Summer 2009Detour, August 2009
Sometimes, just when it seems that you’re traveling down a smooth road, life throws out a sudden detour. That’s what we’re on right now.
RJ has withdrawn from the park ranger training program. He had three weeks remaining, but because of some problems would be unable to pass the program. By withdrawing, he is able to retain his Level 2 (seasonal) commission, and can potentially even earn a Level 1 commission again if he wants to go back to working in law enforcement with the National Park Service. He is losing his job, so we won’t be moving to Del Rio as we had planned.
We had bought a house in Del Rio at the end of July and I had moved in one load of our stuff, but my parents and I have already emptied it out and hope to re-sell it soon. The realtor is following up with several parties who were extremely interested in it while we had it under contract, so we are hopeful that it will sell quickly and we won’t lose too much money.
We’ll be staying in Texas with my parents right now, but will probably be moving on in a few weeks. Right now, we’re regrouping and figuring out what to do next. We’re jobless and effectively homeless, but we have lots of options, wonderful family, and amazing friends. Most important, we have each other. We’ll be fine.
We’ve had some great experiences on this journey, and there are moments we’ll never forget. We went dancing on the edge of the cliff at midnight in a thunderstorm, drove from one end of the country to the other both west-to-east and north-to-south, hiked in the sequoias of California and swam with sharks in the Florida Keys, spent time with old friends and made new ones, and have worked hard and played hard. We don’t know what our future holds, but we’re excited to find out.
Friends keep asking me what state we’re in, so I suppose that means we’re overdue for an update letter explaining where we are. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in front of a campfire under a full moon; overall, I’d say that life is pretty good.
We are currently in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. We’ve been here since the middle of June, and we’ll be here until August 1st. We’ll spend the first two weeks of August in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee, then we’ll head to Texas. We’re buying a small house in Del Rio, Texas; RJ’s permanent duty station is Amistad National Recreation Area. So, that’s where we’re ultimately going. As for where we’ve been, well, we've traveled quite a few miles in the past six months!
RJ has been in training for his new job as an NPS Law Enforcement Park Ranger. He was at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Georgia for Land Management Police Training (LMPT) starting on January 2nd. RJ’s class at FLETC was unique because it was comprised entirely of new park rangers for the southern border parks – Padre Island, Amistad, Big Bend, Coronado and Organ Pipe. RJ enjoyed training with and getting to know the people he’ll be working with in the near future, although he got to know some of them a bit more intimately then he had imagined during defensive tactics training (i.e. hand-to-hand combat) and nights out at the karaoke bar. RJ worked hard and did well, and especially enjoyed the driving and shooting portions of the training. He says that the best part, though, was “learning to work with such a dedicated group of people.” He graduated from FLETC on May 7th, receiving his badge and commission as a federal law enforcement officer. During the ceremony, the speaker described how many people dream of becoming a park ranger, but the graduates are some of the lucky few who have actually become one. I’m definitely proud of RJ for being one.
RJ's FLETC Graduation, 5/7/09
While RJ was at FLETC, I stayed with my parents and spent a lot of time working with their Morgan horses. It was nice to get back to my roots, so to speak. I always enjoy training, and my parents have nice horses. I spent the most time with Classy, a lovely 6-year old chestnut mare who just hasn’t been happy living with my parents. She and I had many disagreements over which of us was in charge, but she begrudgingly ceded power after many, many circles in the round pen and arena, and then we had some fun together. We went to the local Morgan horse club fun show in mid-April and did quite well, especially considering that it was her first show and I haven’t been in a show ring in over 15 years. My friend Erin came out to ride several times throughout the spring and fell in love with Classy; happily, Classy is now living with Erin in Houston, enjoying the miles of trails near the stable.
Classy and Nik at the horse show, 4/18/09
I was able to visit RJ for a few weekends this spring, and we enjoyed spending some time together on the coast. We explored Georgia’s historic Savannah and relaxed on the beach in Tybee Island in February, and had a great time in Florida’s St. Augustine – the oldest city in the continental U.S. – and the Castillo de San Marcos NM in March. So, our weekends together were full of history and beaches!
Enjoying Tybee Beach, 2/17/09
RJ had a few days off between graduating from FLETC and the next part of his training, so we drove from southeast Georgia to central Texas with a small detour to the Florida Keys for a week of vacation. We toured Kennedy Space Center just days before the shuttle Atlantis’s mission to repair the Hubble telescope, so we had the rare treat of seeing both shuttles on the launch pads – Atlantis’s mission to Hubble put it at too high of an orbit for a rescue to the space station, so Endeavour was prepped and ready to go retrieve the crew if necessary. (We were able to see Atlantis's launch from a beach in the Florida Keys several days later, which was awesome.) After KSC, we went down to the Keys, where we spent five days camping at a state park on Key Largo. The park has some wonderful beaches for swimming and snorkeling and includes several square miles of coral reef. Just snorkeling from the beach, we saw some great tropical fish, swam with a manatee, and I found a large sea horse. We also took a boat tour out to the reef and saw several reef sharks, lots of barracudas, multitudes of fish, and amazing coral heads. We took the top off the Jeep and drove down to Key West, where we saw the historic town and then met one of my friends from TAMS and her fiancée for a classic Cuban dinner and the nightly arts festival at sunset on Mallory Square. Driving back up the Keys under the stars and listening to Jimmy Buffett was amazing. The best part, though, was just being together; after living apart for over a year, it’s good to have “us” again.
At Seven Mile Bridge in the Keys, 5/12/09
We stopped at a few other parks on our way back to Texas. We saw one of RJ’s friends from NAU seasonal academy working in Big Cypress. We also had fun partying on Bourbon Street and learning some history at the Jean Lafitte NHPP and the Jazz NHP in New Orleans. We were barely in Texas long enough to repack, visit a few friends and family, and make a quick trip to Del Rio before we had to leave again and drive back east.
Since the end of May, RJ has been doing the fieldwork portion of his training. We spent three weeks at Big South Fork in Kentucky and Tennessee, are currently in the middle of six weeks at Mammoth Cave, and then will return to Big South Fork for RJ's final phase and evaluation. RJ is enjoying being out of the classroom and in the field, putting what he has learned into practice. While he is at work every day, I spend my time cooking, sewing, writing, and playing online. We’re trying to see some of the area on his days off; so far, we’ve visited Cumberland Gap NHP, saw the moonbow at Cumberland Falls, met friends of mine in Chattanooga and saw Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP, visited RJ’s sister and her family in southwestern Kentucky, and have seen some friends and family as they've visited Mammoth Cave. We’ve also enjoyed the parks where RJ is working, and have done some nice hikes and cave tours.
Nik at Yahoo Falls in Big South Fork, 6/4/09
Nik on the Wilderness Road at Cumberland Gap, 6/12/09
RJ with nieces Destiny and Shyanna, and nephew Coltin at Mammoth Cave, 7/11/09
I’m going back to Texas for a few days at the end of July to close on our new house in Del Rio, then I’m driving back to Kentucky with another park ranger’s wife, son and dogs so that I can rejoin RJ in time for his last week in Kentucky. We’ll head back to Texas after August 15th. I’ll send everyone our new address once we’re settled in Del Rio at the end of August.
Our new house in Del Rio
We hope you're doing well, and that you stay in touch.