When I was 20, I was obsessed with the band Midtown and it’s frontman Gabe Saporta (a gorgeous Latino Jew whose career I still follow.) One May night after their show at the Pyramid Club in New York’s Lower East Side, I was standing on the sidewalk among the crowd. Midtown wasn’t yet famous so Gabe was hanging out too. Somehow we talked and he asked the standard, “What are you up to this summer?” I replied, “I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Baxter Park in Maine. I’m gonna be on the Trail Crew for three months.” Gabe thought I was crazy to leave the city, the shows, the music and the scene just to hang out in the woods, do manual labor and get eaten by mosquitoes. He was right. But I was also right. I had to go.
I‘ve always had to go. After college I worked as a contract employee on Trail Crews all over the U.S. The companies paid for my flights and that was the only way I could afford to see the continent. Countless times I’d cry hysterically while saying goodbye to our family dogs, then leave my mom’s apartment at 4am to get to the airport by sunrise. I’d sleep stretched out under the seats of an empty gate with my backpack as a pillow and my alarm set for my flight’s boarding time. I was a professional traveler in a world before cell phones so I didn’t talk to my friends back home for months at a time. Missing out on parties and shows, on which band was coming up and on dance classes (which I didn’t have the money to attend anyway) was in the back of my mind, but I knew I was living in a way that would give me something to offer, something to talk about when I returned.
My older coworkers warned me that being in the field is a young person’s game and most of us get out when we’re about 26. I didn’t believe them; I thought I’d live in the woods with 6ish other people forever, and keep giving someone $30 a week to restock my food when they went to town to get their own food. (That way I wouldn’t have to set my own feet on a sidewalk.) I liked showering once a week, reading books out loud to each other and sewing up the holes in work clothes (rather than using duct tape) because we had plenty of time in the evening.
Those days I thought my travel schedule was making me miss out on social opportunities. Now that I’m 36 and have been out of the Trail Crew lifestyle for 10 years (yes, my predecessors had the timing pegged perfectly,) I have to consider the business implications of traveling. I’m a dogwalker and petsitter, and if I leave town for too long, my clients might replace me. Last year I went to Namibia for a month and found a substitute dogwalker. When I returned, everything picked up right where it left off and I’m not missing out on any pre-Namibia clients. It’s easy to find new clients but I want to retain the dogs I already see because I already love them.
This year I’m attempting to go to Africa for two months in a row. I’m young enough that I don’t need my doctors nearby and I don’t have children. So why shouldn’t I go? My boyfriend would stay here and be a great dad to our cats. He wouldn’t come visit me because he refuses to go anywhere that requires a vaccine. I’ll miss him and all the animals in my life, but is that enough reason not to go? I’ll miss daily yoga classes and weekly dance classes, access to my favorite yogurt and raw chocolate. But none of those things are reason enough to stay. Just like 15 years ago, I know I’ll miss out on something but I’ll go anyway.