The Trail Forearm


The forearm.  An often forgotten muscle group, forever in the shadow of the impressive bicep.  When working on trails in forests and public lands, you begin to flex and tear muscles you never knew you had, including your forearm. What develops in this area is called the Trail Forearm, specifically referring to the engorged lump on the exterior of your arm that develops after extensive use of the wrist. The road to developing such a muscle in the field is perilous and long.

Heading out into the field, you carry loppers and a handsaw. Your project could be trying to clear a trail corridor, opening up an area for a field, or possibly removing limbs in order to block an illegal trail. You are fine with using a simple tool and you know your job will be worthwhile. You are wearing a clean, bright blue SCA t-shirt that states, “Conservation Begins Here.” You look down at the slogan on your shirt and beam with pride. It does begin here.

The first day goes great. You have been trimming and cutting branches and small, shrubby trees no bigger than two fingers put together. Your lops are sharp and your spirits are high. With your 5-person crew, you snipped your way through 7,000 square feet of overgrowth. The sun is shining and you are looking forward to a quick workweek. You have heard of others speak of the trail forearm, and wonder if your arm will start to gain this muscle.

You have been lopping for five days. Your shirt is now a cobalt shade of blue mixed with a grey brown. Stains from sap cover the front of your shirt from when you have hauled brush away.  You are not sure if you have developed a tan or if it is just dirt.  Your hair feels greasy yet dry. You know it is dirt. While you sleep, you can feel your muscle fibers trying to pull themselves together, and in the morning you silently apologize to your whole body, thinking that they tried so hard to heal but you’re only going to rip them apart again. You wake up with The Claw and you use all of your physical and mental strength to stretch and extend your fingers back into a normal position. A muscle burn runs from your elbow to your wrist. You wonder how to possibly stretch this area.

At the worksite you grab the loppers, your familiar ally in this journey to clear out all the brush. You walk up to the space where you left off yesterday. A green leafy stem stands before you. You kneel to the ground, and take a deep breath. You grab the two lopper handles, one in each hand. You spread your sore arms to either side of your torso, opening the loppers beak-like blade. You place the tool on the stem of your chosen plant and squeeze your arms together.  Muscles screaming out, you are trying your hardest, hoping, willing this half-inch twig to sever.  There is a tightness in your chest… maybe it is your pectorals? Are those real? Can you be flexing your chest while doing such a seemingly simple task? The twig bends instead of snapping clean. Your lops are not as sharp as they once were. Too many woody branches have come before this one.  You slump to the ground; dejected, thinking your strength is just not enough. Questioning what it will take.  How can your arms become herculean? Or at least some sort of grotesque body builder status. In this second, you think a lowly stump has defeated you, but in the next second, your previous struggle is forgotten and you continue to the next plant to be cut.

Later, while under the pretense of doing a tick check, you check out your physique in the mirror. You shake your hair out and laugh thinking back to your work earlier in the day. You feel exhausted but in the best way possible. Exhilarated, really. You cannot believe how your face could be so dirty. You can see exactly where your sweat had pooled above your lip, because it created a dirt line. You growl at your reflection, then stick out your tongue. . You look down at your legs and wonder what those new shapes and curves are developing? You flex your arms, spin around and pose. Most importantly you curl your arm, in the classic bicep curl, but turn your wrist out. A lump. What is that? Can it be?

The Trail Forearm.