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A Complete Appalachian Trail Guidebook.
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  1. #1
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    Default Post Thru-Hike Career Advice?

    I finished my first ever thru-hike late last year on the PCT. Like most, I found the experience mind-altering and life-changing and I'm therefore having a difficulty integrating with the working world.

    I am fortunate in that I may have some opportunities to go back to a salaried programming job but the thought of being stuck in a cubicle seems like a step backwards in a way. That kind of work - historically - has eaten up most of my time and energy, leaving little of either for more personal development and life goals. I have more thru-hiking aspirations and I love giving time to support these trails and the outdoors community in general.

    So it seems there is a catch-22 between needing a decent income to save for another trip while keeping up with living expenses and (hopefully) saving for retirement, but also having time and energy to do what you love and pursue greater challenges.

    Certainly I'm not the first to have these issues, so I'm curious how others have dealt/are dealing with this apparent contradiction.

    Have you gone back to a familiar job and then taken off for another thru-hike after a year or two? If so have you had any career consequences after a few times of doing this work, then quit, then thru-hike cycle?

    Or have you found totally different careers more suitable for this lifestyle? If so, what is your new career path and how do you feel about making the transition?

    Your thoughts are much appreciated!

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    I left a salaried programming job last year to attempt a thru hike. I have since worked out a situation with a previous employer to do part time contract programming for them. I am allowed to work from anywhere and I can usually arrange my schedule to either take several days off per week or I work several weeks straight and can then take a week or two off for hiking trips. I find that I enjoy the shorter 1-2 week trips more. And I don't find that this type of schedule drains my energy like the full-time salaried positions do.

    Perhaps you can explore creating such a contract programming career for yourself. Depending upon your programming skills, areas of expertise, you can make a good hourly wage and have some flexibility with your time and ambitions outside of work. Not all companies are into this type of work arrangement but there are enough and it does seem to be an emerging trend in the software area.

    Hope this helps.
    Remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation, the Trail beckons not merely north and south, but upward to the body, mind, and soul of man.


  3. #3
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    Funny to find a Misty on White Blaze, so welcome Zap!

    The answer you seek will probably not make you happy. The life of a cube-dwelling software developer is just about the exact opposite of a long-distance hiker, but it pays better. There are a few people I know who have chucked the whole corporate lifestyle and devoted their life to hiking, but a surprisingly high number of them turn to morally questionable things like scamming unemployment, bumming money off of people, etc. to get by. A larger number seem to just suffer in misery and silence, knowing they need the money even though they are screaming on the inside to be back on the trail.

    The person I know who seems to have come out the other side the best is a guy who has other active pursuits outside of work, has a significant other who also enjoys outdoor physical activities, and who still finds time on the weekends, or during vacation, to get back in the woods. The important piece seems to be that he doesn't ONLY go hiking in his free time, he does a wide variety of outdoor activities. That seems to satiate his need for challenge and outdoor adventure, while keeping him from over-romanticizing the hiking life.

    Hope that helps - now get out there and save us!
    "Waning Gibbous" would be a great trail name.

  4. #4

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    You do have to become creative and being self employed is about the only viable way to take significant time off. Along with staying single and living a minimalist life style.
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    You should try truck driving. You get to travel the country and see a lot of cool place to put on your list. You can also work for a year quit your job and hike till your money runs out. Then you can have another driving job as soon as you get out off the trail. Trucking companies always hire. You can quit and get rehired many times over. Make better than 50k after first year. If you want to save a lot of money for hiking you don't even need to keep a house or apt... just stay in your truck. If you have a clean driving record and don't mind drug tests, it might be something to look into.

  6. #6
    ME => GA 19AT3 rickb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    You do have to become creative and being self employed is about the only viable way to take significant time off. Along with staying single and living a minimalist life style.
    I grew up being told a teacher lived in poverty and painted houses in the summer to afford a used VW bug.

    Come to find out in my state the starting salary doesn't suck, and the average teacher makes over 70k per year. Not a fortune, but if you took the net present value of their retirement benefits it might surprise you.

    Plus, you get to do something that makes a difference AND have much higher job security than most anyone else living on your street, AND you have the potential to take a whole lot of days off.

    If you teach math, how hard could it be?

    The final plus is you get to complain about how tough you have it, because you get to kid yourself that if you applied yourself in the private sector you would be living on an income of $150k plus (because that is what everyone with a masters deserves, right?) and not have to put up with mean bosses, and disgruntled parents/customers.

    Only downside is you have to become a Democrat.

    Seriously.

    Edit: Reading the post above it might sound like I became a teacher-- far from it. While I did teach ESL abroad for a couple years prior to my thru hike, I went to the darkside and actually applied to Business Schools while on the AT thinking that I would become a master of the universe. I have paid the price for each of the last 33 years since. On the bright side, I did discover (rather late) that geography can play a huge roll in your relationship to the outdoors, and am so very glad I ended up in a good place (for me).
    Last edited by rickb; 01-08-2016 at 17:32.

  7. #7
    Registered User soilman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rickb View Post
    The final plus is you get to complain about how tough you have it, because you get to kid yourself that if you applied yourself in the private sector you would be living on an income of $150k plus (because that is what everyone with a masters deserves, right?) and not have to put up with mean bosses, and disgruntled parents/customers.

    Only downside is you have to become a Democrat.

    Seriously.
    Wow! I come to WB to get away from all this divisive political rhetoric. Seriously.
    More walking, less talking.

  8. #8
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    I am a very experienced server administrator by trade, and I attempted to "retire" prior to my 2014 AT thru for the reasons that you cited.

    When I returned from the hike, I explored different options, even spending some time back in the AT community. Work was offered my way, and I attempted to live on-the-cheap. The used van I bought broke down and was irreparable. My health started to spiral downwards. I needed a solid income, so I went back into IT.

    This time, I firmly set boundaries on my availability. I negotiated lower rates in exchange for lower expectations (little to minimal on-call.) I noticed that an employer will be open to an experienced resource coming in at a very competitive rate, so undercut your competition and free up your time. I also got a doctor's note for a standing desk, which really helps keep the blood flowing and the posture correct during the workday. Since I got the standing desk I no longer have fatigue problems.

    Final note: leave the thru hike off the resume. In my experience, you are far more likely to face jealousy and spite than you are interest, especially in a field full of folks famously not in tune with athleticism. This problem reigned from Florida to Raleigh to Washington, DC to Colorado. Only when I got to Silicon Valley was I received and respected for my background.

  9. #9
    ME => GA 19AT3 rickb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by soilman View Post
    Wow! I come to WB to get away from all this divisive political rhetoric. Seriously.
    Please put me on ignore-- it's easy to do.

  10. #10

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    I hiked a full summer at age 17-18 before going to college, and wanted a career where I could be outdoors and hike. So I went into geology and eventually got a series of appointments with the USGS to map wilderness areas and write scientific reports. It was good while it lasted (we called it "hiking for dollars") but in the 1980's politics got in the way and WASP males were not hired regardless of qualifications. In many cases, poorly qualified non-WASP's were favored, but that's another story. Even after getting the PhD in geology I was denied US Government employment because the Fed's hiring policy exclusively favored women and minorities. So, there was consulting work, but it's a feast-and-famine way of life without much good to say about it.
    I eventually turned to self-employment and it's probably the best option. As much time off as you want, if you can do without income and benefits at those times.
    For yourself, I would look into the outdoor recreation business, or maybe be a personal trainer if you are fit and qualified.
    Life is full of trade-offs... Get used to it.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by rickb View Post

    Come to find out in my state the starting salary doesn't suck, and the average teacher makes over 70k per year. Not a fortune, but if you took the net present value of their retirement benefits it might surprise you.
    A friend of mine became a teacher because having the summers off to hike was a major consideration for that career choice, plus he moved to Vermont to be close to the Long Trail.

    Nothing wrong with being a Democrat.
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  12. #12

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    I have run into many programmers that work seasonally and hike the rest of the time. They have fun until they get married and the real world interferes. Most make the transition to the real world and some end up on whiteblaze to keep their hands in it.

    The prior posters comments about US government work and preferential hiring practices mirrors the experiences of many folks I have run into. The government is always looking for seasonal workers to do the hard stuff and public interaction if they cant figure out a way to con some volunteer into it but once someone want to go full time, unless the applicant has the right bonus points they don't go anywhere except filling the same entry level jobs. The hiring practices are byzantine and unless you know someone who knows the system its going to take a few go arounds just to get the application filled out right

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by ZapRowsdower View Post
    ...........So it seems there is a catch-22 between needing a decent income to save for another trip while keeping up with living expenses and (hopefully) saving for retirement, but also having time and energy to do what you love and pursue greater challenges..........
    It is difficult to have financial security and be on a semi-permanent vacation. Others have given you some really good career advice. Probably best to stay in IT. I was a teacher for the last few years and you can probably make what a starting teacher (with a masters degree) makes in a year working part time in your field. The retirement system is OK if you plan on teaching for 30 years, otherwise not so good.
    If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ZapRowsdower View Post
    I finished my first ever thru-hike late last year on the PCT. Like most, I found the experience mind-altering and life-changing and I'm therefore having a difficulty integrating with the working world.


    I am fortunate in that I may have some opportunities to go back to a salaried programming job but the thought of being stuck in a cubicle seems like a step backwards in a way. That kind of work - historically - has eaten up most of my time and energy, leaving little of either for more personal development and life goals. I have more thru-hiking aspirations and I love giving time to support these trails and the outdoors community in general.

    So it seems there is a catch-22 between needing a decent income to save for another trip while keeping up with living expenses and (hopefully) saving for retirement, but also having time and energy to do what you love and pursue greater challenges.

    Certainly I'm not the first to have these issues, so I'm curious how others have dealt/are dealing with this apparent contradiction.

    Have you gone back to a familiar job and then taken off for another thru-hike after a year or two? If so have you had any career consequences after a few times of doing this work, then quit, then thru-hike cycle?

    Or have you found totally different careers more suitable for this lifestyle? If so, what is your new career path and how do you feel about making the transition?

    Your thoughts are much appreciated!
    You discovered that NOT working for 6 months, beats working. Theres a revelation.
    We would all prefer to not work if possible or to have fun outdoorsy jobs.

    Im just piling on, but you have to decide the course for your life.
    Stability, and long term economic security are important to many. Not important to a very very few.
    Fun jobs that require no skills or education, pay poorly. Jobs that require skill and education, pay good usually.
    Many (most) spouses and families desire some sense of stability and security too if thats in your plans.

    There is nothing to keep you from job hopping every couple years. Or working contract. Or figuring out how to be self employed and create enough income to get by. A good friend of mine works contract so they can have a minimum of 2 mo per year off to do things they want. Lots of job and city changes, but no shortage of that on California coast.

    It shouldnt be too hard to save the $6K needed for a thru hike if living a minimal lifestyle. But who wants to live like that? The average family today cannot even handle a $500 unplanned expense. Seriously. And most unplanned expenses, (appliance and car failures, medical issues) are routine and are to be expected.

    This is one of my ...peeves...so to speak. We have the technology to work far less than our grandparents did, while still having better lives. But what do people do? They work harder than ever before, with more debt than ever before, just to have a bunch of really useless crap, and extravagant cars and houses.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 01-08-2016 at 20:13.

  15. #15
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    Check out this blog post by Mr. Money Mustache. Someone else on whiteblaze mentioned him in a thread and I found it VERY enlightening on the subject of financial security. I only wish I read this blog when I was a much younger man so I could have heeded his advice sooner in life!

    http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/...one-blog-post/

  16. #16
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    Thanks for the responses so far. Lots of food for thought.

    Bummed to hear that getting an outdoorsy job with a government agency is so tough but it confirms my suspicions. I'd considered getting an Environmental/Earth Science degree with the hopes of applying it towards conservation work via the government but that sounds like it could be a stretch.

    Do we have anyone from the National Park or Forest Service here to weigh in on any of this?

    Self-employment contract work seems like a decent way to go for IT folks but its really interesting to hear how people from other professions have supported their thru-hiking habit as well.

    So keep your career stories (both successful and horrific) coming if you've got em!

  17. #17
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    Looks like some great advice in there. I definitely practice much of what he's talking about already but I could certainly go farther.

    Much appreciated!

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    I have run into many programmers that work seasonally and hike the rest of the time. They have fun until they get married and the real world interferes. Most make the transition to the real world and some end up on whiteblaze to keep their hands in it.

    The prior posters comments about US government work and preferential hiring practices mirrors the experiences of many folks I have run into. The government is always looking for seasonal workers to do the hard stuff and public interaction if they cant figure out a way to con some volunteer into it but once someone want to go full time, unless the applicant has the right bonus points they don't go anywhere except filling the same entry level jobs. The hiring practices are byzantine and unless you know someone who knows the system its going to take a few go arounds just to get the application filled out right
    Quote Originally Posted by ZapRowsdower View Post
    Thanks for the responses so far. Lots of food for thought.

    Bummed to hear that getting an outdoorsy job with a government agency is so tough but it confirms my suspicions. I'd considered getting an Environmental/Earth Science degree with the hopes of applying it towards conservation work via the government but that sounds like it could be a stretch.

    Do we have anyone from the National Park or Forest Service here to weigh in on any of this?

    Self-employment contract work seems like a decent way to go for IT folks but its really interesting to hear how people from other professions have supported their thru-hiking habit as well.

    So keep your career stories (both successful and horrific) coming if you've got em!
    Disclosure and disclaimer: I'm a federal employee, but not with NPS or USFS. I am in a technical field, but once worked in HR for a brief while (long story and big mistake - I hated HR) in between tech jobs.

    Lots of trail/park federal temporary and term and even some permanent trail maintenance, rangers, and other positions at https://www.usajobs.gov/Search?keywo...ker%20(Trails) and https://www.usajobs.gov/Search?keywo...&search=Search and https://www.usajobs.gov/Search?keywo...&search=Search just for example. Create an account. Search on openings by keyword, agency, etc. Apply for jobs. Yes, it requires some time and effort, careful reading, and perhaps a few go-arounds to get better at it. But once you create a resume and upload supporting docs like transcripts, veteran docs, etc., you reuse them to apply, answer a few questions, and then of course w-a-i-t.... It's also a numbers game. Lots of people, many with very similar qualifications, competing for a limited number of openings, with all the resume reading and interpretation and interviews being done by imperfect humans (as calling the HR people inhuman could be considered creating a hostile work environment - they are a very sensitive bunch). The inside joke is that if you can survive the frustration of the application process that you are obviously a strong candidate for government employment, although if you thought the application process was frustrating, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

    Things that help getting a federal job:

    Veterans preference - on jobs open to all US citizens, vets that qualify for veterans preference AND meet the minimum qualifications for the job will generally be given preference in hiring, especially for entry level jobs. Always submit your DD-214 and preference letter/docs if you're a vet.

    But plenty of non-vets get hired as well. If full-time is your goal, take anything to get your foot in the door. Once you get in many temp and term jobs can become permanent or help lead to being selected for full-time employment. And once you're a full-time career "status" employee, a lot more job opportunities open up, as many federal job openings are not open to the public.

    Selective Service Registration - the gov simply doesn't hire men who didn't register as required (there are some exceptions, but forgetting to or disagreement with the system aren't among them).

    Prior experience - similar to private industry, the gov wants people who know what they are doing and who provide historical evidence that they can successfully perform the job.

    Education - similar to private industry. Education counts. Always submit your transcripts, even if not requested.

    No criminal record - and they will find out when they run a background/fingerprint check prior to hiring. Goes to employment suitability, trustworthiness, etc. The gov doesn't hire people who show a historical pattern of breaking the law. There is a somewhat complex matrix used that downgrades the significance of a past offense based upon its nature and how much time has passed.

    Good credit report - as above, goes to suitability and trustworthiness. Defaulting on gov backed loans (student loans, mortgages, etc.) is one of the more common problems for applicants. If someone has these or other credit/financial problems, they want to see positive efforts being attempted and made toward solving those problems.

    Good resume - one of the most misunderstood elements of the federal application process. While a one to two page resume that leaves out the obvious details is considered good form in private industry, a federal resume should be extremely detailed as to responsibilities and duties. Consider it an interview on paper where you have to anticipate questions. Put down everything you do, every machine you operate, every software program you use, etc. in detail. Your answer to any questions in an application must be reflected in your resume. Always put down where in your resume (which job) this info can be found when answering a question. Seriously, if your job includes mopping floors, include in your resume all the tasks involved such as measuring and mixing the cleaners and chemicals used, that you wore proper PPE when doing so, and proper disposal of the dirty water, etc. Yes, the resume should be that detailed if it's part of the requirements for the job you're applying for. I'm not kidding.

    Often it helps to modify/tailor your resume to a specific opening's requirements. The HR person (usually an HR Assistant) who initially screens your resume will not read between the lines and assume things, and because they have never done the job themselves they only have a written list of job requirements and qualifications to compare your resume to. Include the past 20 years of work history, and even longer if the experience is relevant to the position, including volunteer work. Submit letters of recommendation from previous employers if available.

    Biggest myth: That resumes are read by computers looking for buzzwords. Nope. If your answers to the preliminary multiple choice questions on an application show that you state that you possess the minimum qualifications (this part IS computer scored), the resumes that get past this stage are then all read by people - but they're not read by the people making the actual hiring decision unless you first get your application past these HR people screening all the applications. That's why you need to present a well crafted, detailed, and coherent resume that can be understood at the HR level, yet one that can also impress people in your field who understand the more complex nature of what you do. Consider it a test. HR will then select who they believe (but also based upon legal mandates such as vet's preference) are the most qualified from the group and put them on a "certificate of eligibles" (cert) that goes to the subject matter experts (SME's) along with the selecting official. They will choose who to interview from that list, generally conduct the interview(s), and ultimately decide who they will select for the position. Note that this is a very brief overview and generalization. The federal HR process is very complex, with bookshelves full of regulations governing the process.

    Things that really, really hurt:

    Lying and/or omitting stuff on an application. Like arrests, convictions, defaults on federal debts, etc. They will find out anyway. And you won't get hired if you lie. Be truthful up front and explain negative information and what you are doing to solve any problems.
    Last edited by 4eyedbuzzard; 01-08-2016 at 21:53.
    I was self employed once, but it proved too stressful. My boss was a jerk and my employee was a slacker - I didn't know whether to quit or fire myself.

  19. #19
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    +1 on all of the above. I'm a federal supervisor who gets the certificates and decides who to interview. If your resume and USAJOBS responses don't contain details on your experience, don't reference programs and work assignment, then you're not going to make it to an interview. But you also have to do well in that interview, expand on pertinent experience, etc. Your resume will get you an interview but the interview will get you the job.

    My selections go to the best qualified - male or female - I need the work done. My last six hires have been 50/50 M/F.
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  20. #20
    Thru-hiker 2013 NoBo CarlZ993's Avatar
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    You need to look at both immediate wants (hiking & playing) & future needs (that nasty retirement stuff). Work out some sort of balance between the two. If you add a spouse & children on down the road, your perspective will change again. Good luck in your decision.
    2013 AT Thru-hike: 3/21 to 8/19
    Schedule: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets...t1M/edit#gid=0

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