Reader, Yosemite National Park

“Februarys are hard when it’s 20 degrees, and there’s icicles hanging inside my vehicle. But I feel really blessed that for work, and just for my life, I get to wake up in the places where people take their vacations.”

Reader wound up in Yosemite National Park this May through his work in outdoor education. Under the Naturalists at Large program, he teaches kids about the environment while showing them how much fun can be had in the outdoors. When he’s not working these trips, he’s travelling the country in his SUV, visiting more beautiful parks where he can enjoy life outside. For him, life is more fulfilling when he’s with other people in the outdoors, rather than alone in a temperature-controlled building.

After a trip with about 100 middle schoolers and 30 more staff, there were enough leftovers to feed all of Camp 4. Reader went up to anybody in the camp and parking lot who might be interested in free food, and made sure enough people got some to avoid having to throw it out. While hungry climbers and campers were rummaging through the bins filled to the brim with food, I asked Reader about his outdoor ed work, the difficulties of living on the road in winter, and what he loves about the outdoors.

What company do you work with?

The company is called Naturalists at Large. It’s based out of Ventura and they do outdoor ed trips for California schools and anybody who signs up or wants to go. We’ll run trips as far south as Joshua Tree or the Colorado River on the Arizona-California border and as far north as Lassen National Forest.

It’s like a community of dirtbags; none of us really have [permanent] homes. We just travel around the state and take kids outside. It’s super fun.

What kind of things do you do with the kids?

It depends on where we are: on Catalina Island, we’ll snorkel and do kayak trips with them; in Pinnacles and Joshua Tree [National Parks], we’ll do rock climbing; we take them here [to Yosemite] and hike them until they drop; on the Colorado River we do overnight canoe trips. We do fun things like wake the kids up at 3am, pack the canoes and launch them in the dark, and tie the canoes all together. So they’re lying in their sleeping bags in the canoes under the Milky Way as they float down the Colorado River. It’s amazing.

Did you have a background in that type of work before you started with them?

Well I grew up as a Boy Scout and I camped a lot. In college, I studied environmental sciences, and when I graduated, I was in a spot where I didn’t want to spend my life in the laboratory. And so I found out about the field of outdoor rec. I get to teach people about the world we live in, instead of crunching numbers on it without ever talking to anybody. And that made me feel a lot better.

So how did you find out about them?

I got involved with NAL because my ex-girlfriend was backpacking in Big Sur and was sitting in Sykes hot springs and two people who worked at NAL sat down with her and told her about it. And she told me about it because I was looking for work. You can apply online, but it’s sort of a word of mouth thing.

If you’ve been in circles of people who work for Outward Bound or NOLS or if you’ve taken a WFR or anything like that, chances are you’ve met a former Natty because it’s good shoulder season work. They pay pretty well and they’re always working, so it’s a good way for dirtbags to add some income and network. It’s a good life.

I don’t live an excessive lifestyle, but I’m not really in debt. And I live comfortably, considering I live out of a Ford Explorer.

How long have you been living on the road out of it?

I’ve been living out of the Ford Explorer since August, 2017. And before that I lived in a Nissan Maxima since August, 2016.

(Reader to someone walking over: Yo dude, it’s free food. It’s leftovers from a school trip. Yeah, no worries, get whatever you want. If nobody takes it, it’s probably gonna have to get thrown out because it won’t last getting to a food pantry.)

How do you enjoy road life?

I love it, it’s the best. Februarys are hard when it’s 20 degrees, and there’s icicles hanging inside my vehicle. But I feel really blessed that for work, and just for my life, I get to wake up in the places where people take their vacations. It’s cool, man.

Last question: what do you love about the outdoors?

That’s a really good question because my answer changes all the time. In the outdoors, the social spaces, like the literal space between people, is such that I can shout when I feel like shouting, I can laugh when I feel like laughing, and I can spend my days doing things that engage my body and mind at the same time. But I think ultimately, I just feel free [in the outdoors]—that freedom is something I really value.

This interview has been trimmed and edited to fit this format. If you would like to access the unedited interview audio and unposted photography, see my Patreon page.

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