Today I woke up alone in a sparsely furnished house, my car-full of belongings scattered about the floor. I had yet to find them a home in the 48 hours since arriving in Ashton. I threw on some pants and set about chopping two red, Idaho grown, potatoes. I tossed in some sausage links and a trio of eggs to complete breakfast. How did I end up here, in Ashton, Idaho, in the middle of winter to work outside on a river? Good question. To answer it I have to rewind the clock and play back the events of recent months.
It’s the middle of October, the autumn colors in Vermont were more spectacular than I had experienced in years, and the season for the junior varsity soccer team I coached was coming to a close. I began tying up loose ends in preparation to move to the west coast. Bellingham, Washington to be specific. It was a move about 10 months in the making and now the final details were being ironed out. I had a place to live, picked a route west, and left all my options for employment open. I loaded up my car with enough gear to sustain me indefinitely. A large duffle of clothes, mobile kitchen, some food, and a roof box full of camping and outdoor gear. I was ready for a grand adventure and felt I was pretty well set up for whatever life may throw at me.
On October 29, I embarked on a three and a half week road trip that led me through fifteen states, six major cities, the loneliest road in America, Napa Valley, and dense redwoods. During my stay in Portland, OR, I received an email from a past professor of mine, passing along a job listing for a winter internship at the Henry’s Fork Foundation. I had heard of the foundation because a friend of mine was a summer intern in 2013 and he spoke very highly of his experience. I sent in my application and continued on with my trip. 5049 miles after leaving home I arrived at a surprisingly nice, though also sparsely furnished, house in Bellingham, WA.
The Monday after Thanksgiving I set out looking for work in Bellingham. I visited a few stores and restaurants, ultimately deciding to apply for a job at a mom and pop outdoor store. It seemed like a decent, short-term option for work and I was pleasantly surprised when the owner contacted me the same day I applied to set up an interview. I was feeling pretty good about myself, especially since I had also been contacted by HFF for an interview. My plan of figuring it out as I went was working out pretty well! The following day, a Tuesday, I went back to the store for my interview and was hired on the spot! I was scheduled to start work that coming weekend. Wednesday, I had my interview with Dr. Rob Van Kirk and Jamie Laatch from HFF, which also seemed to go very well. I was so excited by the prospect of spending the winter in Idaho working for HFF that all of a sudden my newly secured position at the outdoor store did not seem so great.
I received the email offering me the internship on Friday and quickly responded saying I would love to work for the Foundation. I then realized that I would have to deal with the slightly uncomfortable situation of quitting a new job on the first day. Working for Henry’s Fork was just too great of an opportunity to pass up and it gave me peace of mind to know I would be putting my Biology degree to use, not to mention the tug of the prospect of world class fly-fishing.
Fast forward to the present. I now have two days of work under my belt. No time was wasted getting right into projects and I spent my first days out in the field collecting water samples at preset locations along the Henry’s Fork. Collecting water samples in the middle of winter comes with its own set of challenges. My new co-worker Melissa and I found ourselves on skis half gliding and half trudging through 10 inches of snow to get to the river and then clinging to snow covered rocks while collecting samples. When skiing to the river was not necessary we resorted to post-holing through mid-thigh deep snow in waders to get into the water. At one location we had to smash a hole through four inches of ice with a double-jack to take a sample.
When I set out from Vermont in October I had no idea what I would be doing for work or where I might end up, I never expected it would be in Ashton. I moved from one small town in Vermont to another in Idaho and drove a grand total of 6830 miles in between. I certainly found the big adventure I was looking for when I left home, but really this is just the beginning.
Photography by James Chandler Photography