Caretakers are often asked what the hardest part of their job is. So, what IS the hardest part? It's not
the weather, it's not the trailwork, it's something...a little more intangible.
Caretakers live in the remote backcountry for four to six months, living in the field for 10-11 days at a time. In short, this translates to about 7 nights out of the woods in a month. During that time, they experience all weather (snow to sleet to sun to rain to snow again), they work in the dirt and mud, they compost human waste and they rebuild trail. At the beginning and the end of every day, they interact with and manage the flow of visitors that come through and stay at AMC's 9 backcountry sties staffed with caretakers.
But the hardest part? It's this intangible feeling, that all of them experience to a different extent while in the woods. Bobby Haran, one of our second year caretakers, composed this recent essay/ spoken word about how he describes that intangible feeling. Bobby is stationed at Imp Campsite, and also shared one of his glorious sunset photos from Imp.
Bobby opened up this piece by saying that he's often asked what the hardest part of the job is. This piece, composed for our midsummer/ midseason all-caretaker get-together, is how he answered it:
It would happen while you were hiking in, although I’m sure the foundation of it would begin long before, while you were packing your food, saying your goodbyes, and driving to the trail.
But the thoughts, or more the feeling, wouldn’t come until you hit the trail, your feet moving swiftly up that path you’d come to love, hate, then love again.
Like I said, it wasn’t a thought, so much as a feeling, something ineffable brought on by the knowledge that in 11 days you would be back. To you, it would feel like the blink of an eye, like barely a day had passed. It would shock you that anything could change that fast.
But it could.
Because what was a blink to you would be almost two weeks for the rest of the world.
And two weeks is a long time.
In that time, memories would be made, events happened, news –both bad and good- pass by, fears would be admitted and conquered, and ultimately, the world would just keep on spinning. Without even skipping a beat at your absence.
You would think about your brother. How many times had something good, or bad, or exciting, or memorable, or hell anything happened in his life, where he’d reached for his phone, a smile of anticipation on his face, excited to tell his brother something in the way that only a brother can. Merely to have his smile fade realizing you were nowhere near a phone.
Would he even remember what the news was when you got out? Or would it just slip away as another memory you missed out on.
You would think about your parents. Were they worried, concerned? Did they miss that weekly phone call? Did dad recover from his surgery? Where were we moving now? Sometimes you’d come out, and their whole life had changed. They’d be picking up, moving to another city, another apartment, and the only way you found out was as a passing after thought from your mom, like it was old news. Well, I guess it was. It happened over a week ago. You just weren’t around.
You would think about your girlfriend. Hell, I can’t even explain how much you would think about your girlfriend. Trying to live on two texts a day because your phone wasn’t meant to last that long. Trying to fit everything important into 160 characters is damn near impossible. So you think about all of your life that she was missing out on and just didn’t understand, and all of hers that was equally a mystery to you.
And then you would quickly try to stop thinking about your girlfriend. Because all of the parts of her life, that life you used to be a big part of, that you would never hear about as they were lost to the sands of time, were insurmountable. You just hoped she was good at waiting.
It’s this time warp you see. It’s coming out of the woods, expecting it all to be the same, because no time should have passed, but it did. It’s big news, turning to just news, turning to, “oh, I thought everyone knew by now”. No, they didn’t. It’s not just missing out on the memories, and stories, and events. It’s not even hearing about them because by the time you’re out, they’re long since forgotten.
So you think about this, you feel it, understand it, and let it wash over you. And after all that, as you’re nearing the top of the mountain on your pack in, the obvious and unstoppable question bubbles to the forefront of your consciousness.
Is it worth it?
And to answer that question, you stop thinking about all of their memories, and start thinking about all of your own.
You think about the first time you caught the sunrise from the bench at Garfield, or that first glorious sunset at Imp. You think about that moose and it’s calf you saw stroll quietly through your site like you weren’t even there. You think of your first bushwhack to Redrock Pond, the impossibly beautiful and secluded spot nestled between those slides. You think about the joy of running into another caretaker randomly, and lazy evenings watching cribbage at the no-tell. You think about watching the sky turn dark over Ethan Pond during training, that first blow down you took out solo, and of course, your first compost run.
You think about the people met: fellow caretakers and even those just met for a night as they passed through on the trail. You think of the peace and happiness of enjoying the quiet of your tent after a long day, and then at midsummer last year when a caretaker danced himself into frenzy.
And before you’re even done with this, you’re sitting on your porch smiling, because the answer is clear. You wouldn’t trade your memories for theirs in a thousand years.
Because this job is worth it all.
--Bobby Haran, Imp Caretaker 2014