A Week in the Life

I wake up in a lower bunk. I’m in the Wanderlust Hostel in Gunnison. It’s a homey spot, a converted house in a residential neighborhood. Good kitchen for cooking in, fireplace in the living room, big dining room table, lots of funky decor and colors everywhere. The sheets on my bunk might be floral, or Star Wars themed, or have zebras on it. There are curtains strung across 2 of the 3 open sides of my bunk, and I’m comforted by the modicum of privacy they provide. Why am I not in the house where I live with my sweetie? Where we have a comfy queen sized bed with plaid flannel sheets, and the 4 walls of the bedroom give us all the privacy we want? Because I’ve taken a carpentry job you see, 3 hours away from that cozy bedroom. So during the week I’m here, in this pleasant hostel, and from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon I’m back in Paonia, living my former life. It’s a strange limbo/purgatory.

I take my clothes to the bathroom to get dressed, so that I’m not inadvertently presenting my naked body to the other women in the dorm. There’s Beth, the 18 year old who’s from Southern California and is here in Gunnison for a month to experience snow and escape her overbearing mother. She’s taking online community college classes while she’s here, and ends up getting a job scanning tickets at the ski resort in Crested Butte, the town where I work. The other bunk might be empty, or it might have a Canadian software engineer who’s about to quit her job because her American bosses micromanage her and she’s had enough; it might be Lisa, the Filipina woman who lives an hour and a half away in Lake City but comes to Gunnison whenever there’s a substitute teacher needed, pre-K to 12th grade. She says she has to take what work she can get in the winter, there’s nothing available in Lake City until the tourist season kicks in once the weather warms up. Or it might be someone who’s gone to bed before I even met them. When I was 20 I traveled around Europe after finishing a semester abroad. The trip included a stop in Athens, where I arrived quite late to the hostel I had booked. The room was big, the top bunk was very high off the floor, the sheets were stiff and scratchy, and the mosquitos were insatiable. I remember being fairly terrified, sleeping in a room with total strangers. But at 34, in Colorado, I hardly gave it a second thought.

Fully dressed in my wool base layers, work pants, fleece jacket, wool gaiter, and fleece cap, I head outside to warm up my truck. Google says it’s 0 degrees outside. I walk across the front lawn, past the trio of “town deer” who are looking at me from under the pine tree. I turn on the truck, put the heat and defroster to high. My windshield is coated in stubborn frost that, combined with direct sunlight, will obscure my vision of the road for the few blocks before I hit the highway. I scamper back in the house to grab pancakes from a container labelled “G” in the big shared fridge. I pack my lunch as the faucet fills up the gallon jug I drink out of all day long. Laden with purse, jug, and lunchbag, I head out for the day.

I eat my cold breakfast as I drive the 45 minutes to work (later, I evolve to microwaving oatmeal). I don’t like commuting, and want that time back to do other things with, but if I *have* to commute this is the best one, I think. Not much traffic at all (although when I’m running late and there’s someone in front of me who’s dedicated to going the speed limit, I’m constantly scanning for the opportunity to pass them in a more or less safe way. Here in the West, passing someone on the highway often involves flooring it as you whiz by on the left, hurling yourself towards oncoming traffic in a sanctioned game of chicken), and beautiful scenery. I’ve seen elk, deer, foxes, and bald eagles on this drive. I slow down as I reach the town limits of Crested Butte, crawl through and pretend to be a respectful driver, then punch it on the turn out of town. I twist through the beautiful marshland of Slate River Road, then turn left where the road dead ends into snow. The jobsite is up on a ridge, and it has a beautiful view of Mount Crested Butte beyond and frozen Nicholson Lake below (Private Lake, No Swimming). In a town where fully 65% of the residences are second (or third, or fifth) homes, I’m grateful to be working on a house where someone will be living full time.

Work is work. I’ve been saying to people lately that “I’m making good money, I’m in the beautiful outdoors and not behind a desk, I’m working with nice people doing what I want to be doing, and I still don’t want to go to work!” For me least, I’ve finally recognized the “dream job” as the seductive myth that it is. Who wants to work? To have to sell their labor to survive? And at someone else’s’ direction? I have plenty of things that I want to do, most of which involve effort, but working? Forget it. That said, I am definitely thankful for this specific job, with a nice boss and coworkers I can learn a lot from.

So far, the job has basically been waitressing with lots of heavy lifting and ladders. I have been doing a bunch of measuring and cutting, as well, and learning things along the way. It turns out, carpentry is very repetitive. Looking at the patterns of squared off lumber and engineered wood that combine to make the frame of this house, I’m struck by man’s folly. Taking unique and circular trees, processing them down into regular predictable squares, and using lots of little squares to make bigger and bigger squares that they then live in, saying “I will dominate nature! I have created order out of the chaos of the universe! I know where I’ll be and what’s going to happen there!” Foolishness. 

I put in my 8 hours (with a paid lunch – see “nice boss” above), then get back in the truck (where I’ve eaten 2 of my 3 meals of the day) to drive the 45 minutes back to the hostel. I’m likely sore, coated in sawdust, and worn out. There’s definitely an adjustment period to doing this physical labor every day, and at 9,000 feet no less. If it’s a regular weekday, I might sit silence in the truck awhile before heading into the house – I’ve become easily overwhelmed with noise, I think due to being around the ever-present buzz of power tools. I long for private space, but “settle” for cozy common areas with friendly guests. Maybe I have to wait to make dinner because someone got to the stove before me. Maybe I chat with people at the dinner table – there have been a couple of parents visiting their college-aged children, some guys getting their Wilderness First Responder certification, a former restauranteur turned day trader who explains the ins and outs of puts and calls. It’s a great way to make easy money he says, if you have money to start with (he had a $150,000 inheritance). Well, what isn’t easier when you have a bunch of money to start with? I think but don’t say.

If it’s a Tuesday, my sweetie comes to visit. We splurge on a private room to be able to reduce the cuddle deficit we’re running up, being away from each other most of the week. On weekends when I’m back in Paonia I’m often tired and grumpy – add in the stress of an impending move into an as-yet-unsecured apartment, and it’s difficult to have any carefree togetherness time. We’re generally able to pretend to be living a normal life on Tuesday nights, it’s a blessed respite. Moving into the private room for a night and then back into the dorms for two nights adds some extra work for me: I have to move all of my belongings to a corner of the living room before work, so I don’t infringe upon whoever might be taking my place in the bunk that night. Then I do it all in reverse on Wednesday.

If it’s a Friday, I take my pile of belongings from the living room (before work if I’m on top of it, more likely after work) and pack them into the back of them truck, including all my labelled food from the fridge that I’ve arranged in my insulated bag. This afternoon I’ll do the 2 hour drive back to Paonia on top of my regular workday commute. It’s a beautiful drive through the Black Canyon, but goddamn do I wish I could just relax and be someplace, be finished with all this back and forth. On Saturday I’ll wake up with my hands hurting from the week’s exertions, try to have a day off, see friends. Sunday comes too soon, and the packing up and sad goodbyes and cooking for the week in the hostel’s kitchen start all over again.


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