequently. I have already checked out numerous books and DVD’s on the history of Acadia, and borrowed some pleasure reading material as well as movies. Libraries are also a great source of information for finding out about local events and programs. The Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor advertises itself as a “community and cultural center” and hosts a number of community events – including a knitting group, a writer’s workshop and a monthly contra dance. Support the local library in your area! You will not regret it! Librarians are great people and always willing to help – straight from the mouth of a former librarian, ha!
My next important mission is familiarizing myself with the history and general geographic area where I’m stationed. Sometimes this means doing some research ahead of my arrival. For example, I compiled a list of places I wanted to visit on my days off as soon as I knew I would be working here on Mount Desert Island for the summer season. Since most of the positions I’m attracted to require direct interaction with visitors either in a campground or other park location, answering questions about things to do and places to visit is inevitable and ultimately part of my job. For example, here in Acadia, one of the first things I did was drive the 27-mile park loop road stopping at the most popular attractions. I need to be able to give campers directions to the places they want to go – which includes them telling the best way to access the park loop road for their desired destination. I also began hiking the trails on my days off starting those that are accessible from the campground, then moving on to hiking the most popular trails.
I’m now starting to branch out into other activities, exploring the west side of the island and continuing to explore the over 120 miles of hiking trails. Biking the 50+ miles of historic carriage roads within Acadia is an activity that many visitors partake in, so I will soon be starting to bike these pathways. I am waiting for the free park shuttle to start running to I can get to the carriage roads without using the winding, narrow, heavily-traveled automobile roads! I have also noted where our internal print and online resources are located in the ranger station to aid in answering questions about trails, fishing, swimming, biking, boating, flora and fauna. I’ve been here a month, have logged many miles of hiking trails already, and am feeling confident in the knowledge I have gained so far! Information services continue to be at the heart of what I love! People are so grateful for advice that contributes to a successful and fun vacation.
History was always one of my favorite subjects in school. Immerse yourself in the local history. I borrowed two DVD’s about the history of Acadia NP that were recommended by the librarian in Jesup Library and watched them my first week here. I also checked out books about the history of the carriage road system in Acadia and some material on a local landscape architect (since that is a passion of mine). If you’re going to live somewhere for a few months, you might as well understand the significance of the region and why people settled there. Visit museums, gardens and other cultural entities to broaden your knowledge of these local inhabitants. I’ve posted a blog about some local gardens I’ve visited. Recently, I embarked on the ranger-led Islesford Historic Boat Cruise and learned some more local history and stories about life on an island.
And now comes the fun part! Jim and I enjoy eating out on occasion and hate wasting time and money on substandard restaurant food. We also enjoy finding local breweries and wineries to patronize. Talk to the locals and find the out what the best deals are in your area and where they choose to dine. Sometimes the restaurants that cater to tourists are more interested in quantity rather than quality. When we were looking for a spot to have lunch in Bar Harbor on one of our first days here, we asked a gentleman with a briefcase who was walking past us down the sidewalk. We figured him for a local given his attire and purposeful walk. He recommended the Side Street Café and we were not disappointed! I have already returned there for lunch when in town running errands. While in the Jackson, Wyoming area, we found several favorite haunts and enjoyed them throughout the summer. Our summer in June Lake, we located a great Mexican cantina in the town of Mammoth Lakes where we could sit and enjoy football games – complete with Happy Hour prices on beverages and all the chips and salsa you could eat! Find some good local eateries and support them!
Community involvement is rewarding if you can take the time to volunteer in some capacity. I’m not saying you should spend all your free time doing this but it’s a great way to get to know the local residents and feel connected to the community, even if you are only there for a season. I must admit that I have not taken advantage of this as much as I could. We did volunteer for a day in the Tetons doing some trail work. It was a joint effort with the park service, the park concessionaires and the local community. We worked alongside a boy scout troop, other park personnel and visitors who found out about the volunteer work day on the NPS website. It was a rewarding experience. I’ll be looking for some potential prospects here in the near future. You can find these opportunities at local Chamber of Commerce websites, from area environmental clubs and non-profits, hospitals, YMCA/YWCA’s and nearby colleges and universities. Even if you only participate once or twice in a season, the benefits are great and the organizations are appreciative of the help.
As I sit in the Jesup Library working on this post, I realize this is the first time I’ve visited the library on a Thursday morning. Note to self – do not try to come here on Thursday mornings to get work done! As soon as I sat down to work, someone started playing the baby grand piano located in a corner of the library. The sound reverberated throughout the entire library. While it was very nice, I was finding it hard to concentrate. Then, it became obvious that she was just warming up for the children’s program that was about to start. As a former children’s librarian, I was very impressed with the quality of their program. But, it was not exactly quiet 😊 Next time, I will try and get here on my normal Wednesday morning schedule! So, if I have many errors in this blog, it’s because of the distraction of working while also tuning in to the kids program!!
I do apologize for the formatting. Working in word and then copy and pasting into WordPress is not always ideal. And with time constraints and distractions today, I’m not inclined to re-format to my liking. Time to get back to the campsite and get ready for work!
I am hoping to continue with the Workamping Series – with some posts dedicated to topics specifically oriented to this life-style. Cheers!!