Highway construction worker offers advice on holiday weight, personal time and bike paths.
Due to the upcoming “no one works” holidays, all of us writers had early deadlines. So… confession! My January couch surfer actually stayed with me back in early November. Twenty-eight-year-old Eric Garst (no relation to the seed empire from Coon Rapids) had driven over from Huron, South Dakota, on his way to Quincy, Illinois. He works construction and was heading to southern Illinois to work on a two-month highway project. If you are wondering about the photo choice, I took Eric over to the Des Moines Art Center and afterwards we conducted the interview while walking around Greenwood Park. He was a hiker, and the closest trails were the ones that travel next to the Bill Riley Bike Trail. I also learned that Eric is very good at climbing trees.
Is it normal for guys in construction to drive 10 hours for a job?
It can be. Ten hours is a little excessive, but my cousin lives in Quincy and is on the job, too. So instead of just waiting for something local to pop for me, I just decided to head south for a few months. Something would have eventually; there is always work to be done, especially on highways. I feel like we are just on a cycle. We spend between 10 and 15 years fixing roads just to start all over again. This trip is special because I can work in some family time with people I normally don’t get to see. It’s a little further than what I normally travel for.
A lot of people who stay with me travel for work, but the majority of them are on the “single” side of things. You are married with a little boy. How does that fit in with this type of work schedule?
My wife understands. In fact she likes her “me” time. My dad lives up there, too, and he helps out. My son is in first grade, so he is gone during the day. When I’m home, I tend to do more things on my own. It sounds kind of weird, like none of us want to be around each other, but it’s not like that at all. I have friends who are unhappy with their lives because they feel completely smothered by their family life. We just have our own interests and want to be able to live together but not lose who we are. My wife likes quiet time at the spa and a glass of wine on the couch with no one around to bother her. I like to shoot guns, throw axes and listen to my conspiracy theory podcasts. We are both involved in our son’s life. I work with him on his Cub Scout projects, and she has him in art classes during the summer.
You will be on this job until almost Christmas. That definitely feels like a long time to be away from home and on a job. Plus working outside in the cold for that long…
The cold part doesn’t bother me. I am used to it. There is a trick to handling cold weather. When fall hits, you need to change your diet from summer food to winter food. That means in-season vegetables and meats. Hot things, not spicy things. You also want to go outside more. Bundle up and expose your body to the cold. All of this will get your metabolism going and warm your body up. Not only does it keep your body warm, but you will stay in shape.
People who don’t embrace the cold are usually the folks who put on that “holiday” weight. It has nothing to do with eating all that food between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, it should all be a wash if you are actively going outside. Your body burns it all up. Keep in mind, I’m not a doctor. I am just telling you about my own experience. In regards to being gone a long time, yes it is. But my family is going to come here for Thanksgiving, and I’ll probably sneak up there for a weekend or two. We will break it up, so it doesn’t feel as long. By that time, it will be Christmas, and I’ll be home for good. I hope, at least. You never know sometimes. These things can get delayed, and I could be stuck in Quincy through January.
Have there been many spots you have enjoyed while crashing in Des Moines?
Since I brought my bike, I took a ride through Waterworks Park down to Gray’s Lake. I like to bike in every town I can. You really get a sense of the place that way. Bike paths/trails that take you to every part of a city tell you that you are welcome to be here. ♦
Kristian Day is a filmmaker, musician and writer based in Des Moines. He has couch-surfed across the west coast as well as through the Midwest. He also offers his home up to unknown travelers passing through Des Moines… for free. Follow him on Twitter at @kristianmday.