Alumna Name: Rebecca Thering

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Dates Served with ACE: Crew: Sept 2017 – March 2018, EPIC: November 2019 – May 2020

Roles: Crew: Professional Development AmeriCorps Member, EPIC: Trail Crew Intern

Locations: Flagstaff, AZ and Zion National Park, UT

Rebecca Thering, ACE Crew Member from 2017 to 2018 and ACE EPIC Intern from 2019 and 2020, shares her intimate story with our readers.  Rebecca splits her blog into four sections: Before, During, After and the Impact of ACE.  Rebecca has gone even farther with this endeavor by linking some of the personal projects she has created during and after her time with ACE.  Rebecca shares with the audience her lessons learned in ACE and the impact that the outdoors has had on her mental health.  Continue reading to hear Rebecca’s full story!

Before ACE:

I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—though if I knew then what I know now at age 31, I probably wouldn’t have gone!  I spent a chunk of my 20s living abroad—first as a student, then working as an English teacher, and later working virtually for a language-learning startup. After 2.5 years writing/editing from a computer, I felt an itch to spend more time outside, away from screens, and ultimately to feel more human.

I gave myself a “Personal Sabbatical” upon leaving, and spent months traveling, painting, reading, creating, and growing my first garden. I was living with my parents at the time, and by the fall I felt pulled to start exploring other regions of the USA via a seasonal job. I saw a posting for ACE corps members on the website CoolWorks and applied. I had been camping only once before, as a child, and while I loved to walk, I did not think myself an “outdoorsy” person.

During ACE:

So at age 28, I joined the corps and spent six months as a professional development AmeriCorps member at ACE-Flagstaff. It was my first time in Arizona and its many landscapes, and I loved it.  After spending so many years with words and concepts as a teacher, writer, and editor, it was especially satisfying to see my concrete contributions after a day’s work: that’s the wall I built, those are the stones I set, there’s the trail I brushed.  Among numerous hitches, I got to spend a month and a half working on Hermit Trail at the Grand Canyon, a month in Arnett Canyon, and I even spent a month in Texas working on a private ranch!

Post-ACE Experiences:

After my ACE term, I ended up assistant crew leading at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (the one based in Colorado) that summer and fall. We worked in Dinosaur National Monument, with Colorado Fourteeners Initiative on Mt. Evans, hiking 250 miles of the Continental Divide Trail for a GIS-heavy project with U.S. Forest Service, and with the historical preservation crew at Grand Teton National Park. My co-leader that summer had thru-hiked everything, and was a major influence in sprouting my seed of intention to thru-hike the Arizona Trail.

The following spring (2019), I did just that. I’d worked on a few different parts of the Arizona Trail during my time in ACE, so it was fun to connect the full line across the state, and to return to Arizona’s beautiful landscapes once again. I ran into a double-ACE-crew (and some old friends) working on the Arizona Trail near Lake Roosevelt, and again when I got to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. (Thanks for your work!)

A very close friend died two weeks before I began my thru-hike, and while I was able to find peace on the trail, I spent the following summer at my parents’ house drenched in grief. It wasn’t until the fall that I mustered up the energy to start looking at opportunities in new places. I browsed the ACE EPIC listings, and a trail work internship in Zion National Park caught my eye.

I worked at Zion from mid-November 2019 to May 2020, and while I never would have predicted I’d continue on for this many seasons of trail work back when I first joined ACE, I spent this past summer/fall working with NPS on the trail crew at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

Impact of ACE :

Living and working in community at ACE was one of my biggest joys; we had so much fun together on and off hitch. Some of the main takeaways I’ve integrated into my life post-ACE are the importance of:

  1. mindful movement,
  2. play,
  3. being adult beginners, and
  4. spending time in/with nature

Mindful movement
I had a spinal fusion when I was 16, so most of my back does not bend. I went on living as usual, played ultimate frisbee for many years in my early 20s, but never gave much thought to the fusion. Getting into physical work at ACE brought much-needed attention to my movements. Learning proper body mechanics at work led me to seek out yoga for spinal fusion outside of work, and generally to be more aware of how I carried myself and moved on an average day.

One reason I’ve continued to work in trails is because, so far, it’s the job I’ve found where I feel the most human. In ACE, we would make up silly games while working, improvise raps, come up with haikus — play, play, play. We also worked hard and did great work; play and hard work can exist together. Furthermore, I saw how play made everyone feel lighter, friendlier, and more motivated. Here in Zion, that playfully creative energy is also abundant in the field.

Being Adult Beginners

Upon joining ACE, I had to clumsily and awkwardly use new tools until my motions became comfortable and swift. I was reminded again and again that the only way to get to that spot of comfort is to begin where you are, experience the discomfort of being graceless, and take action over and over. Just the other week here in Zion, I learned to chop fallen trees with an axe. At first, I swung as if I were holding a double jack or pick mattock. My crew lead showed me how the movement was different, gave pointers, and let me continue to try out this new motion. Once again, I had to embrace the awkwardness and vulnerability of trying something new in front of others, but knew with certainty it was the stage I had to go through in order to experience the gratification and joy of learning a new skill.

Spending Time in Nature

It’s hard to quantify the effect of all the time I’ve spent outdoors since 2017, but I know it’s been pivotal to my mental health, my creativity, the rootedness I feel, the spaciousness in my days, and overall happiness. I’m currently not on any social media, and that’s certainly thanks to my time in ACE. Being on airplane mode for eight days during hitches showed me that I wasn’t missing anything. While working in Zion, my housing didn’t have internet, which was a total gift.

Personally, my connection with nature has only grown since joining ACE. More recently, it’s developed into an access point for the spiritual realm. In the past year I’ve dipped into Paganism, Celtic traditions, energy healing, lunar cycles, oracle cards, Deepak Chopra, and Marianne Williamson, among many other influences. It’s an exciting exploration, emerging one day at a time, and would not have unfolded as it did without my intro to Mother Earth via ACE.

Wherever life takes me, I will bring to it my deep-rootedness in creative play, mindful movement, joyfully being a beginner, and nurturing my connection with nature — elements whose seeds were all planted and nurtured during my time at ACE. Ultimately, I’m on the path to feel most human, most myself, and I’m grateful for the key role ACE has played in this journey.

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