Hitch began like any other, with a frantic food shopping trip at Winco. The Fab Five Fems n Thems were reduced by injury to a mere three-person crew, which made this an easier task than usual. We tossed in tuna packets, red bull, and a surplus of beans and considered that good enough. We drove North to the Lincoln Forest Service Ranger District, and spent the night in a nice front country site at their office. Bright and early the next morning we threw our food and camp supplies in a pile to be packed in, and began our arduous trek into our backcountry site in the Scapegoat Wilderness Area. Nine and a half miles following moose and bear tracks while cross-cutting trees and a beautiful lakeside lunch later, we arrived to a welcoming committee of mosquitos buzzing our praise. Our project partner arrived with our goodies, and we set up camp and dug a latrine as we made ourselves at home here in preparation for the next few hitches. Meanwhile, the pack mule crew set up a high line to secure the mules. Later, we were startled by the screams of Chipmunk the mule late in the night. This led to an interesting debate on the amount of nair bottles that it would take to remove the hair from a mule- I stand at a resolute 23 bottles would do the job.
The next morning we awoke at the crack of dawn to sip freshly aero-pressed coffee and munch down some oatmeal before heading to our project site, a mile away. We were quick to discover the importance of our creek crossing shoes as we had to wade through five frigid streams each morning and evening to and from the work site. This quickly added up to over seventy stream crossings over the course of the hitch. Our feet never quite became accustomed to the chilly waters that undoubtedly shocked our systems into alert wakefulness each morning. We spent the day hiking and lopping heavy brush from the trail as our project liaison got the specs for the trail ahead. Wearily, we returned to camp for some yummy curry filled with Bok Choy and beans, which we greedily gulped down.
The second day began similarly to the first, and the work was once again focused on heavy lopping and some retread. A spring-fed waterfall crossed our trail and made an excellent backdrop for our tuna packet lunch break. During lunch, we pondered on the existence of forests in Arizona and the greater Southwest… We came to find out that Northern Arizona has the largest ponderosa pine stand in the lower 48! A rain shadow consistently fell on us each afternoon, and about 2 to 4 each day we worked through a dreary downpour. What a bumberdoodle. After hiking back and enjoying our well-deserved afternoon stretch, we began to dry out as the sun peeked through the clouds. We finished out the day with delicious chickpeas and veggies sautéed with peanut sauce.
Day three, more famously known as "Shotgun Saturday", began with our chilly creek crossings and continued on past the waterfall to brush as far as we could up the trail. As the name implies, we shotgunned red bulls at lunch to keep our morale high and our bodies energized to continue attacking the trees and shrubberies with rigor. Back at camp, our minds started to wander as we passionately discussed lead poisoning among the elderly population, and inadequate portion sizes for ever-hungry toddlers. I read more of my book in my tent before bed and felt very accomplished.
Sunday was a day we looked forward to: compass day with snackies we’d saved especially for it! After brushing the day away, we went back to camp to gloriously gulp cosmic brownies and goldfish as we had an insightful lesson on receiving and giving feedback. Discussing the way we handle criticism provided a great tool to ease tensions and perform better as a crew. We enjoyed stuffed quesadillas and went to bed happy about the days ahead.
"RJ" Monday was a day of back pain and heat as we dug retread with vigor. Nary a horse could trek such an eroding sloppy trail prior to our attack upon it. Numerous ant colonies were cleaved in half, with our pick mattocks proving incredibly detrimental to their entomological societies. We debated our abilities to fight off giant ants (picture it with me: six feet high from the ground to the top of their heads NOT including antennae) and whether ants actually have feet. Ants and mosquitos occupied a large portion of our mind space and were frequent topics of discussion. They also occupied our physical space, and we were convinced the Deet we fumigated the camp and ourselves with was slowly entering our bloodstream. It had already eaten away at our sweatshirt logos, so we can only assume the long-term effects on our health. At the end of the day, we celebrated the chili for dinner and our project liaison offered to do tarot readings for us. The tarot predicted my love life is abysmal, but paint me yellow and call me the Sun- that was not news to me.
Tuesday, otherwise known as "AH" day was our last day of trail work, and we spent the day topping off retread on Landers Fork Trail and lopping on our five-stream crossing trail back to camp. We cleaned up our camp and enjoyed pesto pasta as we slapped idly at flies, letting their bodies drop to the ground like turds in the latrine.
Lastly, we arose with the sun, giddy to head back to our rig and to civilization. The hitch had brought new stresses and growth, as well as interesting queries and bonding. We reflect on a hitch of hard work and are proud of what we accomplished. All we know for certain are that the streams are cold, the views are gorgeous, and the bugs are insatiable.