“LET ME DO THE FEELING”


It’s a bit strange to be walking uphill alone on an empty major highway: Oregon 242 is closed most of the year except summer; in May it is open only to bicyclists, four of whom I had seen rocketing downhill in the opposite direction on the yellow, pollen-stained asphalt.  They probably started in Sisters and had just descended from the volcanic zone, where in two months I would spend time hiking and camping.  

Today, I was taking an afternoon hike after a day at the “High Cascade Volunteer Trails College” where I was camped out along with ninety others, to learn about trail maintenance, crosscut and chain saws, first aid, GPS, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and the High Cascade Volunteers, for whom I do occasional work.  I was taking two days of trail maintenance courses and had time that afternoon to try to walk up to Proxy Falls Trailhead, three miles from the camp.  I thought I might be able to, but there wasn’t quite enough time, so I turned around on the quiet road, which cut a path deep through the Douglas fir woods, and began returning.  

A half mile later, enjoying the slight downhill grade, I saw a bicyclist riding towards me.  He had a hard climb ahead and 20 miles to go to Sisters.  He said hi and then stopped, asking if I had some water.  Wow, I thought.  Until he hits the snow level, and that’s going to be a while, he won’t be drinking at all.  I always hike with my day pack, because there always a chance I might need to spend the night out alone.  My water bottle was full, and I emptied it into his bike bottle.  The water would be gone in ten miles, but by then, the difficult part of his return would be over, too.  I was a former road biker until an accident left me with three broken ribs and a broken scapula, and I gave up riding.  I thought of how much I would enjoy trying to ride uphill on this road, but only now, when bicyclists alone could use it, not cars.

After my return, before dinner, many of us attendees were chatting on the deck outside the dining hall at the rustic White Branch church camp.  I was talking to the first aid instructor, who also had roped me into maintaining one of the wilderness trails near Willamette Pass for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.   Additionally, my volunteering had me occasionally scouting trails for the Scorpions, a local group, meaning I looked for fallen trees that blocked the trail—blowdowns—took pictures and  obtained GPS coordinates so they knew whom to send out and with what equipment to open up the trail, calling “logging out.”  I’ve been on one of their work parties, and the hike alone to the work area was arduous enough, let alone the subsequent work, and I am well known in my hiking group for leading difficult hikes.   

 

My work this year had been good—the pictures helped one work party in Drift Creek Wilderness a great deal to avoid carrying too much equipment an extra mile and a half uphill, and they made a different approach on Mount Hardesty than planned to log out an area, based on what I had sent them.  I admired guys my age and older who did this one day a week. I sort of felt like a member, but I sort of didn’t.  While my volunteer hours, posted on a big list, put me in the upper half of the 631 volunteers, I didn’t feel like part of the group.  It was a bit strange.

The last time I had such a strange sensation was when I scouted for my high school basketball team fifty-two years ago.  After the season’s end—very successful—I was invited to the banquet by the coach.  When I said I didn’t feel like part of the team, I never forgot his reply:  “Let me do the feeling.”  I went.

While on the deck, an older man came towards us.  He called me by first name, which surprised me, because my name tag had long since disappeared after a day of trail maintenance.  I knew he was probably Ron, head of the Scorpions, a trail clearing crew, and a legend in these parts.  Actually, I was stunned he came over, since I didn’t see my role as being particularly important. Somebody must have told him who I was.  Ron obviously felt differently, thanking me for the work I had done scouting Drift Creek Wilderness, on the coast, where one very wet day I soloed in several miles and took pictures of many blowdowns.  We talked about Hardesty, where I took pictures while leading a 16 mile club hike with nearly a mile of vertical elevation gain.  

At dinner later, I ended up speaking with a man from Hood River who had fought fires.  We got into discussions about South Canyon and Thirty Mile fires, and he was interested in my visit to the Thirty Mile Fire memorial.  He thought I had fought fires, but my experience was limited to a controlled burn about twenty-five years earlier in the Minnesota wilderness.  I talked about how errors in firefighting, like errors in medicine, caused preventable deaths, injuries and misery.

After dinner, there was a brief talk by the Forest Supervisor, who thanked everybody for coming.   Then, a few other group leaders spoke.  Ron represented the Scorpions, and as he stood up, he asked all Scorpion members present to stand.  I saw four others getting up. 

This was the basketball team issue years ago, coming right back at me.  I stood up, very briefly, very self conscious, and immediately sat back down.

Ron, however, twenty feet away, was looking right at me.  He took his hands and motioned in an upward fashion.  He didn’t say anything, but I thought I could have heard, “Let me do the feeling.”  I stood up, still self-conscious, but realizing I was a member of the group.  

The guy who hikes in on a wet day—or any other day—to take pictures of, take coordinates of, and measure blowdowns saves the rest of the group unnecessary hiking and carrying of heavy equipment.  In the wilderness, 2-man crosscut saws, not chain saws, are required.  We carry Pulaskis, MacLeods, occasional rock bars, shovels, and other tools as well.  My report saved the crew having to carry a heavy saw an extra 3 miles in Drift Creek, at Hardesty on two occasions, and at Crescent Mountain.  I have hiked in with them; I have cut out blowdowns, and I have helped push, with my legs, 48 inch diameter logs off a trail.  My blue diamonds on the trees on Tait’s Loop trail guide skiers and snowshoers to the right place. I was a member of the group.  

I thought of the bicyclist a few hours earlier, now presumably across McKenzie Pass and back in  Sisters.  My water helped him. It was great I could do something for the Scorpions.  I was pleased that I had learned to carry important gear when I was on the trail, even if the trail was a two lane road not open to traffic.  It mattered that day.

I am normally not much to think about karma, but in the space of two hours, I had two significant experiences where giving mattered significantly to others, certainly more than it seemed to mean to me.  In turn, I received significant complements which I suspect mattered more to me than the giver might have thought.

It’s just that sometimes it takes me a half century to fully understand some things.

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