Pipes Explode, Flies Invade

It happened in the morning. I was rushing around to get breakfast on the table and bagged lunches made. Every time I opened the “Staff Only” door that led downstairs, I got a whiff of what smelled like Parmesan cheese, but not in a good way. It was sour. The smell of rot. I ignored it until around 10 AM, when all the guests left and I stood at the top of the basement stairs, sniffing, puzzled.

It occurred to me, what room am I standing above? The laundry room. I went downstairs, pulled back the curtain, and before even turning on the light, I took a step and my foot slid on something slimy. The odor was pungent. Oh no, I thought. What am I about to see when I turn on the light?

Vomit. Or what looked like vomit. Everywhere. The washer machine, covered. The drier door left open, vomit pooled inside. It was splattered on sheets and towels, all over the floor. Did someone seriously vomit down here and not say anything? But no, that wasn’t it. It was too much for one person. There was also grey water all over the floor, three inches deep in the far right corner. I called Taylor and he promptly diagnosed the pipes from the dishwasher burst.

Our manager had left that morning to take a day off, so we called in our maintenance guy, Finn, who was out grooming trails. He checked out the scene and turns out the pipes didn’t burst, but the air valve connected to the dishwasher drainage pipe was densely clogged with food particle build up, the pressure so intense the pipe popped off. I can’t even describe how nasty the scene was, and I felt bad for Finn who used a stick to unclog the pipe, pushing out a solid block of rotting food sludge from who knows how many years of build up.

That wasn’t the only problem of the day, although the second one seemed minuscule in comparison. Ever since the warm front, temperature this week over forty degrees, cluster flies hatched in a couple guest cabins. The worst cabin was Green Drake, who has had an intermittent fly problem all season. (We plan to hire an exterminator, but for now we deal.) Flies hatched by the dozens, the entire window in Green Drake was black and buzzing with flies. I guess I’ve never met a smart fly, but cluster flies are particularly dumb. I’ve had a cluster fly land on the rim of my water glass, and I was able to bring it to my mouth and blow on it without it moving. I’ve picked up a cluster fly by the wing just because I could. Since they are so slow they are easy to swat, and within minutes in Green Drake, without even taking aim – really, a blind person could have done it – but just swatting like crazy at the hoards of flies, I had a pile of fifty at my feet. It’s the second time they hatched like that this week, the first time Taylor claimed to have killed two hundred. For people with no access to video games, I guess fly swatting is like the video game of Lyford.

Some days I’m in a bad mood for no real reason, and other days I’m in a surprisingly good mood when everything is going to shit. Today was the ladder. As a crew, we managed to find humor in our problems, and the guests didn’t know a thing (we lit incense in the lodge to cover the vomit smell). Still, though, as I laugh through the daily disturbances, I can’t help but feel a darker truth lurking behind these broken pipes, these hatching flies, these strange warm days. I know people say that climate change isn’t the same as daily weather, but every day it’s as though I feel the change – the damage –  as it affects my job. The weather is getting warmer, and what we used to call rare environmental catastrophes are becoming less rare. Floods, fires, extreme weather at odd times of the year, ice melting, seas rising, we see it on TV and feel it in real life. It makes me fear the future. It’s said that by 2025, there will be no New England ski mountain south of Maine that won’t have to make it’s own snow.

It’s forty two degrees outside right now in the 100 Mile Wilderness. I’m writing this in the office, looking out the window at Green Drake cabin, the woods behind it, the blue sky. A few years ago, living in a city, I would have been thrilled with a day like today. Not anymore. The sun is shining, reflecting off the ice so brightly it’s blinding. The constant melt and freeze has led to a build up of ice around Lyford, slippery and dangerous. Our snow mobiles are overheating and difficult to drive in these conditions. I want to be able to work in the healthy, beautiful outdoors for a long time. Lately it feels as though there’s an ever encroaching expiration date.

 

***These opinions are my own and do not represent AMC***

Busy Season Begins at Lyford

The first six weeks at Lyford were on the slower side, with a full house only on the weekends. Since February hit, that has changed, and we will remain busy every day for the remainder of the month.

I’m glad to be out of that negative degree weather. After three weeks of negative twenty, anything above ten degrees feels like Springtime. If it’s twenty degrees and I’m hauling wood, I’m probably in a sweatshirt. Living this far north in Maine thickens the blood, makes me tougher.

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Me about to shovel a guest cabin. But where do I put the snow? =)

I am constantly dressed for the outdoors, always wearing a base layer, wool or fleece sweater, and a down wind proof jacket on top. Wool socks and thick boots on my feet, and when there is deep fresh powder, my bib snow-pants. There is not much point in changing into indoor clothes, because the separation between inside and outside is thin. I am rarely inside for long, constantly heading outside to replenish firewood, visit the compost toilet, clean the guests’ cabins, start their fires, take out the trash, etc.

Part of my day is spent maintaining several wood stoves at once. Safe to say I’m getting pretty good at starting a fire – four pieces of newspaper, four pieces of kindling, and one match ought to do it. The rest is all about proper oxygen flow and placement of the logs, that when done enough times, becomes a kind of game in competition with myself to build the best log structure.

I’m pretty used to the cold at this point. It’s not on the forefront of my mind as the past couple weeks have been ridden with power issues. Last week our generator and backup generator both failed, and we were running off these rechargeable batteries that provided very minimal energy. The power was going out multiple times a day, which affected mostly the kitchen. We cooked and prepared food in headlamps. The dishwasher could only run in short spurts of time, and often the batteries would die in the middle of a run. The other thing we’ve been dealing with, since the recent thaw, is minerals in the pipes leaching into the water, causing it to smell like sulfur, or as one guest so kindly put it, “dog shit.”  The water has been tested and is perfectly safe to drink. We probably need a new filter, but given we are so far out in the woods, it takes a while for materials to get to us.

Life is slower here in the 100 mile wilderness of Maine.

Most of the guests have been good about the power issues and sulfuric water, but there have been a few stinkers. I try not to focus on the bad eggs, given the majority of my experience at Lyford has been so positive, and I need to recognize my luck. For most of our guests, Lyford is a short vacation from their city/office jobs, but for me, this is life.

This is a job that teaches me to fight entitlement. Both in myself and society. Nature is unpredictable – beautiful and generous, or ugly and ruthless. We have to take her as she comes. Heat doesn’t come at the press of a button, we have to work for it. We plan, only to have the plan fall through the floor when something unpredictable happens. It’s important, when living at Lyford, to respond well and adapt accordingly as plans are constantly changing. And to a certain point, no one is special. Not even guests. We try our hardest, but when the water smells like sulfur because of natural occurrences, everyone has to deal with it. We can’t go to the store and pick up bottled water for every guest in a jiffy. That many snow mobile runs would take hours and hours of the staff’s time and energy, increase risk of health and safety, and take a major toll on our snowmobiles, which seem to need constant repairs as it is.

I’m lucky to have coworkers that remain so spirited and humorous as we deal with the ups and downs. When will everything worrrrrk???!!! is a question we groan in jest, knowing there will never be a day when everything works just perfect and dandy. Not during Winter in the 100 Mile Wilderness.

***These opinions are my own and do not represent the opinions of AMC***

Another New Beginning at Appalachian Mountain Club

It’s been so long since I’ve made a blog post! So much has happened since last summer – I left Portland, changed jobs, and made another cross country road trip.

I find myself here in Maine, a little amazed by the choices and chances that landed me here. Last Summer my partner Taylor and I decided we wanted to move out of Oregon and back to the east coast. There was a number of reasons for our decision that I won’t get into here. But I will say that since leaving Oregon, particularly Portland, I have had nothing but fond memories. I already miss it. It wasn’t always easy when we were there, and by the end I was excited to get out of the city, but Portland certainly left a mark in my soul. It really was the place I became an adult, or at least the first true adult version of myself.

Where I am now could not be more opposite of Portland. I’m working for Appalachian Mountain Club, the oldest environmental conservation club in the country (Yes, even older than the Sierra club!) AMC protects lands, waters, forests, and trails in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, and aims to educate the public on environmental health, ecology, and conservation. They provide recreational opportunities for the public and inspire the next generation of outdoor leaders. I had heard of the AMC prior to working for them, but am only beginning to understand the extent of influence they have on the future of environmental conservation and outdoor recreation in the Northeast. I could not be more thrilled to be a part of it.

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Lyford Lodge

I work at  Little Lyford Pond Camps, one of three AMC lodges in the 100 mile wilderness of Maine. Lyford is the most rustic of the three, originally built in 1873 as a logging camp. Before AMC came along, logging was the main economic force in the 100 mile wilderness. Since 2009 Lyford has been a sporting lodge for skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, boating, fly fishing, and much more. We provide guests with private cabins, three home cooked meals a day, hot showers and a sauna.

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In the Winter, staff like myself travel mostly by snowmobile. To get to the nearest plowed road is a six mile drive from Lyford, which means that guests have to park in the winter parking lot and ski into the Lodge. This makes for quite interesting logistics as we schedule to pick up guests’ gear from the parking lot and distribute suitcases and backpacks to the correct lodges. Most guests do a “lodge to lodge” trip, meaning they spend a night or two at each lodge, skiing the lodge-to-lodge trail during the day. Since there is little to no cell service, we communicate via radios that also reach game wardens and Greenville, the closest town and AMC base, police and fire station.

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A beautiful shot of the tool shed.

 

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Green Drake Cabin. Most of Lyford cabins are named after fly fishing flies.

Our energy is a combination of solar and diesel generator. When the generator fails, which does happen, we have a booster that is essentially a giant back up battery that makes it so we can still communicate to the outside world in the case of a black out. Luckily, the lights in the lodge and cabins, as well as the hot water, ovens, and stoves, all run on propane gas. There are wood stoves in every lodge and cabin that keep us nice and toasty.

It’s quite an operation we got going here that I am excited to share more about in future posts. Subscribe to get all the stories!

Undoing the Farmer Fantasy

Every time I go to a farmer’s market, I’ve felt really good about myself. Like, oh look at me, supporting local farms, I’m such a good person.

But there’s so much more to farming than you might expect when you’re searching for the most perfect carrots. Good farming requires years of knowledge, hard work, serious dedication and grit. I learned this when I volunteered on a farm in Oregon City, the summer of 2017.

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Crowded Hikes: The Death of Solitude in the Outdoors. And Are They Beyond Leave No Trace?

It’s finally sunny in Portland again and that means everyone wants to hike in our nearby parks and forests.

Let me emphasize, everyone.

It’s like the city evacuates and piles into Willamette National Forest. My first few hikes of the season had me thinking about Leave No Trace, as I witnessed people who don’t know what’s up.

With the outdoors so accessible from Portland, combined with the drastic increase over the past decade of recreation in national parks and forests, thousands of people traipse into the woods seemingly without a clue about Leave No Trace. Continue reading