Recently, I did something that most career advisors — no, most people — would consider fundamentally insane. I quit my editorial staff job at one of Boston's hottest lifestyle magazines, swapped my hi-tops for trekking poles, and moved into a hut in the middle of the New Hampshire woods.
My new home, a solar-powered, yurt-shaped structure called Lonesome Lake Hut, is one of eight such huts owned and operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club — the granddaddy of outdoor nonprofits across New England, and my summer employer throughout college. With 48 bunk beds for hikers, the hut is perched above a disc of cold water, miles from any road. In the summer, hikers from New England and beyond make overnight reservations at Lonesome, and a co-ed crew of six sling out hot meals and entertainment for them. But once the first frost glazes the trees, the hut reverts to self-service, meaning guests must strap on micro-spikes to combat the snowy trail and bring their own food and bedding. As the lone caretaker, my job description is simple: welcome hikers with a pearly grin, show them to their bunk beds, and help them cook spaghetti on the stove without burning down the building. The rest of the time, I will often be left alone in the frozen forest, for up to a week. I am then allowed a week off in the valley (to catch up on music, news, and collect my sanity), while my fellow rotating caretaker, Beth, hikes up and takes the helm.
Before breaking the news to my friends and family, I spent weeks preparing a list of rationalizations on why this would be a good idea. For one, I had spent much of my childhood romping around outdoors, in the very mountains I was about to inhabit again. After a solid year without leaving the city for more than 48 hours, I was long overdue for a holiday of pine needles, loon cries, and other bucolic things not found near Central Square.
Unsurprisingly, office life had taken a punishing toll on my body. Even an hour of grunting at the gym each day wasn't enough to offset the chronic aches of sitting for hours and staring at an LCD screen. Life as a hut caretaker offered an endless menu of physical necessities, from snowshoeing down mountain slopes to chopping log rounds with an axe (I was very excited for this). By New Year's Day, I'd be built like a brick shithouse.
But what drove me to the hut with greater urgency was a desire to temporarily escape the superficialities of city life and do something real, dammit. As a magazine writer, I was uniquely subject to the constant symphony of pop hype and fury that defines the metropolis these days. Each week seemed wrapped around yet another new club opening near the Financial District, or the arrival of some hotshot chef with a freezer full of duck fat or kangaroo bacon. Everything that was once intoxicating to me had outworn its welcome. It was all beginning to feel like the waning hour of any house party, when sipping one of those IPAs that once tasted so crisp and hoppy is about as pleasurable as inhaling cough syrup. I needed a cold shower, like Martin Sheen in the opening frames of Apocalypse Now. I wanted to get dirt under my nails, rip holes in my pants. Most of all, on the busier weekend nights, I wanted to greet hikers with a crackling fire, start conversations that didn't involve couture houses or hashtags, and serve as a steward of the forest.