GOOD TIMING


It was my eleventh time as crew leader, only three of us and a short day on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, a wild and scenic river from where it leaves Waldo Lake until it flows into the main Middle Fork just below Westfir. 

There is a trail running from Westfir up the west side of the river, crossing various Forest Service roads, going about 10-12 miles, and we were at the northern terminus. The Crew has worked a good share of the trail, logging it out, deconstructing three failed bridges two years ago, filling in root wads.  We were not working there last winter, and in a short period of time a good deal of work accumulates on any trail. We are trying to get in the mode of having people scout the trail in advance, looking not only for downed logs, but for the need to brush plant life off the trail and repairing the tread.  That way, we know what size crew we need for the job and the tools required. I scouted a trail last year for a joint crosscut log out. Knowing how much work we had to do was valuable in the planning.  The North Fork trail had been scouted and logged out; our job was to brush it to High Creek, maybe a mile, perhaps beyond, depending upon what it looked like and the weather, which was forecast for rain.

With three of us and two brushers, a mile is a reasonable day, too much if the trail is overgrown, too little if it isn’t. I took the brushers in my car, leaving no room for anybody else other than me; the other two drove together up to the trailhead.

We started off with two brushing and my job as swamper to move everybody’s gear up the trail with them.  That meant a lot of walking back and forth, making sure that the gas for the brushers was nearby when one of them needed to be refilled. If as the swamper, I had time, I needed to rake the debris off the trail.

After an hour I asked one if he wanted a break. He agreed, and it was my turn on the Stihl brusher. I wear ear muffs attached to my hardhat to dampen the sound; I like brushing, and I know how to start the brusher, how to use it. A year ago, I was told in front of the crew to brush lower to the ground, not high up, which I had been doing. Someone asked how low?  I said “sea level,” which got a laugh. Next year I should be able to change out and clean the spark plug on a regular basis, which I could probably do now, although I am not mechanically gifted. I went ahead cutting low to the ground, swinging the brusher back and forth across and the trail to the sides, and we worked our way uphill for a third of a mile before a gradual descent. When the brusher runs out of gas, it quits suddenly. I filled up and started cutting again.

It had been raining when we left town, but the front had stalled out briefly, and we were 30 miles east of town. Being December, in the woods, it was dark enough, and the ground damp, but we stayed dry until about 11, when it became flat out dark suggesting the front was moving in. With a hardhat on and a brusher motor running, the only way I can tell it is raining is to look at my shirt or gloves. If it is raining hard enough, I can then see it come off the hardhat in rivulets. My gloves were wet, but my shirt wasn’t as I started the descent to the creek, swinging the brusher, cutting out plants near the trail, occasionally a thick blackberry bush, sometimes repeating the swing to cut out some ferns that I had missed. Blackberry bushes are difficult, because they can grab feet and trip one, and some of the stems are thick.

Soon enough, I arrived at the creek first, soon followed by the other brusher, and the swamper moving the packs. We had deconstructed this bridge two years ago in the rain and mud. Two of us went into the water further than we had planned. I remember moving about 20 good sized heavy planks up on to the bank, briefly carrying, mostly pushing and cursing from below. The remains of the bridge looked about the same as they had nearly two years ago. I went down to the stream, discovering the the logs were smooth like ice, and the crossing, while safe enough with just ourselves, would be significantly more difficult if we tried to pass a brusher from one person to another. Once we were across the stream, we would have to come back, too, an important reminder in the woods when one does an out and back hike. 

One of the guys asked me what my goal was for the day.  I didn’t have one other than to take a crew out and brush the trail as far as we could get. Stopping here seemed reasonable.  None of us wanted to go further. We don’t take a formal vote on such matters; usually we are all in agreement. If not, we discuss what the best option is, which usually is to stop and return.  

It would rain harder on the way back to the vehicles. We had lunch in one at which time it was pouring.  Nobody commented that it was nice we weren’t on the other side of the stream working. The brush would be there another day.

Below: Left the day deconstructed in 2021; right, late 2022,

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