Who would have thought that day 1 would the mildest in terms of temperature? We arrived at the ranger station to meet Will Shoutis, our project partner for this hitch. He explained we would be digging a reroute on a section of the Whetstone Ridge Trail. “About a mile… maybe ¾ .” he explained dryly. There was an air of directness to his tone, a no-nonsense type. Confidently, we reloaded into our rig and headed into the forest for a week of work.
The road in was quite treacherous. We were lead by Justin and Jackson, two of Shoutis’ forest service employees to the trailhead. Dozens of cows impeded our progress along the way, nervously acting as pace cars in front of us as we traveled into their domain. Upon arriving at the trailhead our crew was excited to see some flat ground and trees; a utopian camping situation compared to our previous hitches slopped living quarters.
After some stretches, we hiked about two miles leisurely through the woods to our worksite for the next 7 days. Nostalgia flooded Ally’s mind as she strolled through the same wooded path that she had worked on the year prior. She excitedly guided us through the work she had accomplished. Once we reached a damp creek spot in the trail, Will explained this would be the start of our reroute project. "See how the creek flows into the trail here? It’s a bit washed out. We are going to reroute this way.”
Our crew along with Justin and Jackson gobbled our lunches and found some interesting flora which was hotly debated on. Some of the crew members thought it was wild asparagus. Others were skeptical (and rightly so). Soon after we finished lunch, Will returned from flagging out our path. The plan was for us crew members to dig tread for the reroute while Emily and Ally bucked downed trees and timber in the way. We spent the remainder of the workday getting back in the swing of digging tread. Not bad progress I’d say. We descended excitedly to our campsite later to set up our tents and camp under the Lodgepole pines.
The following day we returned to our budding trail. Now with Field Coordinator Maddy and a chainsaw, we were able to work even quicker. We swiftly got into our groove, communicating and sweating together under the cloudless sky. With our crew leaders far ahead of us bucking logs and trees, we had to rely on our intuition and instincts when moving forward with the trail. All in all, it turned out pretty good! This sentiment was reinforced by praises from Emily and Ally once they came back down to observe our progress.
We decided to take a detour on our way back to camp through Zeke’s Meadow. Thinking we may have found a shortcut on our route we trudged through coarse grasses to the edge of the open field. We were greeted there by around 200 cattle. A few jovial attempts to communicate with the bovine turned into pleads for them to get out of our way on our journey back towards familiar paths. A few wrong turns later and a few precarious steps over downed logs, we found ourselves back on track. Only 3 minutes behind our usual pace! Not too bad. We wouldn’t return to that shortcut again for the remainder of the trip.
The following few days were consistent and good. Our trail was coming along very well, and as we got further down the path, the reroute was looking cleaner and cleaner. I think we were starting to get the hang of it!
Emily and Ally finished up chainsawing around day 5 and joined us to finish up the remaining 1/5th of tread digging. With their excited hands, we finished digging the trail out. Seeing the end of the path was glorious. Our reroute was complete, and not only complete, but it looked really good. The final day of work at that site consisted of a thorough walk-through on our trail. Flattening the tread, defining the hinge better, and pulling our berm down, as well as installing a few drains. With our mission accomplished, we moved on to the next campsite before our final day of work bucking logs.
Well… of course this was preempted by an impromptu stop by good ol’ Moose Lake to cool off. After some well-deserved wading and a short photo shoot, we filed damply back into the rig to our final campsite in the National Forest.
On the final day, we got up quite early, disassembled camp, and hit the road just as the sun rose. Trying to beat the heat, we hiked up the other side of the Whetstone Ridge trail to buck some fallen logs. Upon reaching the top, we took inventory of our physical conditions… suffice to say a week of vigorous trail work was starting to set in, and we were all fairly bruised and beaten. One final stop remained. We finished our work for this hitch with a shaded hike through the inappropriately named “trail 313.” Two miles out & back and we were on our way back to Bozeman.
Overall, this hitch was a great exploration into our physical limits and pushed the fringes of our mental stamina. The work was dirty, dusty, and hot but we woke up and got to work every day with a positive mental attitude, even when it was tough. We supported each other every day and provided encouragement regardless of how tough the days were. As a crew mate, I grow more and more grateful each hitch for the crew I have been partnered with. Sincerely, they are some of the funniest, most intelligent folks I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and they are as good of friends as they are co-workers (which is to say, exceptional by all standards). I’m sure the following nights after I finish this blog will be some of the most restful sleeps I have had to date. I cannot wait to get back out on the next hitch with this wonderful crew #3. BEEHIVE LIFE FOREVER!