Yesterday morning I sat with eight other crew members and our leader, Emily, listening to SCA Leave No Trace expert, Nick, teach us how to safely build a fire on a beach. In a two day backpacking trip, we extensively reviewed Leave No Trace Ethics: pack in pack out, leave what you find, respect wildlife, among others.
The small strip of sand made ends with Tirrell pond, white-capped by the wind, bushy green mountains surrounded the pristine cove, the sky blue as ever. Just a short walk from the beach rested a lean-to where eight crew members and I slept like squished sausages the night before. The men over six feet had trouble in such close quarters, but the bonding experience was worth it.
For a group that was hired for their proven wilderness skills, our first night out was rather sloppy.
It took three hours to set up a bear hang, and making dinner was a hilarious mess. Finicky whisper-light stoves, missing ingredients, incorrect measurements resulted in watery black beans and crunchy under-cooked rice. Giggles erupted over growling stomachs, making up for the ultimate lack in flavor. Impossible to roll into a burrito, we threw the two pots together, called it black bean soup, loaded it with cheese and salt, and dunked our tortillas right in there.
It honestly wasn’t that bad. Although I think Leader Emily was mildly embarrassed for us.
Six days have passed since I arrived at the Student Conservation Association Adirondack (SCA ADK) headquarters on Little Tupper Lake in the Whitney Wilderness. Smack dab in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains, a vast 6.2 million acre wilderness, bigger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, and Glacier National park combined. And yet, it doesn’t receive nearly as much hype, deeming it an unsung hero of the United States forest land.
This first week was basic orientation. Lots of power-points, truck and trailer training, conflict-resolution, and a sketch of the next five months of our lives.
Jeremy, the program manager, conducted most of the training at headquarters, where we have community houses and kitchen. He’s a sweetheart, with amazing trail stories only a guru could tell, but his long bushy beard, glasses, and baseball cap act as a thick disguise. I’m not actually sure what he looks like. His wife joins us for dinner with their adorable pudgy-faced baby named Stone. It fits.
Five months. In so many ways that could be a life-time or no time at all. Everyone here left families, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, all that’s familiar, to do trail work in the Adirondacks.
It’s interesting to watch the awkward dinner silences diminish as they are replaced with chatting and laughter. The more day-hike adventures and late-night rounds of never-have-I-ever that occur, stories of our pasts emerge to clear the mystery haze saturated with questions what’s going to happen? Will I have a good time? Will we get along? Will I survive? Brighter personalities are revealed and individual quirks fall into the open. The trail might still be infested with mosquitoes, the weather unpredictable with lots of rain, but at least the goal is understood and we’re all in it together.