A constant onslaught of perspiration. That's how I'd best describe our hitch up into the Cabinet Mountains. Starting work at 7 each morning, we were thrust from our dry, warm sleeping bags into the unrelenting drizzle and obscuring fog that turned the Kootenai Forest into dense rainforest. The thick underbrush became saturated with moisture and soaked us as we pushed our way through it to brush the trail and dig back the tread.
We were out there working with the Back Country Horsemen of Troy to get the old trail fit for pack horses to pack up supplies to an old wooden lookout tower at the top of the mountain. Their plan is to fix up the lookout and turn it into a backcountry rental as it had gone into disrepair since the Forest Service stopped manning it decades ago. We needed to widen and solidify the tread so that it could withstand the weight of a pack train laden with heavy construction supplies.
At the end of each work day, we trudged back to camp, soaked to the core and covered in mud, to scrounge around for the driest wood we could find and get a fire going. Huddling around and trying to get a miniature teepee of tinder built up around a piece of pitch, we all awaited the warmth of the fire with solemn reverence. We crowded over the fledgling flame to protect it from the rain and worked carefully to build it up into a steady burn, consistently adding ever larger logs until it was big enough to not require constant maintenance. For the rest of the evening, we tried to leech warmth from the fire and dry out our sopping pants, gloves, and socks as we cooked meals in a big metal pot on the fire.
With dinner complete and our clothes as dry as they could be in the ever-falling rain, we slowly allowed the flame to die down until the warm embers were all that remained. The dying fire signaled the time for sleep, though the Summer skies remained a light gray. We all turned to our tents, drained from a day's hard work but revitalized by our evening around the fire. I started to await the evening fire like a ritual, warming me and allowing me to decompress after the day and putting me in good spirits, ready for the dreary, yet beautiful, drizzle that was bound to come the next day.