Alone on an island in the James

May 17, 2013 · 5 minute read

Journal Entry #1

Date: March 3rd, 2013

Sunrise: 6:30 am

Temp High: 41 Degrees

Sunset: 6:02 pm

Moon: Half Moon, Waning

Weather: Beautiful! Not a cloud in the sky

Pandora Station for the Day: Sean Hayes Radio

Books I’m Reading: John Smith’s Chesapeake Voyages 1607 – 1609 – Rountree, Clark and Mountford; Born to Run – Christopher McDougall.

Weight: 205 lbs.


“A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.”

-Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire



My home on Presquile.

I first read Edward Abbey’s 1968 work, “Desert Solitaire,” during the summer of my junior year in college. At the time I was working for a nature conservancy outside of Blacksburg, living at the top of Mountain Lake in Giles County. I wasn’t living in solitaire like Abbey was in the book, there were people around all time, there was even a British version of “Dancing With The Stars” being filmed on site with special guest judge and American movie star Billy Zane running around.

The conservancy I worked for was part of Mountain Lake Resort, which served as the backdrop for the movie “Dirty Dancing.” Needless to say, this was a far cry from Abbey’s situation. But there was a sense of isolation living on top of a mountain, with one road in and out. There were also plenty of chances to escape society, with the Appalachian Trail running directly through our property (not that the AT is isolated these days). In any case, I was captivated by Abbey’s lifestyle and disdainful view of the world. The fact that I was studying outdoor recreation and Abbey was working as a park guide in Moab, Utah, where the book takes place, maybe I was hoping my life was headed in a similar direction. In any event, I finished the book, the summer ended and eventually graduated from college.

I spent the next couple of years falling in love with traveling, whitewater kayaking, food, beer and a woman. I bounced around for a while, working for a whitewater adventure company in Georgia; settling down in Richmond for a year; working in a restaurant and living with my then-girlfriend. I eventually ended up in California for a year and a half, working for an inclusive outdoor adventure company, (if you happen to be a college student reading this or a soon to be high school grad, the best advice I can give you is to travel. The growth, maturity and humbling element that is found in traveling is unmatched anywhere else).

The time finally came when living 3,000 miles away from family, friends, an ailing grandfather and that daggone woman (again) became too much. I decided it was time to head back to the East Coast, having no idea what I was going to do next. Luckily when I got back, I was able to find some part-time work with a new brewing company in town — Hardywood Park. I was still very interested in pursuing a job in the outdoor-recreation field, with my mind starting to shift more to the education side with some emphasis on adventure. The months went by without any luck finding a job in the field that I desired. So I did what any former raft guide would do…I was going to become an insurance salesman. My mom has been in insurance for over 30 years and this seemed like a pretty easy transition. With my dreams of the outdoor education life here in Richmond looking dim, I decided to bite the bullet and took the Virginia insurance exam (more than once) and passed. My foreseeable future was full of 9-5 days, Starbucks on the way to work and cold calls. It seemed my degree in Outdoor Education had run its course.

photo (3)

Big old black rat snake.

Where in the world would I find a job in Richmond that focused on outdoor adventure with a focus on science-based education!? A chance meeting over a beer would answer that question for me. While pulling one of my last shifts at Hardywood before stepping into the world of insurance sales, I ran into Ryan Corrigan, who worked for The James River Association. We chatted over a beer about my education, work experience and plans now that I was back in Richmond. Toward the end of our conversation he mentioned to me that The James River Association was creating a new position within their Education department and that the job had yet to be posted. I sent my resume over to the JRA before the end of the night.

The next few weeks exchanging emails e-mails with the JRA, getting my references together and preparing for a formal interview. The position I was applying for was unique in one very distinct way, part of the job description indicated I would spend 10 months as the sole resident of an island in the middle of the James River. And not just any island — Presquile, a National Wildlife Refuge

The day of the interview came and went. Then it was a waiting game to hear if I had gotten the job or not (if not, my knowledge of property and casualty insurance was about to get a whole lot stronger). I got a call from the Education Manager letting me know that I got the job, and I would be expected to move to the island the morning of March 4th.

And that is exactly where I find myself at this very moment, with the sun already set, preparing to spend my first night, alone on a 1,300 acre island 20 miles southeast of Richmond on this Island Solitaire…