Fresh off our backcountry hitch, my fellow Ramsey’s Drafter’s and I set off to start our first 9 day hitch in a line of many. The 6 of us were completely unaware of how epic the hitch upon which we were about to embark would prove to be. From a defecating downed tree to an acrobatic snake, a catfish fry to a doubled day hike, this was a hitch in which obstacles were copious, the wildlife ubiquitous, and as always, the food was delicious . Rather than relay the happenings of the hitch to you in chronological order as logic would suggest, I’ve decided to do it in alphabetical order according to the alphabet game. You’ll have to wait until “G” to hear the rules.
Angsty Adolescent Animals: Oh yeah, starting off with a triple. So
far our wildlife encounters in Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness have been limited to snakes, birds, and the occasional rodent, but that changed dramatically this hitch. On day 6, when we got back to the
worksite after first lunch, there was a deer chilling between the trail and the draft. When we got too close, it turned and booked it up the hillside. But our excitement over the deer was short lived, as we saw a bear the following day. We were beginning to wonder if the giant piles of scat on the trail were just the product of inconsiderate and malnutritioned hikers, as we hadn’t actually seen a bear yet. But while hiking out on day 7, we witnessed a young black bear scamper from bushes near the trail up the hillside and out of sight.
Bountiful Berries: The thorny, viny, malicious ankle-biting devil plants that we’ve all been cursing for 2 months now finally sprouted berries! We think that they’re some kind of wild raspberries, but they’re edible, delicious and finally making amends for all the cuts and puncture wounds they’ve inflicted.
Complicated Crosscutting Conundrums: We had so many crazy logs to crosscut this hitch, with a couple on a massive slope, and on the last day we had our biggest challenge yet. There were 3 trees coming out of the same root ball, which was dislodged uphill from us. Two of them were wrapped around each other, and then under that root ball there was a fourth tree with its own root ball.
Defecating Dendriforms: While cutting the third log in the scenario described above, Caitlin and Reuben were under bucking and about a third of the way through the log started pouring out a brown liquid. A steady flow gushed out of the log for a solid 5 minutes, leaving the scene smelling like a mix of poop and decaying timber. By far the weirdest thing we’d seen yet.
Ecstatic Equipment: As we were backcountry last hitch, this was the first time we’ve all had a chance to use our super sweet new camel back daypacks on trail! Those of us who were previously sporting old book bags devoid of waist straps and significant shoulder padding were in heaven.
Fish Fry!!!!: Elwood came out to visit us on the trail on day 3, then stopped by camp later on to give us a flyer inviting us to a catfish fry for the ranger district. So on day 9 after cleaning tools and gear, we headed to the park, watermelon and iced tea in tow, for an afternoon of pigging out and politely mingling with our Forest Service colleagues while pretending not to notice as their faces contorted in disgust at our stench.
Gleeful Games: So if you haven’t figured it out yet, the alphabet game consists of coming up with 2 words that start with that letter of the alphabet, usually an adjective and a noun. On trail we go in a line, starting with A, then the next person has to repeat A and come up with B, and so on until the last person says the entire alphabet. We sometimes do themes, but mostly we just come up with the most ridiculous, unintelligible combinations we can.
Handle Havoc: So on day 5, we hiked all the way back to the parking lot before realizing that we had left the crosscut handle at the worksite (we cache all the tools but the crosscut, and to hike it out we remove one of the handles, sheath the saw, and rest it on our shoulder holding the remaining handle in front of us). So Kitt and I offered to go back and get it, meaning after our 3+ mile hike out, we proceeded to turn around and hike all the way back in, then immediately back out again, hiking 9 some miles in a 3 hour time period. Definitely had some blisters to show for that, but hopefully we learned our lesson.
Injudicious Independence: Drew took an administrative day to fill out all the paperwork so he could catch up without having to do computer work on his off days, so on day 4 we were left to our own devices on trail without our captain to guide us. It went fine, except we think Drew chose that day on purpose because we were elbow deep in poison ivy all day.
Jim + John + Jubilant Jargon: I know, I just blew your mind a little. On day 3 we had some neighbors at our campsite, Jim and John, who had been hiking together in the area for 18 years. We saw them on the trail on day 4, and the beautiful weekend weather brought an abundant amount of hikers for us to talk throughout days 5 and 6. People offered their praise, thanks, and even their food, before continuing on their way.
Kroger Killing: NOTE: No Krogers, or employees or patrons of therein establishment, were harmed during this hitch. We just went to Kroger instead of Martins or Food Lion for our grocery run, and we were well under budget for food, hence the “killing”.
Lacking Lunch: So just in case forgetting the crosscut handle wasn’t enough, on day 5 we also realized that we were going to run out of lunch fixings the next day. So while we hiked out to get the crosscut handle, the others made a grocery run in Staunton to get lunch fixings. So much fail for one day.
Mitigating Mayhem: One highlight of the trip was crosscutting this 2 ½, maybe 3 foot diameter log that was blocking the trail. It had been right on the edge of the cliff, maybe 15-20 feet above the stream, and had somehow fallen into the trail rather than downhill. Unsure of whether the stump and root ball would stay where it was or want to fall, we made 2 cuts and safely rolled the inside piece out of the way. We’d seen the root ball move a bit, so to mitigate any risk Drew gave it a light push, with only 2 fingers, and the stump and root ball went tumbling off the cliff into the draft.
Narcolepsy Negation: Years of sleep deprivation have made me practically narcoleptic, so no matter how short the car ride, I fall asleep, and reading in my tent or hammock undoubtedly leads to a nap. So I was challenged one day to not fall asleep until 8 p.m. Forgetting the challenge the three previous mornings and losing already at our 7 a.m. car ride, by day 5 I was determined to stay awake. After surviving the car ride there, the extra 6 mile hike for the crosscut handle made it so we got back to camp in time for dinner, and after that I was so absorbed in my book I stayed up until 11 p.m. 17 ½ hours, boom, done. Narcolepsy: negated.
Odious Obstructions: With all the downed logs we were cutting, there were a lot of trails people had made over the years around the obstructions. So part of our job was to cover up these false trails with debris, making them look ugly so people don’t think twice about it ever being a trail.
Plentiful Planks: A couple weeks back I suggested that we do group planks along with our pushups in an effort to keep everyone’s back and core in shape and to prevent injury. So we’ve been doing them together every night for a few hitches now, but this hitch through a joke turned not so funny, we did 5 sets of planks a day: before hiking out, first lunch, second lunch, after hiking out, and at night with pushups. Ow.
Quantifiable Quinoa: Since we start daydreaming about dinner before we’re even done with lunch, when it comes time to cook dinner our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs. In one hilarious misunderstanding, 6 cups of rice were made instead of 3, leaving us with 2 days worth of leftovers. Poor proportioning aside, the food was always delicious, and we never went hungry.
Raucous Rattlesnakes: We saw SOOOOO many snakes this hitch! We had an 11-year-old timber rattler assume the coil and rattle pose, then wear himself out rattling at us for a solid 10 minutes. Later in the hitch we saw a couple timber rattlers right off of the trail. Interspersed were less worrisome snakes, with one 6 foot long black snake refusing to move off of the trail, then finally climbing up a sapling and onto a fallen tree leaned against another in a display of acrobatic excellence that left us in awe.
Superfluous Showers: Superfluous in the sense that the showers were extra, but they were absolutely necessary. So on Drew’s administrative day we were all wading in poison ivy all day, so to avoid another trip to the emergency room for Reuben, we all piled into the rig and drove to Staunton after dinner for a mid-hitch shower to get all the poison ivy oils off of ourselves.
Tsunami Trepidation: So maybe it wasn’t a tsunami. We were all at camp doing pushups after dinner, and it had been getting dark and looking like rain for a while, when we heard it start over by the pond. We could hear it pouring and moving in our direction, like the clouds were undulating violently towards us. The warning was appreciated, and we made it under the wall tent before the downpour started.
Unnerving Ulmus: So it wasn’t an elm tree, but one day we walked by the campsite we had eaten lunch at the previous 2 days and there was a hemlock branch, maybe 4 feet long, sticking straight up out of the ground. It had fallen and speared itself into the ground about 5 inches, so it was an unsettling reminder of the dangers of dead trees and branches.
Veritable Vegetables: On day 1, before venturing to Kroger, we went to buy food from one of the ladies from the farmers market. She had fruits and vegetables as well as cheese, meat, and apple butter at her tent/trailer in the parking lot, so we wiped out half our vegetable shopping list right there.
Worrisome Wren: On day 3 we were clearing corridor when we discovered a nest of baby wrens right off the trail amidst some wild raspberry bushes. We left our three featherless friends alone in hopes that their mommy would come back, and sure enough when we returned they were guarded by a worried looking mama wren.
Xeroxed Xenas: So while the boys work on their guns, Caitlin and I have been doing leg exercises. She does 2 laps of lunges around the circle at camp, while I do wall sits while the guys finish up pushups. We’re both going to look like Xeroxed copies of Xena, Warrior Princess by the end of this. Yeah, we’re that buff. And yeah, X is that difficult. Give me a break.
Yonder Yulelog: So Juli left us on day 6 to go to a family reunion
and spend the week the lounging at the beach. Yes, one of his many nicknames is Yulelog, which when written Yule log is a piece of timber burnt at the hearth during Christmastime. Who knew?
Zesty Zealots: I’m so fortunate to be on a team with such exciting, passionate people dedicated to conservation, and I’m excited for what the next 4 months has in store for us. I hope you enjoyed this literary vacation from chronology, and the anecdotes from our epic hitch!