A Quick Word about Tour Guiding & Montana

Sunset at the Smokejumper base

At first glance, my cushy job as a tour guide doesn’t seem like such a great catch. For the most part, I sit behind a desk, greet visitors and give the same 45-minute tour day-in and day-out. And I’m sure many of you current SCA volunteers browsed the list of internships last spring and skipped anything that said “Visitor Center Intern” because when you thought SCA, you wanted the real deal: the dirt, the teamwork, and the rugged landscapes. Don’t worry, I wanted that, too. And if you want the complete truth out of me, I may have applied for this position at the Smokejumper Visitor Center in Missoula, Montana by accident.

But in the words of the great eighties painter Bob Ross, “We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents.” And with all the sincerity I can muster, I mean it when I say my Missoulian summer has been nothing but a happy accident.

Instead of building trails and uprooting invasive tree species like many of my fellow SCA bloggers, my outdoor experiences this summer have included tubing down the Clark Fork River, hiking at Glacier National Park, and jamming to outdoor concerts in downtown Missoula. On the clock, I help pack cargo boxes with the Smokejumpers and leave encouraging doodles on their food packs. I sit in on morning briefings and try to pick up all the fire jargon, and every once in awhile, I’ll help myself to mouth-watering baked goods that the jumpers bring in (Yes, they bake! And they sew, too! Come and get ‘em, ladies). I get to meet visitors from all over the world and I won’t say it isn’t an ego boost to feel so listened to. The business of wildland firefighting is fascinating, and because it’s such new material for me, I love talking about it.

Helping the rookies pack cargo boxes.

I was definitely a skeptic at first. During my interview, they reassured me how fun and charming the city of Missoula was: the summer concerts and tri-weekly farmer’s markets, the weekend floating, and one-of-a-kind restaurants that line the streets of a quaint downtown. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. How could Montana, which bordered the random, potato-yielding state of Idaho, be squirreling away some secretly cool, hipster town? If you’re an East Coaster like me, these two states aren’t even on your radar. And before you West Coast-lifers start scoffing at my ignorance, how many of you have the state of Ohio ingrained into your imaginary map? Yeah, that’s right – obscure.<p>In spite of that, I summoned my wander-lusting energies and took the job, leaving the comforts of my East Coast nest and signed on for a four-month volunteership. And while I’ve had to leave the ditch digging and backcountry hiking to the Smokejumpers, every Montanan microbrew, every tax-free purchase, and every swing dance party makes me swear this has been the best summer to date.

Downtown Tonight in Missoula – Every Thursday, the city hosts a free summer concert and brings in bands to play anything from country folk to rock. Local food and drink vendors populate a nearby gazebo.

So for all you prospective SCA volunteers, when choosing your future internship (or anything in life really), keep in mind that every experience has the potential to thrill and challenge even if it isn’t what you envisioned as your ideal. I encourage you to pick a location that perplexes you and go for something you don’t know the first thing about. I mean, look at me; I was a walking embarrassment the first few days on base because of how little I knew about wildland fire. Nowadays, though, I can nearly fool the visitors into thinking I’m a Smokejumper myself!

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