Noah and I emerged from the shaded trail of Calamity Brook and reached a clearing where there lay a daunting pile of wood. Our job was to carry in treated lumber to replace a wire suspension bridge. The sticky heat made us sweat in streams
Once my pack was full of wood, Noah lifted it up so I could slide my arms in the straps. Then I started the two mile hike up to the bridge site. Within a mile I was far ahead of Noah, who has bad knees. The wood stuck out three feet above my head. It smacked the high branches a couple of times, tipping me backwards, until I got good at ducking. My waist strap dug into my bladder. I fought the urge to pee. If I took my pack off, I wouldn’t be able to get it back on by myself.
When I hike alone, I don’t stop unless absolutely necessary. I might pause to throw my head back and groan, but every time I think about resting I find a better reason to keep going. Some hikers like to go slow and take many rests. What’s the rush, man? is their attitude. It’s about enjoying the trail experience, it’s not a race. (In my head, these people have the stoner hippie voice – slow with an upward inflection. They’ve also never worked on a trail or grew up in my family of fast impatient people) I respectfully disagree. If there’s a destination, it’s about getting there as quickly and efficiently as possible. At the end of the day, if it didn’t feel like I did permanent damage to my body then it wasn’t a success. That’s how I enjoy my trail experience.
With a pack full of wood and a bladder about to burst (not to mention the burning sensation of what would become a minor urinary tract infection) I trudged up the rocky trail. My upper butt muscles felt jabbing pain and I wondered why my butt was doing all the work. Maybe my lower back muscles were so pooped that my butt was compensating. Later, I would have a crew member dig his elbows into my butt muscles to release the knots.
A quarter mile before the bridge, I ran into Taylor and Jared resting on a rock, red and ill with exhaustion. I had caught up to them. Each had seven boards ratchet strapped to a frame pack. They didn’t want to keep going. “Only a quarter mile, you can do it, let’s go, last push,” I said as I helped Taylor stand up again, who winced and grunted in pain. When we reached the bridge site, he took his pack off and I unstrapped the wood and carried each piece across the river rocks one by one.
Did you think the day was over? That’s cute. All three of us did a second trip. The boards sat more comfortably in my pack the next time around, which was a relief for my butt, but my sanity lost it. At first I felt a little too happy. Like a brief euphoric state before the plummet. I cursed the DEC for treating us like mules, then I remembered I willingly signed up for this. Day-hikers that passed with dumb smiles on their faces received only a grimace from me. I took no compliments or encouragements.
I started to talk out loud to myself: you gotta keep going, you gotta keep going, you gotta keep going. Then a half mile later, you gotta stay on the lookout, you gotta stay on the lookout, you gotta stay on the lookout. And a few minutes later, you’re almost there, it’s right up there, right around the corner. The campsite was “right around the corner” about fifty times. If you are wondering why I told myself to stay on the lookout, it was because I needed to stay alert for slippery rocks and logs. I also didn’t want to miss the turn-off to the campsite, which came before the bridge. I wasn’t going all the way to the bridge again, screw that.
Finally at the camp site, I peeled off my sweaty clothes to reveal patches of skin on my hips rubbed raw, bruises on my shoulder blades from wood hitting bone, and aching feet. I hobbled to the brook and sat in ice cold water until my body was numb. That’s when I decided there’s something wrong with people on trail crews. And yet, I’m already thinking about next season. I wonder at what age I will finally utter the words, “I’m getting’ too old for this shit.”