Today is the Forth of July. If I was back home in Wisconsin I would be celebrating it with family and friends. Watching the town parade, grilling out, enjoying the sunshine waiting for the firework show to start come nightfall. But this year I am doing something completely different. I am working on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. My location is a little difficult to get to. Myself plus 5 other Forest Service Trail Crew members take a 4 hour ferry ride up Lake Chelan. At the other end of the lake we hop on a bus in the village of Stehekin. Forty-five minutes later we arrive at the trail head. From there we hike 10 miles gaining and loosing 1,000 ft in elevation. With a 40-pound pack filled with tools, our camping gear, extra clothes and enough food to last a 9 day hitch. July 4th is like any other work day. I wake up to the beeping of my watch at 7 am. The sound of the rushing river is so loud I sleep with my watch right next to my ear so I can hear the alarm. I open the rain fly to my tent just enough so I can set up my little light weight cooking stove to make hot oatmeal and coffee. All the while I’m still cozy in my sleeping bag trying to stay warm.
After breakfast I work up the courage to get out of my sleeping bag, put my cold Carhart pants on, find the cleanest pair of socks I can and emerge from my tent. At 8 am the whole crew begins to hike the few miles to our work site with our tools, day pack and enough filtered water to last us the work day. Not a whole lot of talking is happening. We are all trying to wake up and being super perky and talkative in the morning is not encouraged.
Once our crew finds the first dead tree across the trail we break up into two groups. With a cross-cut saw we clear the log off the trails.
Each log has its own special quirks. It could be a pile of 6 trees on top of each other. Or a 300-foot tree, 30 inches in diameter suspended over a trail. A log can take anywhere from 20 minutes to clear or an agonizing 5 hours. With the group we discuss how we will make our cuts, analyzing the situation to make sure no one gets hurt. Once the log is cleared from the trail it’s instant gratification, feeling accomplished. Then your group picks up the tools and on to the next fallen tree. The work day always seems to fly by. When we accomplished our 8 hours we hike back to camp.
The first thing I do is throw off my boots, put on sandals and stretch out any kinks from the work day. Usually on the 4th of July people tend to grill out with friends and family eating hot dogs, hamburgers, snacks and adult beverages. This year, it’s a little different. Tonight I will be eating veggie slop (the crew has made up the name). I have an assortment of dehydrated food. Whatever I feel like mixing in one pot with boiling water is what’s for dinner. Tonight is lentils, veggie soup mix, black beans, quinoa and instant pesto sauce for flavor! YUM! I like it, but the crew usually just looks at my dinner and shakes their head.
There are no fireworks tonight so instead to entertain ourselves we play hacky sack. You can hear the same oohing and ahhing one might hear at a firework show. Our crew has many skills, but playing hacky sack is not one of them. We attempt to get “A Hack” where everyone hits the ball at least once without dropping it. This can take at least an hour. So it’s guaranteed lots of laughter and screaming.
At around 8 pm I crawl into my tent, read for a little bit and pass out from a fulfilling day of work. I think I could get used to this new Fourth of July tradition.