In my late teens, I worked a few summers on a trail crew in the Adirondacks. One trail crew pal, Cyr, just wrote to me after more than 10 years. (Bottom row next to the Molson Canadian. Yes, he was the only one of legal drinking age.)
I loved that job. In late spring, we cleared 100+ miles of trail, carrying a crosscut saw, a bow saw and a couple axes. Before Memorial Day, our boss Tony chainsawed. It rained often, and my boots were rarely dry the next morning. Mid-summer, we’d row two miles up the Lower Ausable Lake, walk a mile to the Upper Lake, canoe across, then spend a week working from a remote camp. We cooked on a big old cast iron stove, and slept in another cabin, where mice ran across our sleeping bags.
My mom’s favorite was when I did the row/walk/paddle approach barefoot, and ended up in there for a week with no shoes. Luckily, John Jesse had two pairs, so I wore men’s 10s till my boots were shuttled in.
Late summer was the best, because we spent our time building ladders, bridges and stone staircases.
Here are a handful of my favorite memories:
Rolling boulders around and throwing mud at each other, trying to build the perfect stone staircase. Rockwork was grounding, and was a precursor to rock climbing for me.
Camping and working up Panther Gorge. Asa accidentally stabbed me in the eyebrow with a tent pole when we were setting up an old pup tent. I should’ve gotten stitches.
When Kees said, “Hey, Sam’s on fire,” during breakfast. Unbeknownst to him, Sam Brown’s shirt had caught fire. Sam ran outside, dove down the steps and rolled on the ground.
New York State’s ‘mandatory hour long lunch break’. We napped, diverted waterfalls, and I practiced throwing like a boy.
Alex getting the canoe stuck on a rock. John Jesse got his out mandolin and played, while Alex mucked around in waist deep water. They were 15 and 16, but looked 75 or 80. I laughed until I cried.
Smearing ourselves with mud, then walking across the white deck at the classy Ausable Club. (Our trail crew was based in an outbuilding behind the club.)
Asa’s axing obsession. Asa, his lady-friend and I had a Colorado adventure in 2007. They were working in Chicago Basin, home of the crazy pee-licking mountain goats, and I was interning for Rock and Ice magazine. We bushwhacked up Chair Mountain in the West Elks, got cliffed out, and found a cool elk skeleton.
Sunrise on Haystack Mountain, next to Mount Marcy.
Chewing tobacco and cutting down a tree, simultaneously. Stefan told me, “Put the axe down, Stifler.” I wasn’t used to the tobacco buzz.
Finding an old balloon four inches down in the duff, at 3500′ on a mountain where we were digging in a new trail. I’d wondered where helium balloons from the fair ended up.
When Alex told me, “You don’t have to prove yourself, Emily. You’re a girl, but you work just as hard as the rest of us.”