Turn away now, readers, if you’ve ever leaned back in your cubicle and said, “I wish I were living in the Boundary Waters, teaching kayaking, rope climbing, or ice fishing. Nebraska native Paige May is living your dream.
During our discussion about his place in the economy at Vermilion Community College in Ely on Wednesday, it became clear that there are areas where the economy of the wilderness is as isolated from the larger economy as Ely is from the big city.
He’s enrolled in the outdoor leadership program, which teaches experiential education. Outward Bound is one such example. “It’s pretty much just taking people out and teaching them these technical skills and backcountry travels. There’s a self-improvement part, discovering you can do way more than you thought you could,” he says.
In this case, the college he chose led to the career path he’s following rather than the other way around. The program had recently been moved to Ely from International Falls. “As soon as I started the program, I loved it so much. In just my two years, I’ve gone from never having done any of this stuff — canoeing or backpacking or rock climbing or kayaking — and now I’m a certified kayak instructor, certified wilderness first responder, this summer I’ll work for Outward Bound,” he said. He hopes to be a dog musher in the winter, possibly in Alaska.
Economy? What about it? He won’t make a lot of money; he sees it as a lifestyle choice. “You get by,” he said. “Money will be tight, paying off student loans and such (he says he doesn’t know how much he owes). There’ll be that but I’m the kind of guy who can live cheap, with just bare essentials.”
“This is a beautiful part of the country and you’re living and working outdoors all of the time.”