AWESOME PERSON #14 – MEET SHERRI!
Sherri is hands down one of the most interesting people I have yet to meet. Sherri and I have only communicated via email but I’ve gotta tell you, she’s a badass and quite the inspiration. Read on for Sherri’s amazing journey of starting over, overcoming hardships, finding love and living life! I promise her story won’t disappoint.
1. Sherri, 2010 came with a lot of change for you and allowed for an opportunity to entirely change your lifestyle. Can you tell us what happened and how you turned to seasonal living?
Prior to 2010 I’d never heard of seasonal living. While going through a divorce, I planned my departure from Ohio. Which included, buying the 1968 Camper, spending the summer of 2010 restoring the camper, quitting my job in the winter of 2010, packing what I MAY need in the future into storage and preparing a route. No end destination in mind, only to travel south and west (as it was January, I wanted to get to the sunshine and remain warmer).
2. You purchased a 13 foot 1968 camper, sold the house, packed up Amelia and set off…what made you think to apply with Glacier National Park, initially?
A good friend had been to Glacier National Park twice and RAVED about it. She told me about these old red busses they had, the chalets built in the 1900’s remotely located near the tops of mountains, the glaciers, the hiking, and the beautiful white Rocky Mountain Goats.
Having never been there, and having NO IDEA what I was going to do or where I was headed, I opened my laptop and applied. I vividly remember doing this in my now empty house in Ohio. It had been sold, everything packed away, and the house was in the process of transitioning to the new owners. It would only be a matter of days before I left Ohio. I was sitting on an air mattress on the floor with Amelia when I hit the “apply” button in December of 2010. It wasn’t until March of 2011 that I heard from Glacier.
3. Along the way the Taylorcraft Trailer was stolen. Can you tell us about that story?
As Amelia and I traveled the south, heading west across Texas, I called my brother (who lives in Las Vegas) and asked if he’d like to rendezvous in New Mexico and do some camping, hiking and mountain biking. So as I headed west, David ventured east and we met. Carlsbad Caverns was a grand stop we made. We also had one of the most awesome experiences at White Dunes National Monument, New Mexico – the sun setting as a HUGE full moon was rising. Our camera shutters went nonstop for 30 minutes as blazing oranges, reds, yellows were in the west and hues of purple, blue, and grey were in the east with a full moon. We camped nearby and heard coyotes howling all night.
The next day we set off towards Arizona. Somewhere along highway 10 warning signs started appearing in Arizona about High Winds. I was towing “Elsie” (the name I’d given my camper – my grandmother’s name) I held her steady in what seemed to be 60 M.P.H. crosswinds. My brother was following me in his truck and we kept in communication via 2-way radios. The winds were fierce. All of a sudden my brother radios me that I should pull over. When I looked in my side mirrors I saw fiberglass insulation flying out of the sides of my camper. The aluminum sides were peeling back on “Elsie” like a banana.
Roadside, David and I tried to put “Elsie” back together. But the damage was pretty severe. The staple gun and duct tape were barely enough to wobble the camper to a truck stop in Wilcox, AZ. It was there that I unhitched the camper so we could proceed to Tucson for the night’s stay. It was a well used, high traffic area, clean, truck stop/gas station next to the highway. This would also give me time to decide what to do with “Elsie”. Repair, sell, abandon? By that evening I was able to determine that the damage was too much – the camper could not withstand ANY towing or winds. So I put it on craigslist in Tucson, Arizona, from my hotel room, without disclosing where the camper was.
Meanwhile my brother and I enjoyed Saguaro National Park and the city of Tucson. Interested buyers had to contact me via phone at which time I’d gauge whether they were serious and would have them meet me in Wilcox where the camper was. I gave two different buyers, two different hours at which to meet me in Wilcox on the same day, which was about an hours drive from Tucson. The next morning I headed to Wilcox. When I pulled into the truck stop, my heart sank. My camper was not there – not where I left it, not anywhere. I immediately went inside and inquired about the possibility of it having been towed. The owners assured me that that was not the case. It was then I realized it was stolen. I called the police and filed a police report, and I called my brother who was waiting for my return in Tucson.
I cried a lot on the drive back to Tucson. The camper was my HOME on the road. It was personalized, had some belongings still in it (thank goodness when we unhitched there originally I had the foresight to get most things out and put them in my brothers truck). By the time I got to Tucson, I was now MAD. So mad, I wanted to take action. My plan – call all the local news stations and let them know what had happened and try to get a photo of my camper on the air and tell my story. I need publicity. And that’s what I did. ONE station took interest and immediately sent out a cameraman. So Amelia sat on my lap, on the bumper of my Saturn Vue (what I was towing the camper with), with what possessions I had left piled inside and told the story of the stolen camper to all of Tucson. I’d had my personal life violated by dishonest people and I wanted them to know I was looking for them. Somehow this helped. Although, not one phone call came that anyone had seen my camper.
I now faced the reality that I had to move my adventure forward without the camper and left its recovery in the hands of the Wilcox Police Department (I left them a photo to distribute – and as you can see by the photo “Elsie” was pretty unique) as I left Arizona and headed to Las Vegas to stay with my family and regroup. Many told me that I’d probably never see my camper again, as this area was close to the border of Mexico and that’s probably where it was taken.
4. Sounds like a lot of hardship when just first getting started! How did you keep yourself positive and optimistic?
Great question, because sometimes it was pretty difficult. But, I looked at every hiccup as an opportunity. It was a lesson in letting go. Knowing I don’t and can’t control everything. Little did I know the real tests were yet to come.
5. You ended up in Las Vegas with your family, getting things straightened out and then Glacier National Park called to offer you a job…what were your initial thoughts? Tell us about your first seasonal gig in the park!
While I never planned to be in Vegas, it was meant to be. I was able to regroup, refresh, rest and organize. My insurance company gave me $500 for my camper. Hey, something is better than nothing right? I purchased a car top carrier and camping gear, determined that my travels would continue – just in a more rustic way than I anticipated originally.
I remember the day that Glacier National Park called – vividly – my phone rang in my backpack while mountain biking. I happened to be stopped, so I answered it. It was GNP and they were calling to interview me for the job of Assistant Front Desk Manager of Glacier Park Lodge. I could hardly believe it – I’d forgotten all about my application there!
There, in the middle of the desert in March 2011, I interviewed. First off they said “We see you have an R.V./Camper and a dog. We’re sorry but we have no more employee R.V. spaces left, and dogs aren’t allowed in employee housing.” (Because initially I wanted to be able to have Amelia with me and that was the only way I could) “Will that be a problem?” they asked. I said, well, as it happens I no longer have a camper – so that’s not a problem. And, about my dog, let me get back to you on that.
So, after a successful interview with GNP I approached my parents about watching Amelia for the summer. They said yes, and a couple days later I called GNP back and accepted the position. Amelia and I took one last road trip together before I left. We traveled the “four corners” in April. By May I was in Montana on the Blackfeet Reservation, at Glacier Park Lodge. I ended up taking the role of Front Desk Manager because that person never showed for their job. Such is the seasonal life.
It is WONDERFUL being in the parks before the season really starts (and after it ends). You’re hiking with fellow employees, bonding, making friendships. The wildlife is out and not yet hiding from the onset of tourists. I actually enjoy seeing all the seasons within 4-6 months! Where I’ve worked it’s usually snowing when I arrive, spring comes, summer comes and then it’s fall when I leave.
6. 2 months later another hardship hit. You have certainly been dealt a few cards in life. Did you ever think of giving up and going back to life as a Practice Manager?
Yeah, this was super tough. I had JUST started having a life I thought would only be a dream, (love the quote – “making a living is not the same thing as making a life”) and found out my Mom had terminal cancer. Within 2 days of finding that out in GNP, I was back in Las Vegas.
I think I cried for hundreds of miles. That’s one thing I love about my life choice….my time in the car. Usually alone. It’s therapeutic, it’s beautiful, and I never feel lonely. I also believe crying is good. My Mom did not know I was coming, she didn’t want me to leave my job. But on the other hand she was not that surprised when I arrived. Thank goodness I did. None of us, including my Dad and Brother, were prepared for what was happening and what lie ahead. Sure, things seemed on the outside to be falling apart – divorce, stolen camper, cancer. BUT – if things hadn’t happened in that fashion and that order, I would have NEVER been able to be with, and take care of, my Mom for the months she had left. I never considered having or going back to a traditional lifestyle or job, never. Now, my “job” was to take care of my Mother, and that’s what I did.
I’d only been on the road and had a taste of seasonal living, and I knew there was no turning back. I’d return.
7. The following Spring and you’re now a “Jammer!” What in the world is that and where have you worked since then?
In the spring of 2012 my Mom passed. Shortly thereafter I was back in Glacier National Park, Montana. I had kept in touch with them and said, “Should my Mom pass before the season started I would like to come back.” BUT, I would rather have a job that kept me outdoors than a desk job. So, I asked if I could take a demotion, and become a Red Bus Driver or a “Jammer” as they are affectionately called (because – back when these vehicles were double clutch manual transmissions, the drivers couldn’t help but grind and jam the gears along the infamous Going-To-The-Sun Road). I was interviewed by the transportation manager and scored the job. I went from a manager’s salary, my own room in manager’s quarters, and free room and meals – to, a very low hourly rate, paying for room and meals, and living in normal employee dormitories.
Intense training goes into becoming a Jammer. First you must acquire a CDL Drivers License with a passenger endorsement so that you can legally drive the 17 passenger vintage vehicles. Rag top convertibles, with wooden frames, doors only on one side. Glacier National Park has had automobile touring since 1914, and this fleet of busses currently in the park, has been there since 1936! It’s quite an honor to be able to drive such a historic part of this parks identity. It is the ONLY national park to still have their fleet. At one time many of the National Parks had these touring busses (Yellowstone had 98 at one time! Theirs of course were yellow). The White Motor Company made this particular model (706) I think, JUST for National Park touring – at one time in history I hear there were 500. And, if you haven’t googled the Going to the Sun Road – you should – then you’ll see why it’s such a big deal to be a driver and why it’s such a big deal these vehicles have been around since the 1930’s. Oh, cool point too, there were NO women “Jammers” until the late 1970’s maybe even early 80’s. It was a male dominated profession for MANY years.
I’ve since worked mostly as a tour guide.
2011 Summer – Glacier National Park, Front Desk Manager
2011 Summer/Winter – In Vegas taking care of Mom
2012 Summer – Glacier National Park, Red Bus Driver
2012 Winter – Tour Guide to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam, based out of Las Vegas
2013 Summer – Glacier National Park, Red Bus Driver
2013 Winter – Concierge, Deer Valley Ski Resort, Stag Lodge
2014 Summer – Yellowstone National Park, Tour Guide and Driver
2014 Winter – Bum in Las Vegas 🙂 (chose not to work this season, but I did open at ETSY shop that is helping pay the bills – DaVinci’s Loft – it’s helping rid myself of “stuff” – which seasonal living helps you get used to – you realize quickly that “stuff” is NOT important)
2015 Summer – still choosing between, Glacier National Park, Grand Tetons, Mesa Verde, Yosemite (have had interviews or job offers with all)
8. During your off seasons you’ve had quite the opportunity to travel. Where have you been and where do you still plan to go?
Hands down one of THE best things about seasonal living is what we call the “shoulder” season – that is, the time between jobs. Which is usually at least one month. Generally before a season starts, or after there are AMAZING road trips. So I will take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to get to my destination. Which has allowed my to visit other National Parks like Olympic National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Bandelier National Monument, Craters of the Moon National Monument, and the list just goes on and on of wonderful places both on the beaten path and off. Usually after a season is over I plan a larger trip overseas or back east. One year it was Italy, Spain and the tip of Africa. Another it was Chicago. This year it was a trip to the New England states and Acadia National Park. Soon I’d like to make it to Costa Rica. My trip wish list is endless. Also, during all this transition I took up climbing. That is my sport of LOVE. So wherever and whenever I can, I’m in Las Vegas Red Rock Canyon climbing or southern Utah or wherever. I just wanna climb or hike.
9. Love and the seasonal life. How have you made it work?
Wow – who woulda thunk? Love. Not me that was for sure. But, while in Vegas I did meet an amazing man….while hiking to the top of a mountain in called Griffith Peak.
Jordan knew and supported my passion for travel. THAT is the key and crucial thing – support for what you do, unconditionally, and trust. THAT is what Jordan has done now for 3 years. You find out quickly what cell carriers work in what parks. You talk or communicate when you can. There are visits to the parks, and back to Vegas. There are care packages and letters (I LOVE MAIL). It’s almost like an old western courtship. He even helped my Dad take care of Amelia after my Mom died. He’d take her for walks and send me videos of them. I’m not saying it was always easy – it wasn’t. But we worked on “us” when we were together. That’s one of the reasons I’m in Vegas this winter – to work on “us”.
We just purchased a condo together so we have somewhere to land between seasons, somewhere to store what “stuff” we do have, somewhere for me to get what I had in storage and into a home. I never thought I’d have a “home” again –a still structure. I was ready to call wherever I was “home” – and still am – but man, gotta say, it does feel great to have some place to retreat and refresh if needed.
Now the big thing – the big news – Jordan has decided that HE is going for the seasonal life! He will leave his job in Las Vegas of 5 years – with benefits – a great wage – pretty cush living – and hit the road with me! Together, we have applied at the above parks I mentioned. And without sounding too much like I’m tooting my own horn – we ARE an AWESOME package for any park to hire. I have always joked on tours that seasonal employees are usually either college students or retired folks “…and one middle aged woman….” as I raise my hand. The guests always have a good laugh about that. But it is true. It’s rare that someone my age CHOOSES this lifestyle. As soon as I mention dormitory living to most people my age or older, they shake their heads as if they couldn’t possibly do that. I am SO looking forward to Jordan being my roommate this year! Have to say though, that is something that has taught me a great deal – how to have patience and understanding. Both about roommates and dorm living. I’ve had rooms to myself, I’ve had 25 year old roommates, once a girl from Germany who was about 23, a woman my age, and last summer my roommate was “Stewart”, my cabin mouse. I’ve shared hallway showers, had a shower in my room, and had a shared shower in another’s room. You cannot be narrowed minded in seasonal living. You have to want to look at it as an adventure, as a new experience.
10. What does your family think of your lifestyle? How about your friends back home?
Family and friends think what I do is great. Again, when I tell them HOW I live (roommates, food, accommodations), they think that’s NOT so great. But admire I do it. Lots of people say they wish they could do it, or say they can’t wait until they can and frankly I don’t get that. I mean I kinda do, but anyone CAN do it. You just have to be willing to make the leap – the understanding to lower your lifestyle and have a simpler life. No expectations can take you a long ways.
For a long time I didn’t know what was “home”. I felt a little lost in the regard. But now, I consider Las Vegas home (I was raised there, went to Ohio to raise my family for 19 years, and now am back in Vegas), this is also where my family is. I have friends ALL OVER now. Seasonal Living REALLY extends your “family” and friends…..I LOVE THAT PART…..the friendships are priceless. To meet and bond with likeminded people FEELS SO GOOD. I’ve made friends for life….we watch each others travels….we connect about jobs…..we couch surf with each other….we send each other postcards. It is amazing. One thing I do wherever I am is reach out to friends to send me snail mail. I do the same in return. Getting mail when you live remotely is like getting Christmas gifts! And my friends and family love getting postcards from wherever I am too. My friends and family and Jordan send the most amazing care packages EVER.
11. Looking back, are there any regrets or anything you’d like to do-over, if you had the chance?
Regrets…..I cannot think of one. This giant life puzzle has put all the pieces in place when and where needed. Good, bad or indifferent. All have been part of my path.
12. What is the one piece of advice you have for anyone looking to change up their life and start new?
Take the leap, you’ll never look back. Never. You’ll become healthier in mind and body. I lost 40 pounds and am a better human being now than I’ve ever been. I’m LIVING IN NATIONAL PARKS and getting paid for it – it hardly gets better than that!
**Another happy ending to one of Sherri’s stories:
When I came back to Las Vegas to take care of my Mom………….the same week I arrived back, the Wilcox, Arizona police department called me! THEY RECOVERED ELSIE!!! Some scumball had it between two houses hidden, but because I had provided a good photo to the police department some officer recognized it. It sat in police impound until I went and got it. My brother, a friend and I hobbled it back to Las Vegas VERY SLOWLY – took FOREVER. In Vegas I sold it on Craigslist “as is”.
Crazy huh? Stolen in February…I go to Glacier to work…..Mom is diagnosed in June…I go back to Vegas…within days the Police found Elsie in Arizona.
*Here are a few of Sherri’s beautiful photos from her time spent living seasonally 🙂
If you have a story you’d like to share or know of someone who just NEEDS to be featured, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!