Wed May 19th thru Tues May 25th: Introductions
The first day was a day of travel for all of us. All except me flew in from various regions in the United States. I drove from San Diego. We stayed at a cheap motel with a pool and hot tub. We spent the next couple of days training on SCA policies and procedures, risk management operations, base camp operations, vehicle maintenance, and equipment management. Both Jen and I got drivers training so that more people can drive the big red truck to give Patrick a break. We also slowly got to know each other. During this introductions and training, we ate at restaurants or the supermarkets. During the weekend, the crew went to do trail maintenance training at the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) while I had to attend his graduation ceremony for achieving his bachelors' degree. The rest of the team camped out at the PCT and were snowed on by a summer snowstorm. On Monday we worked on building picnic tables which was very exciting. Tuesday was a day where we got to see the campgrounds and day use areas where we will be working on for the summer. We saw the barracks (Chilao Fire Station) and where we will be camping out for two weeks (Chilao Campgrounds). We will eventually move into the barracks after camping out and we will be doing hitches where we stay at extended times (multiple days) on the campgrounds where we will be improving on. This entire time of training was slow and light on responsibility though it was a lot of fun. Yet I am restless to do actual work.
Wed May 26th thru Mon May 31st: Training at McCall, Idaho
This weekend was all about training at the University of Idaho Outdoors Training Center in McCall, Idaho. We left on Wednesday at 7am (PST) from the Burbank Airport only to arrive at the Boise Airport at 3pm (MST). We met other teams from all across the nation doing two kinds of various work. One team dealt with plants (planting native species and removal of invasive species) and the other dealt with fire (fire monitoring). Both were in the Conservation Corps. Our team dealt with fire but was the only team that dealt with fire recovery efforts. There were a total of 40 corps members in attendance of this week long training seminar. We drove for 2 hours from the Boise Airport to McCall in amazing scenery of changing climates. It switches from valley to grassland foothills to river gully to forest and mountains. The training center was a bunch of log cabins, mess hall, and classroom surrounded by giant pine trees by a lake. The log cabins were where the corps members slept at. Inside those cabins was a room of bunk beds totaling 10 beds with a heater. It does get cold at nights... a little too much for a person accustomed to San Diego weather. We were fed delicious and healthy food 3 times a day. Actual training for my team was 4 days long: two days of SCA policy and procedures with CPR training and two days of Wilderness First Aid training. On the social side, it was very interactive and enjoyable. I met a lot of fun and interesting people who I regret not getting their facebook info to keep in contact with them. On our downtime after dinner, we played board games till bedtime. There was a time at the last night of training where a group of people jumped into the cold lake...and stayed in there. Then again, these people are already accustomed to cold water because of where they grew up at. On that last night, there was an ice cream social and a movie night showing The Goonies. My team flew back on Monday, leaving at 7am from McCall to arrive at the Burbank Airport at 6pm (PST). We stayed overnight at the hotel nearby the airport since we have not been able to set up camp during daylight hours.
Tues June 1st thru Thurs June 3rd: Downtime and Last Minute Shopping
On Tuesday, we did last minute errands. We went to Home Depot to buy our tools for the work we would be doing. Power tools, tarps, propane tank with outdoor kitchen stove, hand tools, and other various stuff were collected and bought. Then we went to Costco. We spent 2 hours collecting foodstuff from the list created that morning in the hotel room. But we weren’t able to buy any of those foodstuffs since the SCA debit card couldn’t work in Costco. We later found out that the credit card company put a hold on our card because of suspicious activity which is a weird reason to me. The debit card work in Home Depot and at Vons where we got our foodstuff for the week after leaving Costco. Everyone was pissed off after Costco because we spent so much time collecting the foodstuff there. Anyways, we left to get to the campgrounds at Chilao. We found a place to set up our tents and kitchen area at the Meadows section of the campgrounds and cooked our food in the dark in the barracks. The barracks runs off of a generator which is turned off on Tuesday and Wednesday when the firemen aren’t there. We are camping out in high desert area (5000 feet in elevation above sea level) with a few ponderosa pines scattered in the area. There is a river nearby bring in mosquitoes and bugs to our campsite which makes it annoying. But the river also brings in frogs croaking through the night which is enjoyable. You can even hear the roar of the wind run across the terrain and trees in the night time which makes camping out very exciting and relaxing. When I hear that roar of wind, all the troubles go away while peace and serenity conquer and dominate my unconscious mind. Jen is scared that a black bear might go sniffing around while we are asleep because her clothes smells like strawberries from her perfume. Bear have a great sense of smell and are attracted to food. We leave our smelly stuff and food in the red truck, away from the campsite.
Wednesday was our day off. We spent the day at the laundry mat in civilization since the washer and dryer at the barracks didn’t work because the generator was off. We met a hot shot (type of wilderness fireman) from the Little T Ranger Station at the Laundromats who told some interesting stories...none that I can remember. Earlier in the morning, we were worried that our food might go bad in the barrack’s freezer so we dug a hole near our campsite to fill up a cooler volume of cold foods. We were going to put the food in the hole when we returned to the barracks but found the generator on and Patrick doing laundry. Some of the firemen were back at the barracks and we met a few of them.
Thursday was a day spent relaxing at the beach. Everyone except Patrick drove 2 hours to get to the Venice Beach in Santa Monica were we hung out and jumped into the ocean. We walked around afterwards to see the famous Pier that was the ending point of Route 66. There was an amusement park and some nice tourist shops at the pier. We saw a gymnastics area where there were monkey swings, tight rope, and bars that you stand on. We saw people practicing in that gymnastics area and were quite festinated by their movements. There was a place where a group of 20 people played chess against each other nearby the beach. The beach was so wide and well groomed and the beach culture was such a strong influence here. We left the beach to find food. After an hour of driving, choosing wisely places not to go because we didn’t want fast food or go to shady places, we ended up at the sports bar watching the Lakers vs. Celtics playoff game. The sports bar was full of Lakers fans and Dan is a Celtics fan. So just imagine just how of a powder keg this situation could of been if the Lakers lost that night. Anyways, we ate happy hour appetizers there and drove back during rush hour traffic to the campsite. We all took evening showers that night at the barracks. We still continue to take evening showers because it is more sanitary and easier to do so than taking morning showers.
Fri June 4th thru Thurs June 10th: First Week of Work
Friday was our first day of actual work. We set up a weekly chore system that encompasses preparing and cleaning up breakfast and dinner and vehicle maintenance. Then we set up a tarp over a picnic table between two trees to create a kitchen area. We found that field mice has contaminated most of our nonperishable foods because we stored our foods in the cabinets instead of plastic bins and expressed a Hantavirus scare. We attempted to clean up the kitchen because there were mice poop everywhere. We now store all our foods in the walking freezer at the barracks. What we should have done if we cleaned the kitchen is used 10% bleach mixture with proper breathing masks and latex gloves to prevent possible exposure to Hantavirus. I am no longer worried about Hantavirus from that day because I would get violent symptoms after a week from exposure if that was the case. And I am still alive so I am no longer worried. After this lunch fiasco, we headed to Little Pines Campground to replace a few barriers. It took most the afternoon to replace 2 barriers and pull out 3 barriers destroyed by the wildfire. We dug up the posts with iron bars and shovels, used a drill and hammer to drill in 2 iron bars in the new barrier post, and put in a mixture of gravel and dirt with the new post to put in the barrier. Today was a hot day to do this kind of work. We were surrounded by dead pines ready to fall on us at any time. Patrick was in meetings throughout the entire day at Little T Ranger Station with the Recreation Department. They talked about opening up some campgrounds by July 4th and how that can be achieved. This means we finally have a busy and set work plan till July 4th. Little tip for today: sleep with your feet slightly elevated above your heart by sleeping on a slightly sloped incline when you align your tent. This will help with relieving foot pain. We slept with coyotes howling very close to and surrounding our tents for part of the night. I enjoyed that experience at least.
Saturday was trail maintenance day at Mt Wilson. This is where the Hooker Telescope is at which made significant advances in astronomy and how we saw the galaxy and universe. We worked with 200 or so volunteers to repair some of the trails around this mountain. We had McLeod’s, Shovels, and other tools used to do trail work. There were loads of bugs around and it was a hot day. I covered my ears with my bandana and the eyes with safety glasses and wore a hardhat to get the bugs of my face and hair. You can see the inversion layer of Los Angeles's smog below you. I was told that when the Santa Annas blew, you can see as far as the ocean from this mountain. Jen and Patrick worked on a tricky erosion problem on the trails. They built a check dam and rocks with logs barriers to direct the flow away from a critical part of the trails. I got attacked by fire ants because I sat down on the ground and there was a rip on my boots. So I had to get new boots now. After a mornings work, we got a free tour of the Observatory on this mountain which was a very exciting and overwhelming experience for me. We got a tour of the insides of the 60 inch and 100 inch telescopes and the 150 ft tall solar telescope. I was so overwhelmed by that tour that I fell asleep at the campsite when we drove back to the campgrounds. The rest of the crew went to Newcombs Ranch (a restaurant nearby the campsite) for their dinner.
Sunday's work was on removing the Spanish broom bush at Mt Gleason with a dozen volunteers. We used picmatocks, loppers, shovels, and weed wrenches. Today was a hot day. The issue here is that Spanish broom is an invasive species capable of transforming the chaparral (high desert) into grassland. Spanish broom is a grassland species. Grasslands burn once every 5 years and the chaparral burns once every 30 years. This means more frequent fires if the invasive grassland species take over which is not what the forest service wants. To remove a Spanish broom, dig below the plant to expose the root and pull it out with a weed wrench. This was hard work digging a few feet into the rocky ground to expose those roots. I have been sick with a cold for a week or so and finally felt the effects of the weaken body since I could only do 2 hours of work before passing out from the heat. When I mean by passing out, I don’t mean blacking out. I mean just sitting down to wait for lunch and slept through lunch for an hour until I could work again. I don’t like being in this state since I couldn’t do much work (I wasn’t doing enough work comparable to my team). I also got Jen sick because I gave her my water bottle a few days ago. I had to cook dinner for this week but I know nothing about cooking. Dan however taught me how to cook simple meals for the team which I am fully in gratitude for...otherwise I wouldn’t have a clue as to know what to do. We ended the day telling ghost stories and reflecting on philosophy around the campfire.
Monday's work was at Monte Cristo Campground. We removed burnt tree cuts (small and light enough to be picked up and moved to a truck). We repainted some of the picnic tables and marked the tables that needed their planks to be replaced due to fire damage. We got help from two people: a forest service ranger and an unemployed construction worker living on food stamps. We moved the tree pieces to a firewood collection area 20 miles away. I am excited to go to San Diego for my weekend. Today was another hot day.
For this weekend (Tuesday thru Thursday), we did separate things. I took the girls (Jen and Stacy) to my home in San Diego and gave them a mini tour to Coronado Beach and the Wild Animal Park. I had to work on errands and laundry on Wednesday as did the girls so we slowed down a bit that day. Dan spent the weekend with his uncle and aunt and went whale watching. Patrick stayed at the Chilao campground taking care of a few administrative tasks and went to Santa Monica Beach. We returned to the campsite by Thursday night.
Fri June 11th thru Mon June 14th: Second Week of Work
The temperature fell like 10 or 20 degrees F compared to last week and I can see the marine layer moving across the sky. What we did on Friday is prep for National Get Outdoors Day event at an undamaged area of the Angeles National Forest (in a different Ranger District). We work with the Recreation Department to move tables and other supplies to their day use area where the event will take place. This day use area was filled with trees with a mist hanging directly above and a stream that flows down past the day use area a few miles away. We hiked for a couple of miles to the waterfall where we ate our lunch after doing that prep work. The hike reminded me of a rainforest in Hawaii and I was so energized by the hike itself. After the hike, we drove to Little T Ranger Station to check to see if we got our uniforms and booth supplies from the mail. We haven’t got our uniforms in the mail but we did get the booth supplies. We saw a brush fire that raged only a few miles from us. We heard the traffic on the radios of the helicopters and firemen racing to extinguish the fire. That fire only lasted 1 hour and didn’t stand a chance against the overwhelming force to extinguish that fire. It was very exciting to hear that traffic and to see all the action in the air and the behavior of the fire.
Saturday was the National Get Outdoors Day at the day use area. We set up our booth and talked about the Student Conservation Association to people and to the other booth representatives. I think there were at least half dozen booths at this event. But it was boring and cold. The only entertainment was wearing these nonvenemous snakes as jeweler by allowing them to wrap around our bodies as they kept warm and seeing Smokey Bear walk around getting his picture taken by other people. I got a picture of him with me with a fellow ranger.
Sunday was all about the Invasive Species Removal of Spanish Broom with volunteers that we did last week. We will continue to do this every week for the next two weeks on Sundays. I managed to remove the one bush that I worked on from last week but wasn’t able to complete. The Eagle Scouts were there and got tired after 2 hours of working and left after getting tired. Then a crew of 2 dozen hot shot firemen came to our site and helped up clean up the Spanish broom there. They were fast and efficient and pulled out almost all of the Spanish broom in that site. I managed to work continuously the entire time because I wasn’t sick anymore. It was an overcast and cool day. What a relief! Later that night, we celebrated Jen's 23rd birthday at a restaurant in downtown Pasadena with the Chilao Fire Station's chief with his wife and the chief's second in command with his girlfriend and a forest service enforcer and investigator. That was a fun night.
Monday was about finishing up the Monte Cristo campground that we worked on last week. We replaced many of the planks of the picnic tables and repainted those tables. But we weren’t finished because we needed smaller planks for a few of those picnic tables. Jen did a little weed wacking with a ranger while the rest of us headed over to the Hidden Valley day use area to replace another table, remove wooden blocks and transported those wooden blocks to a firewood dumpsite, and put up a downed bulletin board. We need to go back there to finish removing a table there. Today was a cool day. Jen took charge of a future project at the Chilao Visitor Center and spent most the morning with Patrick to do a site assessment of that site so she can organize a volunteer event there for the 26th of June. But she was cut short by the high amount of work we needed to do today.