Hiking with a Crosscut

What The Heck Am I Doing Here?

  • August 08, 2017
  • Posted by Maya Braden

It’s 3 a.m. and I desperately have to pee. And not the kind of “I can hold it until 6 a.m. wake up” sort of pee. I am also in a tent, cocooned inside of a wonderfully warm sleeping bag in contrast to the cold air outside. I debate the pros and cons of getting up to go. Pro: sooner I go, the sooner I get back to sleep. Con: bears. Pro: I’ll get to see the stars. Con: but bears. Then it dawns on me “why am I doing this?”. Normal people don’t worry about their bathroom schedule. They get up, slide their feet across their squishy carpet, and pleasantly settle down on their porcelain throne. What the heck am I doing here? I came to MCC from an application found in an environmentally focused job list online. I’d never been out west and had a low key obsession with trails and the idea of mountains. If I’m being honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I dropped out of the life I was living in Michigan to move out to Montana. After some thinking, I got up, did what I needed to do and then settled down, but the questions still sat with me.

In the morning, we gathered our supplies for the work day. Tool of choice: cross cut. It’s lanky and flexible, and incredibly fun to use. Our assignment for the day was to clear fallen trees from a small section of the Continental Divide Trail, where Idaho meets Montana. The Continental Divide is part of the triple crown of trail systems that are well known for through hikers, along with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. This was our second day of cutting and we were expected to make it to the canyon by lunch. A half hour into the hike, I experienced an unexpected fall into a creek during a crossing, leaving my shoes soaked for the next 6 miles. Surprisingly, although it soaked my boots, it didn’t dampen my spirits. Two hours later, Nicole and I were trying to remove one of the biggest trees attempted yet. It had to be at least a two feet in diameter. The tree had been dead long enough for all of its bark to slough off, and dead wood cuts especially slow. We had been working on it for at least a half hour when Bureau of Land Management shows up with a horse pack and a chainsaw to save the day. After chatting for some time, we decided to hike ahead of the caravan to take out smaller trees. The extra support acted as a much needed morale booster, and we began hiking at a faster pace. In some sections of the forest, it looked like home; a trail snaking through the pines. Lost in thought we rounded a switchback, only to be thrusted into the middle of Hell Roaring canyon. Its sharp edges looked like they could pierce a hole in the blue sky. A river rushed throughout the bottom, providing the much needed moisture for the greenery surrounding it, creating a bold contrast against the burnt colored rock. It was a place that made you wonder how the first people in this area viewed it, if they held it sacred. We hiked down into the canyon, among the purple flowers before turning around and hiking back to camp.

The next two days were spent hiking the trail and replacing old trail signs. The signs that had been up were often rotted or faded to the point that they were unrecognizable. Some areas new signs were added to better guide hikers at intersections or places where the trail was unclear. Overall we added over 70 new signs to the trail system. On Friday morning, we worked on a gate that intersected the trail. It was rickety, with nails protruding on both sides of the cross braces. We pulled the nails that we could, and hammered in those we couldn’t. We decided it would be better to pull the remaining cross braces off and reattach with stronger nails. A new twist stick was added to the barbed wire on top as well. 

After everyone went to bed Thursday night, I stayed up. I was standing in a field next to our camp, right where the invisible line was drawn between Idaho and Montana. I studied the shapes and colors of the road, hills, and flowers. My favorite poem is “If I had to live my life over-I’d pick more daisies”. One of my favorite lines from it is “I’d have more real problems and less imaginary ones”. Is it sometimes annoying to have to worry about bears when you need to pee at 3 a.m.? Absolutely. When you fall during a creek crossing and soak your boots and clothes for the next 6 miles of hiking, is worrisome to watch for blisters? You bet. In some strange way though, it’s worth it. The people, the work, and the views come together in a crazy blend of wonder, confusion, and beauty. Your life worries begin to revolve around things like the weather, and shift away from societal worries that once seemed to plaster your life. As I looked across the field before returning to camp, the wind picked up, flowing over the golden wheat colored grass. It felt as though the land was letting out a long exhale, and I could only help but join in.


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