For 2 Weeks, We Were Carnies!

Working at the Fair


We worked a couple of weeks at the fair!

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work a festival?   You’re picturing an array of colorful flashing lights, roller coasters, ferris wheels, happy families, young couples hand in hand, caramel apples, funnel cakes, cotton candy, and pony rides.  It sounds intriguing doesn’t it?

We certainly thought of those things also.  But besides the “fun” of it, our other motivations for sampling this type of work were:

  • It appealed to our sense of adventure.
  • We’re continuously looking for short term temporary jobs that we can do when in between longer term seasonal jobs
  • Based on the show schedule, we thought we’d be able to work for a couple of weeks, then take a couple of weeks off, then work for a couple of weeks, etc.
  • We expected to work a lot of hours, but also to make a lot of money in return.
  • We were hopeful that we’d make more gypsy-living friends.

Here’s the way it all unfolded:

A resort co-worker in Minnesota mentioned working at the Minnesota State Fair.  He works it every year, and is able to sock away a good stash of cash.  Alas, after investigating it, we learned that many of the state fairs require you to apply for the jobs in person.  In other words, they don’t consider applicants unless you’re able to show up for a 15 minute interview in person, well ahead of the fair date.  Even when we were in Minnesota, this wasn’t practical for us, as it was a 4 hour drive to get to Minneapolis to register and interview.  With our transient lifestyle, being in the right cities at the right times to apply for fair work just wasn’t likely.  So we tabled the idea for a while.

Fast forward 2 months.  We happened to be house-sitting about an hour’s drive from Nashville while the Tennessee State Fair was in town.  We couldn’t commit to working the fair, due to our obligations with the house (pet) sitting gig.  But we did take a day-trip to the fair for research and fun.  The Nashville fair’s pretty small, and most of the booths were owned by the same vendors.  So, we sought out a manager for one of the larger vendors, and waited for him to be available.  He looked us over, and asked if we’d help him out at an upcoming venue.  It was a pretty informal agreement, he offered us a flat amount for our work at that fair, a place to park the van with electric hookup, and whatever we wanted to eat from the army of food trucks he was taking to that fair.  So we figured, why not?

Camping Conditions at the Fair

And so, two weeks later, we showed up at the Mississippi State Fair.  We parked the van in the vendor “campground” area next to our vendor’s bunkhouses.  Calling it a campground is a bit of a stretch, but it served the purpose.  We were about 1/4 mile walk to the nearest public bathroom on the fairgrounds, and another 1/2 mile past that to the nearest shower house.

Our van was surrounded by bunkhouses with one on each side, and 3 behind us.  There was about  5 feet of space between us and the neighbors.   Which would’ve been ok, except that we’re not smokers (of any kind).  All our neighbors were.  We don’t really care what other people do, as long as it doesn’t affect us.  However, we rely on fresh air to ventilate the van at night, as we don’t have air conditioning.  After a long day of work and short nights of sleep, some quiet and fresh air would’ve been a welcome reprieve.

I’d not seen travel trailer bunkhouses before, so that was interesting.  Basically, they customized travel trailers to contain a bunch of tiny independent sleeping rooms.  There was a larger cabin on one end of each, reserved for supervisors, or such.  The bunkhouses looked something like this:


Most of the “regular” staff for this vendor traveled with them from fair to fair, and stayed in their bunkhouses.  Most didn’t have their own vehicles, and instead drove the bunkhouses or the vendor food trucks, or the other supply of supply of support trucks for the vendor.

Food, Laundry & Other Misc. Curiosities at the Fair

Part of the “pitch” we’d received was that meals would be taken care of, in that we could just eat from any of the 10+ food trucks at the fair.  It sounded “fair” enough, and was fun at first.  Who wouldn’t enjoy a chance to sample all the tantalizing junk food that we weren’t allowed to have as a kid: candied apples, cotton candy, corn dogs, funnel cakes, chili cheese fries, etc. etc.   Don’t worry Mom…  it wasn’t long before we didn’t want any more fried food or sugar!   So, we settled mostly on Nathan’s hot dogs without the buns, apples (before they were dipped), gyro’s, and lots of bottled water.  There were some other items that were at the food carts, like salads and grilled meats, but they were excluded from the “meals included” list.

Laundry was another challenge while there.  We’d brought an ample supply of black pants, socks and undies… enough to get us through the fair.  We’d been told that shirts were provided.  What they meant was that two shirts were provided per person.  Extra shirts were available for $10 each.  We certainly weren’t going to buy extra shirts, so we made do.  (Of course, you have to picture that we worked 16 hour days in these shirts.)  We started off by washing them out in the shower every couple of days.  But it was hot and humid there.  We had to lock the van up tight when we went to work, so there was no practical place to hang them to dry.  In the end, we just succumbed to wearing them over and over again.

Bathing was another challenge.  The bath house didn’t feel very safe, and was so far away.  Life at the fair consisted (for us) of two things: work and sleep.  If we took time for anything else, we were taking away from the little bit of sleep that we were afforded.  We hadn’t expected to have access to showers, anyhow.  In preparation, we’d brought along an ample supply of baby wipes.  While it sounds silly, those baby wipes were a life-saver.  Even in the small confines of the van, we could easily “bathe” ourselves, or even just use them to freshen up with throughout the day.

Note: We highly recommend keeping a supply of baby wipes for van camping in general!

Working at the Fair:  The People

We always try to work along others without judgement.  We’re all God’s children, after all.  But in all fairness, if you’re considering trying this type of work, you should know that you’ll be working and living among folks that you’d probably not normally surround yourself with.  It’s not uncommon for your co-workers to have substance-abuse troubles, be ex-cons, a bit crazy, or just downright untrustworthy.  Not that everyone’s that way, but at least from our experience, it seemed to be pretty common.

The Work Itself

The hardest part for us, was standing on our feet for so long each day.  We often worked 16 hours a day, with a scattering of breaks throughout the day.  But, while at your stand, you weren’t permitted to sit or lean.  So that means, standing for the majority of the day on aluminum trailer flooring or pavement (depending on what your stand was).  We’ve worked jobs on our feet before, but never where you worked so many hours or where you couldn’t at least lean a little to take some of the weight off your poor feet.  I’m not kidding when I say that our feet ached for days after the fair was over.

The work itself was fine and what you’d expect.  I worked the corn dog stand, and mostly just took orders.  Hubby worked the lemonade stand and took orders and made lemonade all day.  The guests coming through were mostly city folk.  During the day, the guests were mostly families, elderly, or handicapped.  At night, the place turned into the world’s largest night club filled with all sorts of (very) interesting people. It reminded me a little of Bourbon St in New Orleans.  Working a stand is an excellent place to people-watch, and provided us with hours of entertainment.

I’d like to say that that the compensation made the entire experience worthwhile, but when you figured the number of hours worked against the lump sum amount paid, the hourly rate turned out to be around $4 or so an hour.  If you take any time off (whether a half a day, or a day), your lump sum is reduced accordingly.  From what others told us, if it rained and the fair was closed, you didn’t get paid for that time either.

We’d also hoped to have time off in between gigs (based on their published fair schedule).  But, that wasn’t how it was set-up.  If you continue working with them, the extra days between gigs are taken up with breaking down at one fair, and setting up at the next.  If you travel with them from show to show, but use your own vehicle, your travel costs aren’t covered.

Note:  There are larger national carnival companies that hire employees as regular hourly employees, with benefits, etc.

Lessons Learned:

We learned quite a bit from the experience, about ourselves and others.  While it wasn’t pleasant or easy, we stuck it through to the end (mostly, because we committed to it and felt we needed to honor our commitment).

Would we do it again? Maybe.  If we were stuck in between jobs and needed the money.  But it wouldn’t be our first choice.  It is a way to pick up some cash without having to make a commitment longer than 2 weeks at a time.

If we do fair work in the future, we’ll likely go through the regular hiring channels at the fairgrounds.  Those positions actually pay hourly, so while you still work a lot of hours, are far more profitable.

2017 – Finishing our 1st Gypsy Year!

Like most of you, we too have been taking stock of 2017 before we say goodbye to it.  For those of you who’ve been following our middle aged gypsy journey, our tally of one year’s worth of adventures won’t surprise you.



We started 2017 at 8600 feet above sea level in Colorado!




and are ending the year near the beach in Florida!


As for some of the best of 2017:

  • Wintered at 8500 feet above sea level in Colorado’s ski country
  • Took lessons in cross-country skiing
  • Did a fair amount of ice-fishing
  • Pet/House sat at 3 different places (Kansas, Ohio, Tennessee)
  • Took care of horses
  • Visited friends we haven’t seen in a long time
  • Visited family we haven’t seen in a long time
  • Camped near Mackinac Bridge, Michigan
  • Drove through northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
  • Got to know magnificent Lake Superior
  • Summered on the US/Canadian border of Minnesota’s boundary waters
  • Kayaked and fished on some of the most pristine waters in this country (in northern MN)
  • Picked and enjoyed many wild blueberries
  • Harvested and enjoyed lots of fresh fish and crayfish
  • Survived quite a few black bear encounters
  • Watched a nest of pileated woodpeckers grow up and fly away
  • Hubby got to work on a lakeside dock, helping guests enjoy their outing; I got to learn about canoe outfitting and help groups of guests enjoy their boundary waters camping adventure
  • We visited a state I’d not been to (Louisiana), saw New Orleans, ate delicious Cajun food, visited a plantation home, and saw beautiful bayous.  We also spent  couple of weeks in a state that we didn’t know much about (Mississippi)
  • Camped and explored some of Florida’s panhandle
  • Swam in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Swam and fished in the Atlantic
  • Met so many new friends that we cherish  – from different age groups, countries, and walks of life
  • Hubby and I spent a lot of quality time together

There were low-points too, of course.  We’ve spent a couple of thousand dollars on car repairs or maintenance in the past year.  We had a couple of seasonal jobs that didn’t work out as we’d hoped and presented us with some pretty stressful times.  And all that wonderful cross country travel came at the price of untold gallons of gasoline.  We spent money on some things we thought we needed, but really didn’t.  And we got rid of some things that we needed, but thought we didn’t.  Oh, and I turned that magical number, 50.

Our year was one of having no place to call home of our own.  We’ve lived in a hotel room that’s used for staff housing, in other people’s homes (while house or pet sitting for them while they’re on vacation), staying with friends and family, camping, staying in staff dorm housing, camping in a platform tent for 2 months, and sleeping in the van.  The types of work we’ve done have been just as varied.

While our lifestyle at each specific destination has been slow and deliberate over the year, the pace of change has been pretty fast and by the end we were getting a bit worn.  So, we met the opportunity to winter back in our old Florida stomping grounds as a welcome reprieve into a bit of the familiar.  Rest assured, we’ll be ready to adventure again come spring.

However, all that being said, this is the very first year that I can EVER remember, where I feel content and satisfied with the parting year.  Hubby agrees that he feels the same.  I’m humbled that it’s taken us over half our lives to achieve just one year that we can peacefully say goodbye to.

All those years of obsessing over “more,” trying to keep up,  and trying to maintain the image the world wants of us.  Funny that it’s actually the year where we’ve shirked the mainstream that’s made all the difference.  Was everything easy? No.  Did everything go our way?  No. Did we have some frightening and stressful experiences? Yes.

Did we gain experiences that were meaningful? Yes.  Did we learn and grow? Yes.  Did we do better at living life on our terms? Yes.  Did we minimize the distracting noise of the modern world in our lives? Yes.  Did we fit as many of the important parts of living into 2017 as we could?  Yes. Did we live what we believe?  Yes.

And so, for the first time (at least, that we can recall in our adult lives), we’re at peace with offering a fond farewell to the old year.  We hope that you’re able to do the same, and we sincerely wish you a new year focused on (and filled with) the truly important things in life!


Why Do We Love Bridges So?

I love, love, love traveling over big bridges.  (Do other people get as childishly excited about bridges as I do?)  I love the excitement of seeing a big bridge ahead on the horizon.  I can’t help it.  Like clockwork, as the peak of the bridge approaches, my pulse quickens.  Testing the boundaries of my seatbelt, I’m consumed with anticipation.  What  fleeting glimpse of grandeur waits at the top?  Every sense available is heightened, trying to take it all in as fast as I can.  Then it’s over. The brief encounter has passed.  The sights, sounds, and smells are but a memory. Ever so briefly, I’m tempted to turn around and drive it again.  What lingers longest is a smile of satisfaction, like a child having just disembarked from a carnival ride.

lake-mighigan-side-of-bridge (2)

Mackinac Bridge is impressive and well worth the drive, spanning the straight between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron

It’s not so much the bridge itself that brings such joy. Although, they can be beautiful architectural accomplishments in their own right.  The fascination (at least for me) comes from the sense that I’m getting a God’s-eye view.  I’m being blessed, ever how briefly, with a glimpse of a treasure that I’d not normally get to see.  It compares to the exhilaration that comes from sitting atop a mountain, sans the exercise.  Or perhaps even like what you might feel from looking out from an airplane’s window-seat.

Bridges are also gateways to new (or returning) places, sights, and faces.  They awaken  feelings of adventure, possibilities and even hope.


By Ray Devlin from New Orleans (for now), USA 

I was blessed recently with one of the best bridge-drives of my life.  If you have a chance, I highly recommend the stretch of I-10, from about 10 miles east of Pensacola (Florida) to a little west of New Orleans (Louisiana) along Lake Pontchartrain (reputed to be among the world’s longest bridge!).


lake ponchetrain LA

The bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, LA


The whole drive is filled with long spanses of bridge over bays, marshes, bayous, rivers, and lakes.  You won’t be disappointed!



To GPS or not to GPS

I guess it was time.  Maps are getting harder and harder to find.  Although, after a couple of weeks with “Naggy” (as we’ve named it), I’m still not fully sold on our new Garmin GPS.  I think it’s really more that I resent needing it… but deep inside, I know that it’s become a necessity in today’s world.

Living this simple (and modest) lifestyle these days, we’re always on our guard against acquiring things.  After all, when you’re living in a van, you just don’t have room for extra “stuff.”  What we do have has to be deliberate, functional and practical.

Granted, by most people’s standards, a GPS falls in that category.

We decided on a lower-end version of the GPS, as we really don’t care about all the bells and whistles. (Remember, we’re aiming for a simplified lifestyle… not one filled with modern complications.)  We wanted something that would: 1) tell us where we are if we get lost, 2) help us find our way to our destination.  That’s all we needed.  Of course, it came with a few other features, but we haven’t really used them yet.

(This is the version of GPS we purchased – click the image to see pricing,)

Our first experience with “Naggy” was a bit frustrating, but offered some good “lessons.”  First off, it didn’t come with instructions.  It would seem that you have to download the instruction manual from the web.  Now, that might not seem like a big deal to most people.  But, we were on the road when we bought it.  We don’t have “fancy phones” so our internet access is limited.  To say that this was frustrating is a bit of an understatement.

First lesson:  If you’re buying an electronic item while traveling, plan to have/find internet access shortly thereafter (if you’d like to have the instruction manual available).

Our next destination was a free camping spot near Pensacola.  The campground’s a park on Florida Fish & Wildlife land, and we weren’t sure what it was going to be like.  Additionally, we weren’t yet comfortable with the GPS.  So we did some internet research ahead of time, and noted the GPS coordinates for the campground.

As a backup, we wrote down actual directions from the free camping website that introduced us to the campground.  We’re so very glad we did.  By the time we were near the campground, it was dark. The main road nearest to the campground was under construction and wasn’t well lit.  Access to the side roads was sketchy, to say the least.  Our GPS kept trying to rout us to roads that weren’t there, or that we couldn’t get to.


The packed sand road to the campground.

So, we followed the written directions instead.  Once off the main road, the secondary road was packed sand.  The GPS still tried to route us through side roads – but these roads were unmaintained and sandy.  (Keep in mind that this driving was all happening after dark in an area we’d not been before. )  Had we taken any of those routes, I’m convinced we would’ve ended up stuck in in the sand in a remote section of the jungle (in the middle of the night).  This is what earned it the name “Naggy.”

garmin misdirection

The Garmin directing us to take an unmaintained sandy road into the jungle.

Lesson Two:  It’s a good idea to have backup (written) directions, especially if you’re traveling to a remote area that’s unfamiliar.  

Lesson Three:  Don’t just follow the GPS’s instructions blindly.  Assess the situation.  They’re not always right.  If what it’s directing you to do looks questionable or risky, you might consider an alternate route.

All that said, we have used the GPS more, and have found it handy under most circumstances.  I don’t like Naggy, but I’m glad we have it.

BUT, we still (and will likely always) prefer printed maps.  Our favorite is by far the Delorme Gazetter maps (one map book per state). Click the image below for pricing and info.

They’re very detailed and have nearly every road you could imagine shown for the entire state. We’re working on acquiring a full set, based on the states we travel to.  (But that’s going to take a while.) Plus, with so many printed items going “out of print,” we want to have a set before they disappear.  They’re a good backup, and give you confidence and a sense of independence when you’re on the road.

Free Camping: Near Pensacola, FL


Free Campsite on the bay near Pensacola, FL

If you’re looking for a free campsite that’s not far from Pensacola and the beaches, this might fit the bill. The Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area has a lovely little rustic campground beneath the live oaks and right on the east shore of Blackwater Bay. 

Note: There are a few potential downsides that you’ll want to consider also (see the end of this post.)

As far as free camping goes, this is one we’d come back to.  The site is removed from the hustle and bustle, but near enough that an easy 15 minute drive puts you near whatever you might need.  The campground is several miles from the road, so there is absolutely zero road noise.  You’re surrounded by a beautiful Florida forest of live oaks, pines, and palmettos.  What’s more, the campground borders the bay with a small shoreline beach. (Or, if you end up on the “Bayou Side” campground, it’s smaller and is on the marsh.)

campground beach

Small beach at the free Scribing Point Campground

The campground is well maintained, and the sites are all clearly marked.  Each site is clearly defined also, with split rail fence between you and your neighbor. The campsites are all partly shaded from the strong sun by the live oaks.  This is dry camping, so there is no running water and no bathhouse.  There are a couple of porta-potties.  And there are bear-proof trashcans about also.  Each site has a picnic table and fire pit.

You can fish, swim or kayak the bay.  There are also a few hiking trails near the campground. The Blackwater River State Park’s within an easy driving distance. 

Navarre Beach

Free public beach on the Florida Gulf is only 20 min away from the campground

The free public beach (Navarre beach) is only a 20 minute drive.  Besides just the sheer enjoyment of a day at the beach, swimming in the emerald colored Gulf, there are showers of sorts at most of the beaches.  They’re out in the open, so swim suits are required!  But, it provides a handy way to get a shower in when you’re dry camping.  The cool water from the shower feels heavenly after a swim in the Gulf.  Plus, with a little effort and creativity, you can use the showers to fill your camping water jugs.

View from Navarre Fishing Pier

View of the Gulf and beach from the Navarre Beach Pier

There’s also a man-made snorkeling reef near Navarre.  And Navarre Beach has a lovely pier that extends way out over the beautiful gulf.  It’s $1 daily entrance fee for spectators and $7 for fisherman, but that price buys you access to the pier all day.  Pack a picnic and make an afternoon of it!

The town of Navarre is only 15 minutes away from the campground, and has nearly all the conveniences you might need, including: fast food restaurants with Wi-Fi, Winn Dixie (grocery), Walmart, etc.  On the way to Navarre you’ll pass an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts  and a Laundry also.  There are plenty of gas stations around as well.

Some important things you’ll want to consider:

  • This campground is by reservation only.  It is patrolled several times a day, so if you try to squat on an unclaimed site, you will be asked to leave.  As a positive, you can know that, if you have a reservation, your site will be available for you.
    Note:  If you make a reservation, but end up not coming… please cancel your reservation.  Otherwise, you’re keeping others from enjoying the park. 
  • Besides being a “dry” campground in terms of potable water, it is also a “dry” campground in terms of alcohol.  No alcohol is permitted in sight (or technically, in possession).  Did I mention that the campground is patrolled regularly?  If caught, they can ask you to leave.
  • The reservation website promotes some of the campsites as waterfront.  They are more like “water-view” than waterfront, with a fenced walking area for all the campground guests between you and the bayshore.  Sites 1-8 are along the waterfront, but with a greenbelt that all campers share between you and the water.  Sites on the perimeter away from the bay (#9 & #10) have a little more privacy, but the greenery blocks the slight (but oh so needed) night breezes off the water.  The sites along the bay seem to get more of the breeze.  Here’s the (bayside) campground map: 

    Bayside Campground Map

  • There is a solar streetlight over the porta-pottie area.  If you happen to end up in site # (11), your camp will be VERY well lit at night.
  • The campground is surrounded (literally) by the nearby Air Force base.  While the landing strip is on the other side of the main road, it’s enough of a distance away that you don’t feel like the airplanes are landing on your head.  However, frequently (at night) you’ll hear them practicing their drills.  It sounds like fireworks.  Also, they have some sort of a rifle training range back in the woods.  You don’t see it, but you can sometimes hear them practicing drills at night.
  • There are restrictions about running generators on campers overnight.
  • It is Florida.  Be prepared for bugs, and lots of tiny little biting ants.

Lastly, DO NOT follow your GPS’s advice to find this campground.  It’ll try to take you off on unmaintained sand roads (on Air Force property) to parts unknown.  Stay on Wolf Choctaw Road until you get to Choctaw Field Road (you’ll have to turn, as the road is otherwise barricaded).  Stay on that road until you get to the campground. 

To make your reservation:

The People Along The Way: Kate Hibbs


Off-Grid Summer Living in Northern Minnesota

For many of us, it’s a wonderful dream: spending a summer in a quaint little off-grid cabin on a remote lake with absolutely no one else around.  The view of the lake, the stars at night, and the sounds of nature feed your soul.


The 1/4 mile path to Kate’s Cabin

There’s not a neighbor within earshot or eyesight, and the cabin isn’t accessible by road.  You park about a quarter mile away and walk-in on the trail.  There is an atv, but it’s a bit temperamental.  More often than not, you’re carrying in your supplies, drinking water, gasoline for the generator, and dog food on your back. 

Oh, the dog food?  Did I forget to mention the dogs?  Imagine that you’re also caring for 24 sled dogs… and 7 speedy and enthusiastic sled dog puppies!


Even at this age – sled dog pups love to run!

Kate Hibbs spent her summer in northern Minnesota doing just this!  Kate says “I loved living up north this summer; I knew I needed this time to be in the woods.  I needed to recalibrate, so living in solitude for a time was perfect for me.


Blue-eyed sled dogs, per the old legends, see into your soul.

Sled dogs are incredible animals, and I love mushing for so many reasons.  It’s extremely active, yet peaceful and beautiful.  It’s really fantastic to use this old traditional form of travel and see the pure joy, athleticism, problem solving and group dynamics of a sled dog team.”

When asked about the challenges the summer presented, you might expect to hear her talk about the physical demands of caring for so many dogs, or the inconveniences of living off grid and so remotely. 


Rustic Accommodations!

Instead, Kate mentioned only two things. “I haven’t been around to enjoy Minnesota’s boreal winters and the dog mushing that comes with it.  It was pretty difficult to only care for them during the summer months when it’s too hot to take them on runs.  I’d also say a big challenge was being so removed from my loved ones.”

Lately, Kate’s been spending her falls, winters and springs in Antarctica.  While in Antarctica (time that she calls “on-ice”), resources are limited, so there isn’t much of an opportunity to stay in touch with friends and family back home.  “It is important to be able to spend my time off-ice engaged in relationships that are important to me and engaged in my community.  While tempting to seek out solitude, I’ve learned that I need to figure out a balance of self-care without using my privilege to escape too much!”

Only 27, she’s already been a “mover and a shaker” in making a difference in her communities.  While in school at Ithaca College for Anthropology, she helped establish her school’s Asian American Studies Program, and was part of starting an East-Coast-wide movement for intersectional education in colleges and universities.

She and a few friends also founded the “Aurora Collective” in hope of opening the “out of doors” experience to a broader audience.  Through her experience guiding youth with wilderness adventures in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, she witnessed countless amazing transformations. “Doing hard work in wild places teaches people non-academic skills: character, growth, mindset, grit, emotional and social skills, among many others.  Going on an expedition, especially as a youngster, can help a person realize that they are capable of anything.  It translates to a self-awareness and confidence that helps in the pursuit of goals later in life.  Historically, access to the wilderness (including the gear, transportation, etc.) is expensive and limits the type of person who can go on trips.

We started The Aurora Collective as a way to promote and sponsor people doing more extreme wilderness endeavors, believing that more representation provides more inspiration!”  She cited as a case in point, Ann Bancroft: a Minnesotan explorer that was the first woman to traverse Antarctica. 

We kicked it off last summer by competing in the Yukon River Quest, a 444-mile canoe race.” Their 6-person all-female voyageur team was a rarity and met a lot of skepticism. But, after 53 hours of paddling, they earned 19th place out of almost 100 teams overall.  “The Aurora Collective is a work in progress, but I’m hoping that we can keep it going despite us living so spread out.”


Having learned about Antarctica from co-workers at Menogyn, a Y-Camp on the edge of the Boundary Waters, she had to see what life was like at the bottom of the planet!  This fall will be Kate’s third season working there.

“There’s a saying that people go down to Antarctica the first year for adventure, the second for friends and because the money’s pretty good, and the third year because they don’t fit in anywhere else anymore!” 


Your view upon arrival in Antarctica, after a very long flight in non-temperature controlled seating on military aircraft.

Living there isn’t easy. The physical environment is challenging. “It is called the harshest continent for a reason!” The station is extremely remote station with very limited internet access, so staying in touch with friends and family isn’t easy.  The working hours are long and difficult, with 60 hours or more, 6 days a week, the norm.  There’s very little in the way of food choices available, being dependent on seasonal food shipments.  Fresh foods like vegetables and fruits are often a rarity.  Even something as simple as placing an Amazon order is challenging, as it can be months before your package is delivered.


But, all that said, there are benefits to working seasonally in Antarctica also.  “The lifestyle of working really hard nonstop and then having a few months to travel or pursue a new skill or field is very appealing to me.  Air travel there and back is provided, normally with a stopover in New Zealand.  Kate often will make the most of that stop and do some impromptu touring of New Zealand on her way back from “the ice.”

While at the station in Antarctica, there’s a strong ethos among the community to make the most out of every day.” Kate says that the station is just big enough that you can find others with shared interests, but small enough to be welcoming. “It’s like camp for adults!” with the endless live music, sports, game nights, art-making, costume parties, language classes, etc. She’s found them to be a good group of hardworking and creative people that are invested in making their time there as nourishing and stimulating as possible. 

You may have seen that Antarctica recently made the news with the possibility of new life forms discovered in some of its ice caves. Kate’s been able to see some of the ice caves firsthand herself!  “I got to take a trip to an ice cave my first season. It was amazing.  I think the thing that jarred me the most was experiencing complete silence for the first time in months.  Ordinarily, we’re surrounded by the constant buzz of generators, planes, helicopters and heavy machinery.  It’s like living on a big construction site 24/7.”


Just another hard day at work!

Kate’s work there this upcoming season will be as the Solid Waste and Recycling Coordinator. She was a Janitorial Lead last year. Before that, her first season as a dishwasher. She laughed, saying that the Antarctic station is known for having the best educated dishwashers in the work force.  People are willing to take (and are grateful for) whatever job is needed for the experience of living there.

If you’re interested in checking this opportunity out, she suggested you do some research.  First, there are a couple of good documentaries about what life on a station in Antarctica is really like.

Then, if you’re still interested, contact one of the agencies that hires station support contractors.  It is common to not be accepted on your first try.  She suggested that if you’re serious about it and determined, keep trying. Network.  Knowing others there can help. Find a way to try to get some experience in the field you’re trying to get a job in (even if just dishwashing!).  Most importantly, keep applying until you succeed.


As for what’s next for Kate Hibbs?  “Eventually, I would love to return to my work in education.  But for now, it would be awesome to work my way up to running a field camp in Antarctica!  I also want to get all 7 continents in my passport (I only have South America and Africa left).  Beyond that?  Who knows?  I do feel like I’m still searching for something, but aren’t we all?”


Visiting Grand Marais, MN



View over the Grand Marais harbor, waiting for the fireworks to start!


If you’re looking for a scenic summer getaway for a few days, Grand Marais MN might be just the ticket.  Nestled up against Lake Superior, this little town will win your heart and the drive up the coastline will overwhelm your senses!


Besides being the gateway to the Boundary Waters and on route to Ontario, Grand Marais is a tiny town of bed and breakfasts, family owned inns, and quaint touristy trinket and fudge shops.  It boasts having a microbrewery, and a pastry shop called “the World’s Best Donuts.”   Oh, and don’t forget the miniature golf course-petting zoo (yes, a combined experience).

Of course, there are also a few upscale boutiques, art galleries, golf courses and such. The entire town only consists of about 1,350 people in the summer (It drops down well below that in the winter when most of the town shuts closes down).



View from Grand Marais of the harbor and Lake Superior


For being such a small town, it surprised me to find that Grand Marais had 3 grocery stores.  Granted, they’re small, but they provide a nice variety of options.  The IGA’s your typical grocery.  Johnson’s is interesting in that they have the basics, but also some eccentricities also like a selection of smoked fishes and homemade sausages.  And then there’s the co-op that offers a nice bulk section and organic items.  You don’t have to be a member to shop there, and they also have a little internet café area.  If you’re planning to grocery shop, check the hours ahead of time though.  They close at 7pm in the summer, and are closed at 5pm and on Sundays in the winter.

One of our regular activities when in town was to stop and pick up picnic items from the grocery stores and a bottle of wine from the one liquor store in town.  Then to find a place on lake superior to enjoy it.  We couldn’t get enough of the fresh lake air or dipping our toes along the shoreline… so calming and good for the soul!

While you’re in town, you might also consider taking a sailing tour of the harbor?  Or taking a class learning a lost art like blacksmithing, or any number of other things.


Cook county is also known for it’s lovely waterfalls, many of which are just a short hike from the road.

Other things that might interest you in the area:

Enjoy!  (If you find other treasures in the area, please be sure to share them in the comments!)

PS – There are still some businesses around that don’t take credit cards, like a diner that we found in Grand Marais called “South of the Border” (as in the Canadian border)!  While fresh herring for breakfast might not be your cup o’ tea, keeping cash on hand while traveling will make sure you can make the most of these local treasures!