MR. KILLJOY


We had just finished sawing a 24 inch log in two places, dropping it on the trail.  Then, we sat on the ground and pushed it off with our legs.  Another section of the trail up from Patjens Lakes in the Mount Washington Wilderness was clear, just as one of our group returned from scouting what lay ahead.

“There are at least 30 logs between us and the wilderness boundary.”  My heart sank.  About an hour earlier, 10-15 cuts ago, a mile further back, a lady hiked by, telling us that we had “at most” twenty more to do to the wilderness boundary.  She obviously was wrong.

I have gone out ten times with the Scorpions, part of the High Cascade Volunteers, an amalgam of thirty volunteer groups taking care of the Central Oregon wilderness and the national forests, because the Forest Service doesn’t have the resources to hire enough personnel to clear the trails.  Elections matter.  A few folks started doing this 14 years ago, and now there are crews of volunteers going out at 7 am every Thursday and in summer on Tuesday as well. It is a two hour drive to the trailhead in many instances, the last part often on washboard roads, another hour—or more— spent hiking into where the work needs to be done, carrying saws, Pulaskis, pruning saws for the small stuff, a pry bar, doing the work, and hiking out.  

Then driving back to the meet up place.  Then driving home, hopefully before 7.  

The first time I did this, carrying a Pulaski, wearing a hardhat and other protective gear, we hiked 8 miles with an elevation gain of 2700 feet.  That’s a significant hike without gear and without having to work.  Chainsaws are not allowed in wilderness areas, so a log that might take a minute or two to cut with a chain saw takes a half hour or even longer to cut out with a two man crosscut.  Saws bind (we use wedges to keep the cut open), we sometimes have to under buck (do cuts underneath), and then we try to see if we can move the log after only cutting it once.  It’s difficult work.

Back to Patjens: The crew chief said, “Well, we’re obviously going to have to come back since we can’t finish.  Does anybody want to keep going?”

There were three others besides me, and all three nodded assent.  

“No,” I blurted out.  “I’m beat.”  I was.  It was hot, my knee bothered me, the last cut was a bitch, and I knew we had a 3 mile hike out of there before we could even start the drive home.  No, I did not want to continue, when I knew a crew would have to come back here to finish.

I prevailed.  

An hour and a quarter later, back on the road, one of the others told me that she was glad I spoke up.  “I didn’t realize how tired I was.”  

I did. 

A person willing to say no is valuable in these situations.  I was discussing my experience with a person yesterday on a drive to a hike.  He said that people need to speak up.  I replied that the leader shouldn’t put others in that situation, because many don’t want to be the one to speak up, to be the killjoy who says “no,” when asked to cut more, hike more, bushwhack more, climb to the next ridge, go on just a little longer, say they aren’t too tired, too cold, too hot, or something else I liken to a “contributing factor” to a accident report, which it may well become.

My wife once got suckered into climbing a short, but rather steep climb on an urban hike that didn’t mention the climb.  I was along and should have spoken up in her place.  She doesn’t like being the one who says no.  A few months later, on a long beach hike, we were part of the group that would turn around early.  When we arrived at that spot for lunch, the hike leader suggested we go “a little further” to another landmark.  I said no, that this was the hike we were going to do.  The leader was upset, but I realized—as did my wife, who didn’t want to say anything but who also wanted to return—that we still had to get back.  We turned around.  She stopped hiking with the Club.

I said no on a snowshoe loop hike up by Maxwell Butte when after a couple of miles of deep, unbroken snow, only three of us in the group, including me, breaking trail, we reached a junction: a steep hill was ahead, continuing to a shelter and a long loop back to the car, and a gentle downhill area was to our right, leading a much shorter 2 miles to the car.  The leader wanted to go up the hill.  Mr. Killjoy said NO.  “I’ve been pulling a lot (I should have said “breaking trail,” but the ex-cyclist in me used pulling), and I am not going up that hill with unbroken snow.”  What I didn’t add was that the hike was put on the schedule at 5 miles, and I knew already it would be over 6.  A mile extra snowshoeing breaking trail is like 3 more miles hiking.  At least.  We went right. 

A year prior, on another snowshoe uphill in waist deep snow, a person who had done this particular snowshoe kept saying, “around this bend.”  Finally, I put my foot down figuratively as well as literally.  “One more bend,” I said, and when the top didn’t appear, we turned around.  Later, in better conditions, I discovered it was another 3/4 mile.

One can’t depend upon having a Mr. Killjoy along.  As a result, many end up doing things that they assented to, but didn’t really want to do because they didn’t speak up.  I have discussed this issue in this blog before, (The Abilene Paradox) courtesy of the late Dr. Jerry Harvey, which convinced me of the need to speak up when I don’t like a situation.  

Having been burned on unscheduled food/drink stops (“it will only be ten minutes” but took an hour),  I know now that I either have to lead the hike or be one of the drivers.  I don’t want unscheduled stops or hike surprises: 

  • “hmmm, there used to be a trail here” (there was never a trail there, the leader took a wrong turn);
  • “we couldn’t find the lake” (nobody along had a GPS);
  • “We spent an hour looking for the lake, but I couldn’t find it” (the contours showed the lake above, not below);
  • “I know there is water here (a hiker who had the PCT trail update said there wasn’t, but the leader insisted and wasted well over an hour’s time);
  • “I left an arrow in the snow where I was going” (which I didn’t see), from one on my hike who continued without the group after a trail junction, something one does not do. and only by luck (which I don’t want to depend upon in the outdoors) was he at the lunch spot.  

I complain too much, and as one posted about me on Facebook (back when I used to read it), “Mike never smiles.”  That may not be far off, because when I get in the woods, I stay focused, know that early miles are like gold, knowing where I am in time and in location matter, if I don’t know where I am, I stop until I figure it out, and I keep counting people. Trail memory, recognizing when something is and isn’t familiar, and a keen sense of time are my virtues, although many consider them nerdy and too analytical.  I worry a lot, because it doesn’t take much for things to go south in a hurry.  Bad stuff happens, and I want to minimize it, not smile for somebody’s desire to get likes or shares.

As a New Zealand friend told me three years ago on Black Crater, “You don’t want to have to explain things to the coroner.”

Sign me,

Mr. Killjoy

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2 Responses to “MR. KILLJOY”

  1. Steve Nash Says:

    Dear Mr. Killjoy,
    Valuable lessons, so keep on saying “no.” And all of us who know you have seen you smile and have witnessed the joy when you share tales of the outdoors. They are some of my best memories.
    Steve

    • Mike Says:

      I don’t tell people here about my blog; it gives me a lot more freedom to discuss sensitive matters. 🙂 The best hikes I’ve had here have been solo with distances 19-23.5 miles. I’d never lead them, because I couldn’t go at the pace needed to do them in a day. And yes, I do smile!!!!! Doing a 3 day car camp up in the Mt. Hood area next week, assuming it doesn’t burn….

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