What I Learned in Hell’s Canyon

*** Please note that this was written about a week ago. I am no longer in the Canyon.

I am on day 11 of 14 days in the Canyon at my volunteer gig. I am the caretaker, tour guide, permit manager, hostess, and janitor. I am here to do whatever is needed. I am in an isolated location as I was dropped off by boat. I have radio contact with the Forest Service main office twice per day at designated times. This is my second volunteer gig of my adventure and my first of this nature. Here is what I have learned:

  1. I do not like being out of touch for so long. I need my community, I need connection. Sure, I talk to dozens and dozens of people throughout my day. However, I connect with none of them. I miss getting my emails from my pen pal, reading the updates on my friends and loved ones on Facebook, and talking to my parents now and again. I miss a meaningful conversation that lasts more than ten minutes. 
  2. I like storms, but only when I am inside. I do not mind the wind and the rain and the thunder and the lightening. But, I do not need or want to see them or feel them from inside the tent. 
  3. I am in a gorgeous and unique location but I am trapped. I cannot get out of there and I have only left this property twice. Neither time was for very long. Seems I need to be able to move around and see different things, even if I do have a home base of sorts. I am getting very antsy to move on.
  4. I prefer to have my Jeep and all my gear at my fingertips. I do not like my things out of sight or out of reach. I am sure they are fine. I travel with so little and it is all very important and I am carrying this cloud ever since I split my stuff, unpacked the Jeep, and parked her with the Forest Service. Nope, I do not like that. 
  5. I am very capable and able to live off the grid, but I will want to get in touch once or so per week. I am OK alone in the wilderness or the woods or whatever. I am not bothered in that way at all. In fact, this suits me in some ways, as long as I can get my stuff charged and get supplies when I need them. 
  6. I still am not a fan of the heat. I can do it, but I do not like it and I prefer cooler weather overall. This house does not cool down at night and I know the tent would have and may have given me that break from the heat when I sleep. Yuck heat. Yay coolness. 
  7. I can do and prefer a more physical job. I love working outside, but not hard work like in the sun and the heat and sweating all the damned time. 
  8. People were as fascinated by me as this place they are visiting. I told so many people bits and pieces of my story that I am a little tired of it. I wanted to tell them that this is NOT about me, this is about the area and the river and the wilderness. I should not be the center of their attention!!  
  9. I may want to bring someone with me or arrange for visitors. However, I did not know that going into this. I really did not know what to expect and would not have known how that would work. Hindsight, I would not have changed how I did this, but moving forward, the company would have been nice and the help great for all the work around here. 
  10. I need time off. Real time off, time away, a break for at least a day. I have been at this for 10-14 hours every day with no break, no time away except for a couple hours. 
  11. Even when it is slow, someone could (and does) show up at any time. Therefore, you can never totally relax. In a way, I am always “on” and it is an energy drain. 
  12. I get tired of the same thing, no matter what it is. I need change and new things and a little challenge thrown in for good measure. I need something new or challenging to help offset the routine. 

Future Volunteering: 1) be able to leave the place at least once per week, to get away, get a break, see something or do something new; 2) have access to technology at least once per week, 3) OK to be off the grid, out in the wilderness or woods or whatever as isolation is not that bad as long as #1 and #2 can be true; 4) I need a break, a day or so off, real time that is not the job and does not have the responsibilities; 5) when or if isolated again, have visitors or company or someone I know come as that would help with the isolation and loneliness and feelings of disconnection.  

I have no regrets at all about doing this and being here and having this experience. This journey is not about regret, it is about learning and being and doing. I do not consider this a failure by any stretch of the imagination. This is a complete success and it was amazing and it was fun and I worked my ass off and learned a lot. I am now better informed, more clear and have an improved sense of what I want and need moving forward. I know better what to look for and what to stay away from, and possibly even what to ask for. 

People keep asking me how I like it and I have a mixed reaction. I mean, parts of this fit me just fine and parts do not. There is no fault or blame, as this is what was described to me and this is what I got. I tried it and now know better what will and will not work for me. They remark about the view and how wonderful it is, but the view is all I have seen for nearly two weeks! I am not sick of it per say, I mean, who has this view all the time? But, I can say I would like to see something new more often and then I think I will appreciate this view all the more. I am also getting bored. This is now routine and the same and this lack of change is getting to me. I am still not that person who can do the same thing day in and day out, in the same place under the same circumstances. I need some newness, some shift, some change to keep my interest peaked and keep engaged. I hate cleaning the bathrooms, but I do it. OK, fine, but what is there to help offset that part? What is new and exciting and thrilling enough to motivate me to clean those bathrooms? The answer here is nothing. There is no trade off to help with the doldrums.  

I worked for two weeks in Hell’s Canyon in an isolated location. I was boated up, trained, and left. I will be boated back and the next person or people will come. I lived with a stove and oven, running water, flush toilets, hot water, shower and bathtub. I had a bed and furniture. I did not have electricity. I had to wash my clothes in the sink and hang them to dry. I got fee beers and pizza and talked to people from all over the world. I am tan and fit, though I ate like shit and may even have put on weight. I am tired and antsy. It is time to move on, It is time for a break from even this place. It is time for the next thing.

Thank you US Forest Service, Clarkston Office, for this opportunity. Thank you Hell’s Canyon for your beauty and your grandeur and your bounty and your harshness. Thank you Cache Creek for being an excellent host. Thanks to the visitors for their stories, their gifts, their patience and their cooperation. Much gratitude for this experience. 

Time to move on… 


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