After traveling by car and plane from all over the country, the Jawbone/Rands crew met at the Olive Ave house to get to know each other through cooking good food and playing games. We were all dog-tired but ecstatic to finally get to know who we would be spending the next 10 incredible months with. The next long day involved meeting the Wilderness crew for some rather dull but necessary SCA risk management presentations, learning about maintenance for our SCA trucks, and other job responsibilities.
It was fun to learn about SCA’s protocols from our Project Leaders, but hard to keep our concentration with a trip to the field the following day. We said farewell to the Kiava/Grassland crew and broke back into our Jawbone/Rands crew for the next day’s adventure. Our outing was to the Jawbone-Butterbrendt Area just outside Ridgecrest, where we learned how to set up our whitewall community tents, pick a spot for our open-air latrine (an ammunition box with a toilet lid, known respectfully in the DRC as a Rocketbox), and how to adapt our individual pup tents to stand with half the correct amount of tent poles (improvise, adapt, and overcome!). Our leaders, Tony Bossler and Stephanie Deckman, went over a few campsite guidelines to maintain a positive and healthy community dynamic and we, as group, wrote up a Community Contract to put some of those guidelines into camp law. We left after visiting a few area highlights, including Robber’s Roost and Sage Canyon, feeling very confident about the desert and our group.
After a successful First Five introduction, some members went to complete a 4×4/off-road training while others went through a basic work skills training. 4×4 training was mentally and physically challenging, as we pushed the limits of our SCA Dodge diesels and our courage, through some wild backcountry trails just outside of Ridgecrest. While those members gained the knowledge to get our rigs out of sticky situations, others spent time in the Rands Mountains learning how to disguise illegal Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trails and use G.I.S. Trimble units to track the progress. It was a good week of learning in the desert, which immediately led into our 18 day outdoors training, dubbed “Notoberfest”.
Jawbone/Rands and Kiava/Grassland crews set up for Notoberfest in an area northwest of Ridgecrest named Great Falls Basin, named after the numerous waterfalls created by massive boulders during flash floods. We were extensively trained in assessing hazards to mitigate risks by the none other than SCA’s Director of Risk Management, Steve Smith. Everyone agrees that we are lucky to have been taught by such a legend. After Risk Management training, we went over our community contracts and expanded on how we can further facilitate community life.
Next was Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training, presented by two awesome Aerie instructors, Josh Olsen and Roman Sanchez, which gave us the skills and knowledge to treat injuries and illness, so we can save lives in the backcountry. The extensive 8-day course consisted of lectures, exercises, and most importantly, very real scenarios in which we had to complete evacuations for multiple seriously injured patients. This course pushed us and empowered us to be confident in emergency backcountry survival situations, and we are all so proud to now be certified responders.
Amid WFR training, we got a much needed day off, during which some members explored the Trona Pinnacles, while others found good reading or nap spots back at camp. The Trona Pinnacles were tall, other-worldly tufa deposits (a variety of limestone) standing in a dried lake bed. For our second day off after the conclusion of WFR, everyone drove out to Surprise Canyon, where we hiked through a refreshing stream into a beautiful, vegetated canyon. It was definitely surprising (hehe) to see such an abundance of water and vegetation in such a dry place.
Halloween was in fact celebrated in the desert! Our leaders brought pumpkins in for us to carve, and costumes were made with lots of creativity and spunk out of whatever materials were available. We danced the night away under the starlight, snacking on baked pumpkins seeds and hot apple cider.
We finished Notoberfest by learning how to manage our crews for when we each independently assume the leader position while on hitch. We were all a bit exhausted from the WFR course, but our Peer Leadership instructor, Jonah Keene, was able to captivate our wandering minds for the last 2 days at Great Falls Basin.
Our last night at camp, we hosted the annual “Talent/No Talent” Show where members performed hil-ARIOUS acts and captivating musical performances by torchlight in our little cove. This is when we realized how truly awesome we all are.
After packing up, we returned home for a night only to split up and immediately go back into the field as 3 separate groups to become certified Leave No Trace Trainers the next day.
The LNT groups went to separate locations, where members gave presentations on each of the LNT principles. One crew went to Fremont Peak, a desert mountain overlooking the dry Cuddieback Lake, reaching 5000 ft elevation. Those in the group will remember having a delicious lunch of mango salsa and nachos at the summit. Another crew went to Owens Peak, the highest point in the southern Sierra Mountains at 8400 ft, overlooking the expansive desert to the east and the densely forested Sierra’s to the west. That group found amusement when the two project leaders were made Mountain Goats for a Respect Wildlife activity and then proceeded to charge, bite, and chase the crew who acted as intrusive visitors. The third group went to a section of the Pacific Crest Trail at Walker Pass, and hiked past small Joshua Tree populations after waking up to ominous clouds hovering over the peaks of pine-covered mountain tops. It was a cold night, but some enormous helpings of Pad Thai we cooked for dinner kept us going through the next day’s heartwarming LNT presentations.
Training on hiatus, we checked out the area during our six day break. Some relaxed at home, and others went to nearby outdoor attractions such as Fossil Falls, and campgrounds on the Kern River. All in all, our first break was a great precursor to the many adventures we will take together on our days off. So much has happened in the past few weeks! After spending every waking moment together, we couldn’t imagine the season with a cooler group of people.