Welcome to the first guest interview of Unseasoned!
Unseasoned is a series interviewing folks who leave behind outdoor seasonal gigs for 9-5s, entrepreneurship, or other year-round work. You can read more about the premise here.
This month we welcome Landon Moores, an accomplished river guide and international travel guide turned person who attends summer weddings and writes grisly true crime television for Jupiter Entertainment. Yes, she’d be the first person I would call if I needed to get rid of a body!
Landon talks about the freedom of a job untethered to likability, how leaving seasonal guiding doubled her paycheck, and why river guiding was one of the best opportunities she’s ever had.
As always, I’d love to hear what you thought of this interview and if you’ve ever watched an episode of Snapped. Either reply here or find me on IG: @emeraldlafortune
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Name: Landon Moores
Location: Knoxville, TN
Current Job Title: Writer, Jupiter Entertainment
EMERALD: Tell me about a great “day in the life” in one of your past seasonal roles.
LANDON: I have two very distinct ones. I would say with river guiding a great day would be where I was on a crew where I felt supported and everything either went smoothly or when we ran into an obstacle, we met it all together. It’s high water and you're so nervous about it or there's some unknown downstream. There's really no way to prepare for this. The pre-trip talks would go something like, “Okay, there's 40 different variables here. When we get down to Velvet Falls, is it going to be six feet? Is it going to be seven feet? It's going to be 5.4! Are we going to take the sneak? What are we going to do?” And then we'd get lost in all of that.
Then I realized we could think of it differently. I would ask , “Am I and the others on the crew capable of doing whatever we need to do when we get there?” And they would say, “Yes, we are.” And then I'd say, “Okay, well then, we're prepared. The only thing we're lacking is our problem. We have all the solutions; we just don't know our problem yet.”
That was a good feeling for all of us to remember. And then inevitably we would get down there, we would overcome it. Then you get to camp and you just feel that sense of accomplishment with your crew. You're not doing dishes in the dark and dinner gets out on time. That’s a good day.
EMERALD: And your sleeping bag is dry.
LANDON: Yes! Differently, I had to separate them because when I was guiding in Cuba, it was more of a solo affair. There I was the trip leader, not one of the team leaders. Like if things went wrong, it came down on me rather than an entire crew. So, a good day in that job was when I timed things out perfectly and I made the guests and crew happy and everyone left satisfied. From a professional standpoint, knowing that you did it all yourself does feel good sometimes.
EMERALD: What was the hardest part of seasonal work for you?
LANDON: I would say the hardest part of seasonal guiding for me was early on in my career before I had established that I would be a seasonal guide in the winter as well. I always called it the September Scramble. You don't really know what you're going to do next, and you don't even know that you're going to come back to guiding that next season. The hardest part for me early on was the unrest of, “What am I going to do next?”
Even once I had decided I would come back to guiding, I never really knew what I was going to do for the winter, until the last four years when I knew I was also going to guide in the winter.
What went along with that, which I didn't always want to recognize during guiding, was that you go from having your community around you all the time, whether you like 'em or no, to suddenly having the option. Sometimes the only option is to be alone. It was hard navigating things alone, especially in a world that does not exist on the same plane as the world that you have made your successes in.
Guiding is very hard to explain to people that haven't been in the industry. And so, you do feel a little bit solitary, especially because there's a difference between finishing a summer on the river and going to Missoula for the winter and talking to someone that's done the Lochsa and knows what the Middle Fork of the Salmon is, versus going back to Knoxville, Tennessee.
EMERALD: What were you most worried about when leaving seasonal work? Did those fears actualize?
LANDON: I think that I was in an interesting position in that I wasn't actively seeking to leave seasonal guiding. I thought I was picking up a freelance job and it turned into a full-time job. I still had three months left on my seasonal guiding contract and I got offered a full-time job writing.
I knew I was ready to transition out because I'd been seeking freelance to slowly transition out of guiding. Then suddenly, I just got it given to me. So, my biggest concern was letting down my employer. Like, I lost sleep over it. In hindsight I realized that that was silly because we were very replaceable to our employers, and I wish I would've understood that more.
I do honor that part of myself that had that integrity. But I wish I wouldn't have beaten myself up about it because I don't think our employers have the same integrity that we as employees have. I do think there are exceptions and for the most part it's not because employers are bad people. I think when you get into that management position, you just have to make the cuts you have to make.
EMERALD: How did you end up in your current role? Was your seasonal experience a help or a hindrance in securing your current position?
LANDON: My friend and I, we would always joke about, “Hey, we're going to meet our next career on this river.” Her parents knew the Klutz Book founders, because they were river people. One of our river guides met some people on a trip and then transitioned to working for Amazon.
So, we joked, river guiding will find your next career. And it did for me. It wasn't on the river though.
I was visiting a friend back home in Knoxville. She was a bartender and I was sitting at her bar. She introduced me to one of her regulars who used to be a river guide years ago. We started talking and it was just like, “Oh yeah, you were a river guide. You were a seasonal worker.” We clicked. We drank a bottle of wine.
He told me about guiding on the Nantahala and the Chattooga. I told him about guiding out West. He told me about working seasonally in Christmas tree farming. I told him about working seasonally in Cuba. I said, “Yeah, this seasonal work is starting to weigh on me.” And he told me he got out of guiding and went into television. He did not offer me a job or anything, we just chatted.
Months later, the same bartender friend said, “Hey, you should write this, it’s a spec script for a television show. You produce a piece with no training and then they judge it and decide if they would like to offer you any freelance work or not.” She tried to remind me I had met, “the river guy” and I was drawing a blank! I meet so many river people, I have no idea.
But I thought, “You know what? I do want out. I do want a little cushion. I would love some freelance work.” I emailed him, did the spec, and I did a great job. I got offered a full-time job. We got on the phone before I accepted the job, and that's when we both remembered who each other were finally!
EMERALD: What skills did you bring from your seasonal role into your current role?
LANDON: I didn't have to undergo any interview process. It was a weird situation where your work just stood on its own. But I would say that that initial connection was made because of guiding, because we could talk about that. My willingness to just cold email someone I didn’t remember and say, “Hey bud, what's up?” ties back to guiding. There is bravery you develop guiding and going through 23 people a week for 15 weeks of summer for year after year.
You also get exposed to people in professional realms and people from different demographics than you grew up in. People kind of lose their intimidation factor and you realize that you can talk to them. People are people. Guiding really teaches you to talk to people. And I would say there are many guides who cannot understand what it would be like to have a fear of public speaking. There's not a river guide that's going to be afraid to give a toast at a wedding. We don't even look at that as a skill. We don't even think about it, but it's kind of huge.
EMERALD: Were there any parts of seasonal work that felt like a hindrance to securing first that freelance work and then more a full-time role?
LANDON: Yes. Leaving behind my friends. And leaving behind the river. I'm not… well, I love the river, but I always joked that I just guided for the camping. I just like to hang out. I'm not a big ego as far as it comes to running the river. But I think I didn't realize how much the river meant to me. So, there were many times that it was hard to watch the crew take off and not get to be with them. But it's different in June than it is in August, when you see everyone come back fighting and stuff and you think, “Oh, well I had a wonderful week!”
EMERALD: Tell me more about this television writing job. Much of this newsletter’s audience, I think, have no idea what that type of writing looks like day-to-day. Probably like how many of your Knoxville friends don’t understand the full scope of what you did as a guide. How do you explain your current role?
Have you seen Dateline and do you know how they just hacky sack a story back and forth? Like someone will say, “I was trying to call my cousin and she wasn't picking up the phone, and I got worried.” Then it’ll cut to someone that's like, “I was just walking down the jogging path and I saw a pack of garbage and then I peeled back the bag and realized that wasn't garbage.” Then it goes to the police officer, and he says, “That was the most decomposed body I've ever seen!” That’s what I do, I tell those stories.
It's sorting through the viewpoints and finding the most compelling way to tell the story that also fits with the formula my company has laid out for me.
EMERALD: You also have a masters degree in Curriculum Design & Instruction. The experiences appear at first different, but are there through lines between that education and your role now in television writing?
LANDON: Yes, absolutely. Curriculum design was all about synthesizing an idea and learning to communicate it to people. You’re synthesizing a huge chunk of information, forming an idea, and communicating it to people in a way that resonates with them.
And that's now what I do every week or three weeks. I synthesize unfathomable amounts of information. Sometimes it’s a 2000-page police report coupled with a 300-page media document coupled with 300 pages of interview transcripts. I’m finding a theme in there and communicating it into a 45-minute block of television for people that fits a formula.
EMERALD: I meet many employers of seasonal staff who are struggling to retain employees, particularly highly skilled senior staff. What changes, if any, to the workplace or outdoor industry would have extended your tenure in a seasonal role?
LANDON: For me, I realized that in guiding, especially as a woman, your success is measured by your likability. As in, how likeable guests and the crew perceive you as. Especially in a world where you get weekly fucking comment cards and if it’s a bad one, you get talked to about it!
For me, a big reason I left guiding was realizing that I could have success without being a likable woman. I think many men fishing guides, sweep boat drivers, river guides, once they have been there ten years… they don't have to worry about being likable. But I swear to God, in my tenth year, I still had to worry about being likable as much as I did on day one of my first year. Not with everyone, maybe not with every guest, not with every guide, but with enough.
EMERALD: You were the first one to point out to me that not all senior women in guiding were burning out mid-guiding career. Some women were unchallenged and “moving out through the top” Can you speak to that further?
LANDON: I have found when I share stories of things that I went through as a woman guide people in the non-seasonal workforce are so concerned and they hate hearing I experienced that. You go through things that other people haven't and, and it sucks. But also once you make it through, it's not as scary anymore. It loses its power over you. It’s a harrowing memory, I guess. But you also realize that you can get through those things and oftentimes when you've gone through it, you're like, “Yeah, I know how to succeed in this world.” Sometimes the fear loses its power over you, and you think, “What do I have to lose?” If you can make it through, it builds up an absurd amount of confidence. Not an egotistical confidence, I would say, just a very healthy confidence where you're like, “This might hurt but I'm going to do it, going to go for it.”
EMERALD: How did your family (defined broadly as any intimate familial, romantic, or platonic connections) interact with your seasonal work?
LANDON: My family had no idea what I was doing. They were sort of proud of me, but also were like, “Well just come work on the Little Pigeon!” They thought what I was doing was kind of cool, but they never understood it. That’s fine because just like I said about not needing to be likable at my job… with my friends and family, I don't need them to respect my job. They don't know what I do now either!
EMERALD: Are your relationships different now that you are in a year-round role? How so?
LANDON: I can be here year-round. I can make plans and say, “Yes, I will be there!”. Like, I've been to some summer weddings now. Turns out they’re great! I can go to yoga classes. I can make long-term commitments. It's so settling for me. It feels so good.
EMERALD: How did moving from seasonal work to year-round work change your financial situation?
LANDON: It made it much better. I took with me my work ethic from guiding where you work 14-hour days and don't worry about it. I transitioned into a position that I would say probably increased my finances by about 30%. But I was only working 40 hours a week and so I started picking up two shifts a week at a restaurant. Now I’m only working two 14-hour days a week instead of seven for fifteen weeks. I work around 40-50 hours a week and my finances have doubled. I own a house! I just never thought I’d be able to do something like that, because I’ve been financially on my own since around 17 years old (maybe that’s why I accepted that $60/day first guiding job)!
EMERALD: Beyond family and finances, do you have any other favorite parts of non-seasonal work?
LANDON: Knowing that I can do this job for as long as I need to and I don't have to worry about my body giving out on me. Knowing that I have benefits in a retirement plan, knowing that my likability won't affect my paycheck.
And knowing that my friends can be separate from my work. I love working with my friends, but working my day job, I don't work with my friends. My job at the restaurant two nights a week, I work with my closest friends and it brings me the same camaraderie that working on the river brought me. So, I feel like I found a good balance there.
EMERALD: For somebody who has never been in a role where there was that separation, what is freeing about not working with your friends?
LANDON: When I'm having a stressful day, not everyone I know is having a stressful day. And sometimes when I'm having a shit day for no reason, when I just want to be a poopy pants, I can be one. I work by myself. My mood doesn't control anyone else’s, and others' moods don't control me.
EMERALD: What does “dream job” mean to you?
LANDON: My dream job now is a job that lets me live my life separate from my job, rather than live my life through my job.
I think so often in guiding our identity gets wrapped up in what we do, who we are, and what people think of us. I think that I would encourage people to stray from that because you go to East Tennessee, and no one knows who the fuck you are. You can go back to your family, and no one knows what the fuck you do, but they still love you anyways.
I'm not trying to say that as a negative thing. I'm trying to say, look at the people that love you not because you, for example, drive a sweep boat down the Middle Fork. I sometimes drove a sweep boat down the Middle Fork. Do you know what people's faces look like here when I tell them I drove a sweep boat? They don't know! They don't care! It's a personal accomplishment and I'm proud of it. I feel good about it. But do it for you, not because of what people will think. There’s a whole wide world out there outside of the 5,000 people that might understand what it means to drive a sweep boat down the Middle Fork of the Salmon.
EMERALD: If someone in seasonal work is interested in shifting to a year-round position, what would you suggest they consider?
A lot of what I'm saying now is as a 34-year-old jaded former river guide. But I do want to say… river guiding was one of the best opportunities I've ever had. Adventure guiding was one of the best opportunities I've ever had. It set me up for a lot of things and I would say at 22, ride it out. If you're happy, fucking be happy and enjoy it because life will happen and your career will happen. The skills that you build in guiding are incomparable to what you would build elsewhere. Don’t discount it and don't let your family discount it as not a real job because it is a real and well-rounded job that teaches you an incredible number of skills.
But at 32, if you want out, I think it'd be different if you're 22 and you want out. I would say if you want out at 22, it wasn't a good match. You go on, find what you want, go to grad school, whatever.
I think I can only speak to the people that have been in it for five years to a decade or more. If you want out, know that it was a real job and that you've learned some great skills. Don’t discount that you've already been networking for five to ten years. Stay open to the guests on your trips. Tell people you're looking and just take people up on the opportunities they offer.
EMERALD: Imagine you’re eighty years old, retired, living your best life. In three - five sentences, describe the scene.
I have hardwood floors and I have some music on. I have people I love in my house permanently. And then I have some people I love that come over to visit, more than people think they should. And we just have rich stories and connections.
Past Non-Seasonal Roles:
Past Outdoor Seasonal Roles:
Mountain Ticket Sales (Girdwood, AK)
Gold Panning Guide (Cooper Landing, AK)
River Guide (Lower Salmon, Hells Canyon, Bruneau, MF Salmon, etc.)
Ticket Scanner (Big Sky, MT)
Ski Tech (Steamboat Springs, CO)
Children’s Ski School Director (McCall, ID)
International Travel Guide (Cuba, Mexico, Galapagos)
Education & Certifications (Current or expired):
B.A. Spanish Language and Literature
M.Ed. Curriculum Design & Instruction
The usuals: WFR, swiftwater, kayak safety, etc.
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