It has been raining for three days straight. My hands keep slipping and sliding down my axe handle. My boots are waterlogged and have been since the pack in. My clothes feel like they just came out of a washing machine. We're all cold and soaked. The recurring thought of the week: "Why am I doing this and why am I here?"
The adventure began my senior year of high school. I had escaped my chaotic suburban neighborhood and Homecoming weekend to find refuge in the woods. Specifically, I was spending my weekend volunteering at Johns Brook Lodge - a backcountry cabin set in the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks. Every year, JBL hosted Spring and Fall Work Weekends where people could go to help close or open the lodge to get it ready for the season ahead.
I met Wes Lampman on the second day of the weekend. While taking a breather and admiring the mountains from the porch of the Johns Brook Lodge, I couldn't help but notice Wes as he moved bucket after bucket of crush (sledged rock) onto a section of trail to harden it. I asked him if he wanted a hand and got to find out more about him. Little did I know I had just met the Director of Field Programs for the Adirondack Mountain Club, who also happens to be a local legend within the Club's community.
"So why are you here?" he asked.
"Well, next summer I think I want to apply to the JBL. I think it would be fun to work in the woods all summer and get paid for it."
"Hah! What about Trail Crew?" he asked with a grin on his face.
Hmm..,Trail Crew. That sounded like fun!
That summer I found myself on the crew, working alongside the most intelligent, hardest-working and crazy people I had ever met in my life.
Trail work is incredibly difficult to describe to someone who has never done it themselves. It's one of those "you just have to be there" sort of things. We spend our summers living and working in the woods going where very few people go and doing what very few people are willing to do themselves.
We carry everything on our back that we need to live and work in the woods for a week. Group gear: cooking items, tents, tools, food. Personal gear: clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and whatever else one's heart desires. We wake up with the sun and go to bed long after it does.
Trail work has brought me to places within the Adirondack Park that I would have never seen before. I've helped build bog bridges in a week-long downpour, ten miles back in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. I've helped clear miles of hiking trail, eight miles back in the Ha-De-Ron-Dah Wilderness. I helped make a new Cross-Country Ski trail in a remote part of the woods, right outside of Indian Lake. Knowing myself and knowing that I like to stick to tall mountains, I would have never gone to any of those places would it not have been for trail crew.
In addition to seeing new sights and meeting new people (considered family), doing trail work not only helps reduce environmental problems, but also gives so much back to me personally. I've learned so many new skills - like how to build a ladder, how to set rocks to build a staircase, how to make new trail - the list goes on.
Not only this, but the life lessons I've learned have affected me the most. After moving rocks the size of refrigerators, or logs as tall and heavy as small trees, I realized that I can do anything I set my mind to. I know it sounds cliché, but it's the honest truth. I realized early on in trail work that I could push my body a lot further than I ever had before, or even thought I could.
Not only do I have a new and powerful confidence after trail work, I also have a new outlook on how to live life. Living in the woods for five days at a time means that you only bring the essentials with you. A few pairs of socks, underwear, one or two shirts, a jacket and sweatshirt. That's all you really need, and even then it can be too much.
So if you've ever wanted to get paid to work and live in the woods, check out a trail crew near you! The website coolworks.com offers a ton of trail crew employment opportunities. Or if you've always wanted to work and live in the Adirondacks, check out the Adirondack Mountain Club's Professional Trail Crew! It is a Summer/Fall/Spring job that you will never regret, and will probably want to do for the rest of your life.
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.