The day after the 4th of July holiday, the CFPA trail crew began work building a ramp near the Salmon River in East Haddam. It was our first building project after our first major camping trip, or ‘spike’, of the season. During that spike we had camped on Mohawk Mountain and built a bridge in the Coltsfoot Valley. Before that we had already worked together for about a month, but nothing can make you feel closer, faster, to a group of people than spending all day living and working with them. There were five of us, and Colin, the Field Coordinator and our fearless leader.
That first spike we cooked for each other, watched the sun set each night together, and developed complex, absurd word games and jokes, which to the outsider would appear incoherent and meaningless. We had seen bears, porcupines, and had woken up on a few mornings to find that hundreds of slugs had descended onto and into our tents.
Beyond living together, we also worked together. It feels very different when all your coworkers go home with you at the end of the day. There is no solitary ride home to regroup after a hard day, no shower, no familiar home. Just your crew and your campsite, where you will be with them until you go to bed, and again in the morning. We learned a lot of things about each other, like who needed to nap immediately after work, and who never slept; who needed three bowls of cereal and who just wanted tar-black coffee.
Catherine is an Ecology student who goes to UConn, and she really loves cooking, and making campfires. Genna grew up in Maryland and studied linguistics at the University of Chicago, and is now a dental student at UConn Dental School. She could put Old Bay seasoning on anything besides meat, because she is a vegetarian, and she loves to go on walks. Devin lives in Manchester and goes to Clemson University in South Carolina. She is great at tree ID, and is really into sharks. When we’re all tired and hauling wood, she would rather die than let someone carry her load for her. Then there’s Dylan, who we all came to love dearly. His demeanor and positive attitude got us all through the hardest days. That guy can do anything. And they all have fantastic senses of humor.
The Mohawk Mountain spike project had mostly been finer carpentry, with skill saws and dimensional lumber, and cutting stations. As a result, the end product looked precise and tidy. It went much better than we predicted, with the crew finding its stride together. We were probably at our proudest at the end of that week. But the Salmon River turnpike was rough carpentry. With found logs, chainsaws, rebar, rocks, and dirt. They’re the kind of thing that isn’t meant to be noticed, but walked over without a second thought.
A sizeable amount of people walk the Salmon River trail every day, and a majority of them stopped to talk with us for a moment or two throughout the days that we were there. Most had never thought about how ramps are built—or stone steps, bridges, or even the trails themselves for that matter. That is part of the fun of trail work. Sitting and eating lunch together, sweaty and content, in your own world, while hikers pass by inquisitively, walking on or around whatever project is underway. Some coming to the realization that people had spent hours and days and years on the trail they hike.
It feels like you’re a ghost or an elf or something fabled which people might subconsciously suspect, but generally dismiss. Then one day they walk around a corner in the woods and there’s a crew of sweaty, hard-hatted kids huddled together eating lunch on some rocks with dozens of tools strewn around them. You get the impression most people, even people who hike all the time, never see a trail crew.
Every few minutes, especially on a trail as busy as that one, someone would have to shout “Cacaw!” to let the people working directly on the ramp know that hikers were coming, and to move their tools, or turn off their saw and let them pass. At some points, this made the going a little slow.
By the middle of the second day it began to look like we might not finish in the time we had planned.
Hauling the logs had been hard and heavy, as had setting them, hauling dirt, rocks, and hammering. But another part of the fun of trail work is over time learning to love the hard, heavy days. There are days when you realize that you didn’t know you could hike that far with that much gear, or stand to be that sweaty for that long, or
that hot, or wet with rain. Over the time that we had worked together we had learned a lot about each other, and part of that was learning to expect more of each other and ourselves than we might have thought possible at the beginning of the season.
We all decided to stay until the project was finished, which the whole crew did with pride. We stayed late, and got back tired but satisfied that we had completed the job, which not many people would notice, and fewer would know who had done it or why. But that’s another fun part of trail work.
-Al Sedor, 2018 Trail Crew Leader
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