When I was 19 years old I shipped myself off to food boot camp in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I showed up to camp sick with mono and junior to everyone by 3 to 15 years. My job started with waking up at 5am to cook food for ungrateful academics (kidding, they were grateful for every meal and told me so. They were especially grateful if I put a few extra scoops in the coffee machine. Note academics are waaay tougher than Cowboys, union men, or construction workers when it comes to coffee strength)(sorry about too many parentheses). My duties also included; cleaning toilets, picking up trash, repairing destroyed cabins, or just general ‘charlie work’ while getting paid dirt. But like everyone who tells these kinds of work stories, they always say - "It was the time of my life!" Despite this terrible (charlie) work I learned a lot about living and a little about love - and an appreciation for Alan Jackson.
At first I was the new guy; everyone else had been here before and I could barely hold my own due to the mono. But, I recovered in excellent form, and since I was 19 I thought this was an event that should be celebrated and went out drinking my first night after finishing my full course of antibiotics. This was in high altitude, so I was a train-wreck that night. But, due to my hard work while still having mono and my hilarious scene that night - I was accepted as one of the crew.
Once our daily responsibilities were done we would sit on the bench outside the kitchen and shoot the shit until it was time to start a way-too-big a fire then get silly. There on the bench we had some of the best conversations from 'which animal would you ride into battle on' to ‘which song by Journey cuts the deepest’ to ‘how to do home dentistry’ or ‘where to properly punch a bear in the event of attack’. This bench might sound lame as it’s not a luxury recliner or a yacht but in fact it had an epic view of some of the finest mountains. In fact, this little camp was surrounded by multimillion dollar ranches all vying for this view and this wilderness.
The work sucked, but the camaraderie, the view from the bench (I’m a flatlander, so mountains blow my mind) combined with the lengthy, epic, and pointless conversation made it good at the time, but an absolute joy in retrospect.
After that, I worked at another camp, and then returned to this one a few years later, harder, tougher and with a few more scars (from doing stupid things with hooligans mind you not actually being tough). The bench was still there; the culture of hanging around the bench and the shenanigans were still the same and I enjoyed it, but I knew it would be my last time at camp, and I have not been back since but do miss it.
I think we all have some job or passion we once had and said, ‘This is great but I just can't do it anymore’. You realize that you became different and have to move on. You look back at those times working a bum job with fondness but know that you can't go back to it.
Travelling is a lot like your bum job; often the worst and scariest parts of your trip turn out to be the best and the free time to have conversations about anything with people from all backgrounds leaves a lasting impression. Some of the unpleasant or boring things that at the time seemed bad have now left a good impression on me; like now I crave a hardboiled egg after it was the only food on the bus in Africa , or that horrible trip to Tarrabuco actually ended up making us great friends, or the club in Berlin being too expensive we just had beers on the street – which became the best night out. The not so great things actually make you love the trip in retrospect just like the summer you spent scrubbing toilets. But, the best part is each trip will have great (and bad) experiences no matter your age or which budget you are in; therefore it will be the bum job you will never outgrow. You can always return to the road, but each time the experience will be different as you grow older and as times change. We are no longer staying just in the cheaper possible hostel, eating ramen and drinking the cheapest possible beer (although all this happens sometimes still). We have grown up a little (just a little), and are still able to travel without feeling we have outgrown it. I don’t think we have met or will ever meet someone who has outgrown travelling because even if you are bumming it as cheaply as possible or spending loads there is no wrong way to travel.
P.S. The phrase ‘charlie work’ comes from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where some of Charlie’s work was to kill rats using a stick with nails in it…. My work was never quite that bad.