THE FUN GUY


Years ago as a volunteer wilderness canoe ranger in the Boundary Waters, I and the Forest Service lead had lunch at the Fall-Newton portage, just inside the wilderness, our last night out on a trip.  We heard a metallic crash in the nearby woods, so I went to see what happened, figuring it had to be on the portage.  Sure enough, about 100 yards down the trail a canoe was sitting upright in the middle of the trail. Nobody was there.

Figuring the owner went back to get more gear, I picked up the canoe, put it over my head and carried it to the lake, placing it on the shore. A few minutes later, a man showed up grateful that I had moved his canoe. He had a pack and some fishing gear with him, and my partner and I asked him where he had been.

“I was on Basswood Lake, and it was just awful,” the man moaned. It took me hours to get to the campsite because of the wind.”

“Yep.” I nodded. “We were out there. It can really be windy.”

“It rained every day.”

“Yes, it has been a wet summer,” I replied. “The difficult days are the days you remember.” I heard those words years ago, and they are correct.

“The fishing was awful.”

“Yes, you have to know where to look, but they are there.”  

The man looked at me somewhat exasperated. “And the bugs!”  He paused, looked right at me.  “Or are you into them, too?” 

I laughed. I had come across for the first and probably only time as Mr. Fun Guy. He lived in Florida, and he wasn’t coming back. 

***************

This year the Crew finished the Benson Trail, connecting FS road 640 and Scott Mountain Trail in the Mt. Washington Wilderness, about noon, 1500 feet higher, 3.5 miles farther, in,  two dozen cut logs behind us on a hot day, just in time for lunch, a shady spot with a small pond nearby. Benson Lake itself was about a half mile away, along with Tenas Lake and a few others in the area. Some of the Crew decided to go visit them. I knew the lakes were pretty, but I wanted to sit down, eat lunch, look up at the sky or the pond in front of me. I was tired, but happy we got the trail done.

Nearby pond at lunch spot

The log out was a typical day.  We had to carry our packs and take a tool: shovel, Pulaski, axe, big saw.  Logging out a trail while climbing, taking off and putting on your pack a couple of dozen times, taking out a saw, taking the cover off a saw, dealing with a downed log, is work, especially when it is hot and buggy, as it had been. I need a full day at home to recover, and I am in pretty good shape, unless my knee or Achilles tendon is bothering me, which are two current problems that receive daily ice. Drinking enough is critical.

While we were there, a man came by and recognized the Scorpion sticker on my hard hat. We are the Scorpion trail crew.  I also have a Salamander sticker as well for the Salem crew, since I have done joint work with them. He was with the Salamanders and was hiking on our side of the forest with his wife, seeing Scott Mountain, which wasn’t far away and at 6000+ feet  has a great view of the nearby Sisters and the upper McKenzie River valley.

The man was tall, dressed perfectly to be where he was, as was his wife. We started talking about what we had just logged out, and he was interested. The Salamanders work on the forest mostly to our north, where we don’t work, and he kept saying how much he enjoyed the log outs. “They are fun,’ he said, at least twice.

Fun. Wow. I can’t say I find them fun, but on the other hand, I definitely look forward to a good logout of a couple of miles of trail with a decent crew. That means we will be working together to size up what a log is going to be like to cut, where to cut it safely, and how to get it off the trail. We will maybe do a loop or have a car shuttle, but more likely we will hike back the way we came, enjoying the now clear trail. Fun? Hmm. Need to think more about it, but I liked his attitude. He talked with us for about 15 minutes before leaving. After he left, one of the guys said, “What was his name?” None of us knew.  That made me feel better, because I seldom recognize people. I do better with voices, but I had not heard this person’s voice before. I am far too reluctant to ask people’s names. Many don’t know mine, but it’s on the back of my hardhat.

Five days later, I was further north and west, working with the Salamanders on Maxwell Butte. I didn’t know until two days before whether I would do it, for the trail itself climbs over 2700 feet in 5 miles, but it is a good trail that goes into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, where I had not previously worked.

Shortly after I arrived, a tall man saw me, recognizing me from the prior week.  As expected, I did not know him by sight. This time, however, I asked his name, hearing “Bob” in return. OK, Bob is the tall guy with real blue eyes whom we ran into at Tenas Lakes.

We had a nearly full crew of 11. Beth divided us into 4 crews, and my group would log out from the wilderness boundary a mile in to Twin Lakes, about 2 miles in. We did that during the morning, while others went to Twin Lakes and worked to the top, a third group, including Bob, used a chain saw to clear logs to the wilderness boundary, while Beth worked from Twin Lakes up the Lava Lake trail. 

After lunch at Twin Lakes, we worked over a mile up the Lava Lake Trail the next hour until I caught up to my group and said that I was just plain tired. It was hot, we had cut out many logs, and I did not like each step carrying me further from the trailhead. To my surprise, the others agreed, so I radioed Beth and said we were turning around.  Within 20 minutes, all of us had turned around, including the group that got to the top of the Butte, where there are splendid views of Three-Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson. We heard, “It must be 450 degrees up here.”

Working with the Salamanders on Maxwell Butte. Notice the deeply scooped trail.

I was the first back to the trailhead, not because I was fast, but because I was closest to the trailhead, and because huckleberries were late, I didn’t spend time picking. After dropping my unused tools by the vehicle, I lay down in shade, changing my hiking shoes for running shoes, and swallowing 500 cc of water in two gulps. I knew that I had pushed my limits for getting heat related problems, which is why I turned around. 

Others soon appeared, and we sat in the shade, talking, or in my case, just resting. I asked Beth if it was OK if I left before the last group, the ones who had been at the top, and had a lot longer day than I, returned.  She gave me the green light.

On my way out, Bob came up to the car and stuck his head in the passenger window. “I know where I know you, “ he said. “You are on the Finance and Fundraising Committee. I recognized your voice.”

Wow, that’s impressive. For one thing, I don’t talk much at the Zoom committee meetings, and my picture usually is not visible, because I eat dinner during the meeting.  Additionally, he put my presence in the field together with the voice at the committee meeting to identify me.

As I drove off, I thought about fun. Not sure today qualified as fun, but I was deeply satisfied. The Salamanders are working on Turpentine Trail in the Mt. Jefferson wilderness in a couple of weeks. It’s a bit far to drive there, but a big pile of downed trees—a jack straw—needs work, the hike is shorter, and yes, it just might be fun to do it.

Maybe.

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