Back to the Stone Age

Its yabba dabba doo time! This hitch was our first introduction to rock work and we would have certainly impressed the Flintstones and the rest of the inhabitants of Bedrock.
Our first stop was back to Olive Lake, which is the best campsite a worker could ask for. Our main issue was a swampy portion of trail that wouldn’t drain away water. It was decided that the best solution to help drainage was to put in French drains and bury grid-shaped cement blocks in the path. To fill the trenches for the French drains and to cover the bricks we needed to gather tons of gravel. This was no easy task, to say the least. There were gravel piles for the taking, but they were a mile away on the other side of Olive Lake. Luckily, we were working with the Forest Service and they were able to provide a john boat to help transport the gravel and cement bricks across. Unfortunately, the boat had a mind of its own and would only operate for about a hundred yards across the lake before sputtering out. Without enough material to work with we had resort to other means. We gathered rocks from around the area and brought them back to the site. Some people loaded and unloaded materials from the boat while others double-jacked the large rocks into smaller “crush”. Others went through the challenge of wheel-barrowing the gravel and bricks around the lake over grades, roots, and raised bridges. On the last day at Olive Lake, we were blessed with another john boat, provided by the camp host. We were able to make much faster progress and finish the job with satisfaction.
Although our work was grueling, we were gifted with many fun surprises. The first night of our hitch was Shawn’s birthday, which ended with the crew eating melon and watching the sunset fall over Olive Lake. The following night we were surprised to hear that we would be hosting a sleep-over with two SCA interns, Molly and Claire, who were working with the Forest Service in Ukiah. It was a pleasure spending time with two new faces and introducing them to our fun camp life. The same night we met a neighbor, Mr. David Wagner, who was a retired botanist searching for mosses and liverworts. After coming over and joining our campfire, he whipped out his harmonica and pleasured us with a mean version of “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine”, which was more savory than the melon he brought us. The night came to a close with the group huddled around the campfire, reading a work from “Goosebumps”, which was made even more amusing by Shawn’s enthusiastic reading style. Another highlight of Olive Lake was our crawdad feast. With our three crawdad traps we managed to gather around 50 crawdads, and then boiled them up until they were a bright red color. It was about everyone’s first time eating the critter and we all agreed the meat from the tail and pinchers was delightful. However, we would like to apologize to the cultures of the Gulf of Mexico who view the crawdad’s brain as a delicacy, because we couldn’t quite stomach the sour taste to consume the whole animal!
Our next destination was Oriental Creek Campground, where we worked on the John Day North Fork Trail. In the spring when the water was at its highest, the river was eating away substantial amounts of the bank, to the point where even ATVs could no longer pass the road. Our solution to this problem was to fill the bank with three gabions, two on the bottom and one centered on top. Our three days of moving rock was very physically demanding, but we all agreed it was a fun change as well. It was quite a change of pace compared to the cross-cutting that we’d all grown accustomed to. We searched the slopes over a hundred yards in both directions to find rocks large enough for the task. Many rocks needed rock-barred by two people at a time over great distances. Under much strain, others decided to flip the smaller rocks over by hand. Even smaller rocks that would fit into dirt bags would be loaded and then hauled off by a pair of partners. The demanding work was made more challenging by the high temperatures and the lack of shade to recuperate under. Our ability to cope with the elements may be partially contributed to what we like to call “bucket baptisms.” We would travel down to the river and then have a partner scoop up cold river water into our hard hats and then pour it over our steamy heads. It wasn’t quite a spiritual experience but it was definitely transcendent. The job required a great amount of determination and perseverance, and would be a sufficient tool for strengthening the mind of a marathon runner. After finishing the gabions and before continuing our next objective, we made a visit to a bridge to be inspired. We hiked to the extravagant bridge that was built by a SCA crew back in 1992. It was completed with rustic timber and was still holding strong. To see something amazing made by no machines motivated us the next two days as we brushed the John Day North Fork trail. We were graced by the appearances of two bears, both within the same hour! We came upon both of them and startled them, causing them to charge across the river. To see a bear look back at you and shake water out of its coat is unparalleled by almost anything else.
This hitch was a change for us as a crew and we were able to learn new aspects of trail work. As a team we endured work that challenges what the human body is capable of. It tested our minds when our bodies wanted to give up and forced us to work together. We fought through the punishing weather and we fought through a couple days of illness. I’m very proud of this team and its no wonder that we have the name “Umakillahs.”