Of course I was disappointed not to be offered the Leader position. I read the description of the Camp Assistant's job, and had no fantasies that it was going to be a glamorous position. However, I had already fallen in love with the idea of traveling with Backroads for a living, so I decided to take the position and treat it as a 3-month-long extended interview. Maybe I'd even have some fun along the way.
The CA position ended up being just like I'd visualized it from reading the description on the Backroads website. During training veteran leaders would give us knowing smiles and say we'd be in great shape by the end of the summer. Some of us CA's were caught off guard by how much physical labor was involved. Days were long and busy, and involved cooking breakfast and dinner, washing dishes, hauling luggage, taking down tents, driving to a new campsite and setting the tents back up. When I made it home to the leader house at the end of the week I'd usually curl up and go straight to sleep, even though I looked (and smelled) like I desperately needed a bath.
It was hard work, but I don't regret taking the Camp Assistant job for a second. I mastered all kinds of new skills: maneuvering a fifteen-passenger van with a trailer attached, cooking three-course meals in Dutch ovens, setting up tents at record speeds and developing a killer work ethic. Even though we CA's weren't in the spotlight, it was neat to see how thankful the leaders and the guests were for our behind-the-scenes effort. We made some amazing things happen! I also developed some great friendships through Backroads. There's nothing like finishing up a hard, physical day in one of the most beautiful "offices" in the world, and heading with your coworkers out to "Leader Rock" overlooking the Grand Canyon to enjoy a cold drink and gaze up at the stars. Those are the moments you have to stop and think, "What were we complaining about earlier?"
Camp Assistants are invited to the annual Staff Ride, so after working camping trips all summer I flew to Crete to meet 150 other Backroads leaders and hear about their experiences all around the world. U-N-B-E-L-I-E-V-A-B-L-E! Breathtaking scenery, challenging bike rides, beautiful beaches and riotous fun had by all. I fell in love with Backroads all over again. Halfway through the trip I found out that I was invited back the following season, this time as a Leader!
I had the winter off from work, so I decided to make use of my plane ticket to Europe and stay a while. Before Staff Ride, I found a family in Italy that was looking for an au pair. Backroads has a high demand for leaders who can speak Italian, so I decided to give it a shot. One month in, I was romping through Italy (with another CA-turned-Leader friend) using the language wherever I could. I would arrange another language test with Backroads as soon as I got back.
Two weeks ago I finished Leader training for the 2013 season. I know I am much further advanced than I would have been if I had gone straight into leading rather than having a season as Camp Assistant. Maybe Backroads saw that, too, when I applied. My overall confidence to lead is much higher having seen trips run first hand, and my mechanical skills (which used to be pathetic) are now second nature. I just found out I'll lead my first trip in Tuscany in mid-April. Did I originally say I knew this job wouldn't be glamorous? In the end, I'm exactly where I wanted to be.