Our crew began its last hitch in the Pacific Northwest on a cool fall day in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. We were welcomed with the Northwest’s characteristically damp and cloudy skies falling softly upon us. The remainder of the hitch we would see the sun briefly now and then but were more often than not struggling through rain. The work consisted almost entirely of brushing- clearing the corridor of the vine maple and blueberry bushes that threatened to completely choke off the trail.
This hitch presented new challenges for a crew that had seen little rain since leaving training in late May from Western Washington. On top of the foul weather we battled with the monotony of cutting branches and cumbersome limbs for eight plus hours a day for over a week. Our best allies in the fight against foul moods were one another. With positive attitudes we were able to uplift each other from the negativity you would expect to accompany a week and a half of slogging through thick, wet brush in soggy cotton pants- your rain gear having long ago soaked through and now serving, at best, as a makeshift sauna keeping you steamy and warm.
We had a brief scare on October 1st. We awoke at midnight to hear someone in the distance shouting “hello,” which sounds an awful lot like “help” when you’re lying half asleep in a tent a couple hundred yards from the person yelling. Sterling, a light sleeper and an adrenaline junky, bursts forth from his tent vestibule, looking for the action; he’s all business. After sending out a few response calls to the hello we had heard, we hear a person coming closer and the “hello” comes into focus. After our pulses normalize we figure out that there are several hunters scrambling lost through the woods looking for one another. They find each other. Exhausted, we fall asleep, knowing we’ll never forget that elk hunting season begins October 1st in Washington.
All told, despite crumby conditions we were able to clear three miles of trail and managed to build a fire every single night. As hitch leader, I took particular pride in the crew’s resolve to retain a high sense of duty and morale in spite of adverse conditions.