Toto, We’re not on the East Coast Anymore…

I was at a salon in the downtown of Jackson Hole a few weeks ago and the woman next to me also getting an overpriced pedicure, looked down at the pedicurist and asked with a little mid western twang, “So ya git to see the pig wrestlin’ at the county fair last night?”  She replies, “No, but I did git ta see the Figure 8 races.”  And I think…(Toto, we’re not in New England anymore…)

We all get talking and the same customer asks me what I did before Backroads. “I taught high school Spanish in a Boston Public School.”  (Cue shocked facial expression) “You diiiid??? Oh! I don’t know how ya did it!”  “Sometimes I don’t know how I did either, but it was a great school, and kept me quite busy and challenged.”  “Oh! But what about your safety?!”   (Toto, we’re not in a big city anymore…) + (Cue my desire to teach this middle aged woman a little bit about life outside of Jackson Hole).

One of my first nights off after arriving in July, a group of Backroads leaders whisked me off to a Bar downtown via a great bike path from our house, 5 miles away to the Million Dollar Cowboy bar.  Every bar stool was a horse saddle.  Every man and woman has adorned their Friday night Country dancing outfits with their best cowboy boots (shit kickers—dad, that’s for you), a hat, and those belts that shout “Rodeo” all over the enlarged gold buckle.  I didn’t know how to dance to the music, but the rest of the local crowd my age sure showed me up with some actual patterns and steps and twirls that I couldn’t begin to understand and follow.  (Toto, we’re not on the East Coast anymore…)

That night I had to prep for my very first trip the next morning and so we left the bar and hit the road early on bike at about 10 pm.  Upon hopping on my bike and heading for the bike path, I realized, there wasn’t a single light to help guide me home.  Oops, I need a headlamp when I bike home from the bars???? (Toto, we are SO not in Boston anymore!)

Last night a guest ordered bison, elk, and antelope sliders for dinner. (Quick! Get me those ruby red slippers! This New England gal is ready for some Maine lobstah!)

**Surprisingly, the one thing that brings me back east is the massive amounts of Red Sox paraphernalia that I see daily from tourists in the park.  Somehow that little calligraphy “B” makes me feel like I know those people, or perhaps they understand the beauty of a Fenway Frank and beer in the baseball park beneath the Citgo sign.

Those are just a few things this summer that have made me laugh inside and remember what it’s like to experience “culture shock” within our very own country.  I keep talking about changes and transitions, but that’s what this summer has continued to prove to be.  All jokes aside, Jackson is a fabulous place in the summer and I would love to experience the skiing in the winter, but the differences here do tend to crack me up at least once a day.  If you aren’t a kayak, river or bike guide, you might as well be an outcast.  You can’t turn a corner on the street without finding people of all ages hobbling around on crutches, carrying groceries with some sort of a cast and if one would inquire about these injuries, the answer would most likely be one of four causes:  free solo climbing up the Grand Teton, floating down the snake river in an inner tube, or twisting an ankle hiking, or mountain biking down grassy black diamond ski trails.  The level of activity reminds me of what I observed in Norway last summer—places where the winters are so long that summer becomes a daily triathlon.   For me, Jackson will forever remain a place where the mom’s inevitably have nicer legs than the 20 something year olds, the only obese people are the tourists on coach busses, and Teva’s or Chaco sandals are worn just as much as cowboy boots.  Alison would have a very difficult time adjusting to the Teva’s aspect of Jackson.

 For the past month and a half I have asked myself if I want to lead again here next summer or try somewhere new.  It feels so good to know directions now around 2 national parks without having to think about it or hide sticky notes on your thighs so guests can’t see you looking for the next major turn, or develop relationships with hotel staff and park rangers, and friendly porters, and most of all, to be able to spew out buckets of information on the names of the 7 peaks of the Teton Mountains, or how Rockefeller saved the park, or which scat is bison, bear, elk, and coyote, and when we’re crossing the continental divide, what year each fire took place after passing a burned section of Yellowstone, and which views of which hike are the best.   

One of my favorite days every week is tricking grown adults with my co-leader Laurie on the walking/hiking trip that she is in fact eating elk poop.  On the 2nd day of the trip, at the trail head while guests are getting water and awkwardly fumbling with walking sticks, Laurie will look at me and ask, “Do you wanna do the poop, or you want me to?”  My answer is always the same.  “You.” (And I think…this was definitely not in the job description!) So off she goes to the trail head to plant brownie bites or ciff bars rolled up into a nice poop pile when the guests aren’t paying attention.  We walk some yards and then her talk starts about figuring out if the elk is a male or female by smelling, and then tasting.  If I had a dollar every time those guests look confused and then disgusted as Laurie chews elk poop and shouts, “It’s definitely a female!” I’d be making some good savings.   Another favorite day of mine is taking the gondola up the mountain in the Teton village and having a half priced happy hour with live music, delicious cocktails and apps with the view of the valley and the sun going down, on our final evening with guests.  I’ll be doing that tonight at 5:30 and I find I never tire of the view.

A guest and I at happy hour overlooking Teton Village

There’s been so much happening in the last month and I have wanted to write (I wish as frequent as Cousin Dan hiking the Appalachian trail, reporting back every single night via his cell phone!), but my time off has proved to be filled with many of the outdoor activities described above.  The days in between trips are often used to burn off the calories from wining and dining like a guest on vacation all week, and interestingly enough, working for an active travel company creates many days where we run around but never end up doing any real physical activity.  Often in the leader house there will be leaders coming off a trip and usually they come flying in the house and say something along the lines of, “Ughhhhhh I ate so much this week, does someone want to climb snow king with me? (or insert any other activity incorporating mountains).  There’s always a leader in the house ready to hike the switch backs up snow king, the nearest ski mountain, and ride the chair lift back, or bike over Teton Pass, a 10% grade incline, gaining 2000 ft in 4 miles.  It took me a little over an hour of biking in the smallest gears, dubbed granny gears, and after making it to the top I was slightly expecting a yellow jersey complete with the signature Tour de France designs waiting for me.  Here are a few pics of Lauren and I after completing it for our first time!

Excellent training for Staff Ride bike routes in the Pyrenees! 9000 feet!

Toughest Bike route I've ever done!

Over a month ago, I was in the middle of my shadow, which was an interesting and excellent experience that set me up for success for the rest of the summer.  Since then, this area of the world has been making headlines almost weekly.  Half the time I have no phone service and my father will send me texts letting me know about some news story hot off the press.  These texts usually sound like this: “I heard some bonehead got gored by a bison today”, “Are you okay? I heard there was a 17 person rescue on the Grand Teton and people died and were struck by lightning?”, “Be careful out there Hanna, there’s two convicts from Arizona on the loose in Yellowstone!”, “Did you hear about the people camping that were eaten by a bear in their tent? What about when you are a camp chef and are camping?”  I appreciate my dad’s texts to keep me in the loop while I’m out here in the area but I do have to say  that aside from the news flashes, most of his texts revolve around picture texts of some bait or bloody scene from gutting fish on his boat…and they all make me laugh (so keep them coming Dad!)

 During the shadow I talked about thinking of Dan, hiking 30 miles in a day on the AT, who only has 200 miles left of the trail in Maine, and I did a beautiful 14 mile hike and ripped up my heels so badly that I had to wear sandals the rest of the week hiking and in return received a lot of flak from others about being an “active travel guide” with heels fit for a hiking idiot.  See disgusting visual (this is for Beth, leading in Europe who specifically asked for a photo of my heels):

The right one was just as bad. Hiking shoes for dummies...

It was worth the blisters to arrive at Lake Solitude

 I was able to heal my heels before my first real trip I lead, which was a family multi sport trip, with 3 families and when I looked at all the background info I happily realized what a great sign it was to have 2 of the families coming from Beantown!  The trip ran so smoothly and the other leaders Andrea and Anna were the best mentors I could’ve asked for.   We also had a family from Pennsylvania, two women who adopted 2 beautiful girls from Vietnam and they shared their stories openly about the process and what it was like to be there in Vietnam.  During our trips, we often have birthdays, but this week was a special one for one of the girls because it was her “Gotchya Day”: the day her moms adopted her.  So with a cake, jazz hands, and a jingle created by the 3 of us leaders, we celebrated her “Gotchya Day”. I will always remember those families from my first trip.

The Boston families were fabulous, and have opened their homes to me and took me out for dinner even after the trip was over and one family happens to own “The Bell in Hand”, the oldest Bar in Boston, a place where I have danced many a cover song and perhaps participated in some drinking activities.  Looks like I’ll be cutting the line and cover charge next time I visit!  One of my favorite parts about the week was sharing with the guests in our last half hour together that it was my first trip ever.  They had no idea! (Yah!!).  Since then, the puzzle pieces to this job are starting to really come together and my evaluations have been a confidence boost and finally my nerves have subsided a bit.  On our way to pick up the guests on my very first trip, my co-leader Andrea looked at my terrified face while I was driving and said, “Hanna, this is the worst you’ll ever feel in your entire career with Backroads; I know the feeling.”  I am relieved knowing that those days are already over.

July was a blur of trips and some of you know I was fortunate enough to make it to Scotland in my two weeks off to visit Ryan, who happened to be with me in San Francisco when I found out I got the job with Backroads.  The trip from Jackson Hole was enough hours to get me to China and back, but instead I spent some good hours in Minneapolis and Amsterdam airports, with my final destination of Edinburgh.  Once I arrived, it was so nice to see a familiar face waiting for me at the airport and to have a beautiful flat in the middle of the city to stay in.  I just so happened to arrive in Scotland in the height of the August festivals in the capital city, called the Fringe and the Military Tattoo.  I read about these events before my trip and they never really made sense until I was actually there. It was so nice to take a back seat in leading and have Ryan, a great resource for seeing all things Scottish to show me around.  The two festival events were definitely the highlight of the week, the Fringe being a month long comedy party where every type of comedy show can be found on any given corner of the city in between 10 am and midnight, all for reasonable prices and it happens to be where many comedians make their break!  We would base our days around which shows we wanted to go to and I was able to make it to about 5 different shows, most of them absolutely hilarious and interesting, like one in a particular called, “Chef”, about the Korean dish Bipimbap.  The review below sums up this eccentric, creative, comical show.

Chef! makes one of Korea’s traditional dishes, the Bibimbap, into a national treasure: exciting, adventurous and everyone wants to get their hands on it. Yes – get your tickets now!

This production is an absolute joy that has the audience of all ages cheering, clapping, gasping, laughing and generally experiencing a wonderful hour packed with brilliant comedy, acrobatics, breakdance, beatbox, a capella, martial arts, mixed media and cooking. There are actually a fair few panto elements – a comedy villainous duo, a highly creative dark scene which allows a filmic change of viewing perspective, and an ‘in front of the curtains’ section, along with audience participation made fresh. Even multi-media contributes intriguing action that is seamlessly part of the staging and story.

This story is pretty basic – an ancient master of Bibimbap flees pursuers intent on gaining the recipe and finds assistance in a modern kitchen – but it is handled with great panache and full of absolutely delicious ingredients, mixed magnificently and served with the greatest energy and enthusiasm possible. The skills of the performers are multiple and awesome (just a couple of examples: beatboxing with their own pulses and spinning ‘forever’ upside down in a dish) and even with the occasional rough edge, this is firmly a five-star show.

That is just one of the examples of an unforgettable show I was able to walk right into and experience.  The Fringe is like a flea market, with each booth or venue offering a genre of comedy for all.  The other festival, quite different and unique compared to the comedy, was the Military Tattoo.  It’s hard to describe exactly what this ceremony encompasses, and some excellent pictures and descriptions are on the website here: .  I felt so lucky to be there on the first night of the show, in a packed stadium, facing a medieval castle at the top of the city, with soldiers in kilts playing bag pipes in a way I’ve never heard before, with the picturesque atmosphere and Highland dancers enhancing every score of the musical and marching performance.  Essentially military marching bands from all over the world come present their local instruments or tunes and then always end up with some sort of a comical relief, breaking out into James Brown songs or other popular Motown jams, which involved the audience and made us laugh during a beautiful instrumental procession; An incredibly unique experience that I hope I can share with friends and family someday.  It was neat to see the very small city buzzing with people, with the bars open until 5 am during the entire month of August, allowing me to spend my 2nd to last night on a Sunday bar hopping, with a broken sandal until the sun came up…haven’t done that since Spain in 2005!

The Scottish procession

Fireworks, music, horses, and performers all coming out of the Castle!

We also were able to take a road trip, eating fresh oysters at a farm at a Loch, we were able to swim in a Loch that couldn’t have been more than 45 degrees, eat haggis, the national dish of stuffing pig intestines with oats and other yummy things, and meet Ryan’s oldest brother and his wife who are looking for a new flat, so in my first hours there I was able to go visit a flat like I was on House Hunters International, trying to understand the thick Scottish accent.  I thank Ryan for planning all of these ultimate Scotland activities.  It was all much like I pictured from the Scottish Romance Novels by Diana Gambaldon that I fantasized about when I read a few of the series a few years ago….a few of you ladies know what I’m talking about!

Medievil B & B. How quaint! If only I could've arrived on horseback!

Go Ape! An amazing ropes course and zip lining place!

Last night dinner at a wonderful French Restaurant!

Coming back from Scotland was a funny transition going from working all of July, to an impromptu vacation to the U.K and then leaving for my last trip a few days later.  Regardless of all these transitions and how communal living has been a tough adjustment, I can’t complain since I haven’t paid for a load of laundry, internet, barely any food, or transportation since I arrived.  Big purchases are usually coffee or alcohol on my days off.  There’s definitely room to save when we are leading, but I am nervous now about not having winter work….so let the saving begin.  I’ll be leading all premiere biking trips in Maine this fall, so hopefully I will be in good shape for at least a few months of the winter if I don’t receive any work.  The hardest part is that I won’t find out until October 15th!  As of right now, I’ll be buying my ticket home to Logan airport from the staff ride in Spain, with a few extra weeks to play and travel with Backroads friends in Europe, on November 8th!  Any great part time jobs in NH or Boston…pass them right along.  Part of me is thinking I’ll head south of the border to keep up my Spanish and find work wherever I end up (preferably a return to Argentina, one of my top favorites since I went in 2006).  I am also hoping I can get involved in medical interpreting, after taking a course all last winter and being very interested in that line of work.  We’ll see. It’s a little nerve racking not having anything all set up, since upon graduating college I had a set teaching schedule for 3 years.  This will most certainly be an interesting winter for me.

Before I sign off, I want to give a few shout outs to friends at home that I can’t wait to visit and give my congratulations in person.  Two weeks ago, Erica (“Reeder”) and her husband Sean, welcomed Emma Grace into this world.  I am sad she will already be a few months old when I get to meet her, but I can’t wait to hold that baby in my arms! And last Sunday, I got a phone call when I was in the middle of Yellowstone at Old Faithful, from Lauren, exclaiming that her boyfriend, Benji, proposed to her on a rocky look out on the marginal way in Ogunquit, ME.  I can’t wait to watch Lauren and Benj embark on this new chapter of life together and to attend the beautiful wedding!  Congrats to both couples!  Can’t wait to see you sometime between September and November!

Thanks to all my readers who call me and tell me they’ve been checking my blog and waiting for updates.  I suppose this one will keep you tied over for a bit! I am giving you all one task though, and that is to start thinking about what Backroads trip you want to do in the future! My co-leader’s parents and friends are on our trip right now and I want to badly to be able to experience one of these trips with you all back home….so take a gander at the website and remember…serious discounts, people! =) 

All for now, wish me luck cooking as a camp chef for 21 people next week!

Thinking about clapping my ruby slippers and arriving in Maine shortly…


10 responses to “Toto, We’re not on the East Coast Anymore…

  1. Hunz!! Psyched we finally got a new update! Sounds like things are going fabulously and you’ve gotten the hang of it all. Great stories & pictures! We loved chatting with you via phone last week. Hearing your voice makes us miss you even more, but we’re happy you’re doing so well on your adventures. We can’t wait to see you this fall and for Emma to meet her crazy traveling Auntie Hanna! Thanks for the shout out 🙂 Lots of love to you from the McMahon family!! xoxoxo

  2. Hanna! What a wild and exciting life you’re leading. Thanks for keeping us all entertained! Dan will be home in about a week and a half. I know he’d love to see you before you start Maine and he starts Calif! Any possibilities? Take care and keep those heels lubed ! Love, aunt Ruth

  3. Amazing!! Glad everything is going well for you. I cannot believe that soon you will be leading the Maine trips, summer is flying by. Good luck on your last trip, hope the cooking goes well. I’ll continue to keep you updated with my texts! Can’t wait to see you “back east”. Miss you Hanna.
    Love, Dad

  4. Screw Eat, Pray, Love! I’d much rather read your blog anyday! I hope those blisters weren’t vibram blisters! 🙂 Can’t wait to see you! P.S. Lol re: the poop!

  5. HI hunz, You might know that the very day I didn’t check to see if you had posted a blog add on was this time. We have been doing much better since we are both home and relaxing. You have sure had some fantastic trips to add on tyo your world tours, Hanna. You have beenseeing lots of interesting areas and doing so much in the way of various activities we don’t think you will miss anything on your way to live an interesting life. Good luck on your trip now. It sounds as though you’ll be plenty busy-good appetites when on trips that you are doing WE won’t try to write much today as it may notget sent- you know us old timers LOVE M&F.

  6. Hanna , I so enjoy getting lost in your stories, I am smiling for hours after.
    Yes , I am sorry we were not the first ones you knew to be friends and family on the trips you’ve led. I CANT WAIT to have you lead us anywhere!! I know you are the big planner / organizer , dont worry, this winter will fall into place for you .
    Natalie just saw Britta off to Hawaii and is getting Lee ready for his college dorm , I cant help reflect back on those day with bittersweet memories . You know, an empty nest never appealed to me much .It must be really hitting you now ,as everyone is getting ready for school that you will not be in the classroom this year . Allison can keep us all posted ! You have always been happier outdoors , Cheers to Backroads , can’t wait to have Dorothy and Toto back on the East coast ! Will see you in Camden .
    Love you tons , loved your Blog 0x0x0x Mom

  7. Dear Hanna, We so enjoyed your latest post. Your writing is excellent, both in content and description. But Hanna, that heel. Ouch!
    I enjoyed having dinner with your parents last night, as Gram took minutes at a condo board meeting at the church at the Stratham rotary. We talked about you while your mom fixed supper, which we kept sampling before it was dinner time. Your dad bought a nice pale ale that we both enjoyed, sat out at the grill area while he did his usual top notch job, then dinner, with a bit of vino accompanying . Such an enjoyable evening.
    I’ve read every one of Dan’s post, “traveling” with him and reveling in it all. Ten more days or so and he will have reached his goal. What an accomplishment!
    Stay well, look forward to seeing you in early Nov.
    How lucky Emma is to have such fun-filled parents and a global Aunt Hanna. We hope to see that little one sometime.
    Britta’s in Hilo. Wow!
    Gram and Gramps xoxoxoxoxo

  8. Hey Hannah. So great to get your updated report. Wow, you are certainly living the life….We hope to be able to see you sometime, perhaps when you are in Maine. It has been an absolutely fabulous summer here – every weekend nice. Hopefully, it will continue into the fall. Your Scotland trip sounded wonderful. I went there right after high school and your descriptions brought me right back to that point in time. Sending lots of love, Susan and John

  9. Hanna – you’re amazing!. Living large through you has always been exciting! I’m in! & ready to pick a trip…okay, where are we going Mare & Glenn?
    I love reading about your life/job and how full it is. Now your heels can match your toes! I’ll see you when you return back to New England, safe travels.
    I love you dearly,
    Aunt Nat

  10. Hey Hanna!

    Just caught up with all you’ve been doing with the new gig. Sounds great! The places you’ve been, hikes you’ve been on, they all sound amazing. I would love to see what you’ve been seeing these past few months. I finished up a few weeks ago on August 30th and now I’m back in LA. I must say it’s tough not being out in the woods anymore with nature, I really do miss it, so I may take you up on one of those discounted trips in the future, probably sooner rather than later! Hope all is well, stay safe, and enjoy every second. Love cousin Dan

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