June 18-25: The People Make the Place

As I reflect on this hitch, I am realizing that it is one of the most physically and mentally exhausting things that I’ve ever done. Carrying a backpack and a crosscut saw or a shovel through the wilderness while it’s raining can be a significant damper to a person’s mood, but I was proud of our crew’s morale. We stayed positive for most of the hitch, and we encouraged each other during our low points. While we were hiking, we discussed favorite singers, life stories, travels, and an in-depth analysis of each of our spirit animals. There were moments in the afternoons where one of us would start laughing hysterically, and we couldn’t help but join in. One moment that I remember vividly is turning around to see Sammy on the trail behind me, holding the saw and her pack, doubled over and completely paralyzed with laughter. I also learned that once I start laughing very hard, I can no longer support my legs and end up collapsing onto the ground, which just makes me laugh harder. This hitch helped me define the phrase “knee-slapping laughter.” Between the chopping and sawing (arm workout), backpacking (leg workout), and the long fits of laughter (ab workout), I think we had full body toning! The challenging aspects of this internship are so insignificant when compared to the amount of support and friendship offered through my connections with the other staff members and interns. During our week in the backcountry, I learned more about Sammy and Kenzie than people that I’ve known for several years. Kenzie taught us about cross-cut sawing, chopping trees with your inner dragon, edible plants, backpacking tips, and most importantly, about perseverance. We also made an executive decision that her job title as “program director” is not really accurate and should probably be changed to “wilderness candy fairy” (she snuck Snickers into our backpacks during a rainy day) or preferably “mustard fiend” (she may or may not have consumed 45 servings of mustard during the week). Sammy was eternally positive and upbeat, and I counted on her for support during our long days. It was fun to see Sammy interacting with the stock that packed our gear in, and she was eager to learn more about horsepacking.

 

The crew at Fish Lake Saddle—notice the snow on the summer solstice!

 

On our last day, we took a wrong turn while trying to clear the trail up to Lone Knob, and ended up going in a giant circle. Once we finally found the trail that would take us to the trailhead, it was starting to become dark and we had been clearing trees and hiking for eight hours. On the hike down, I fought to keep my feet moving in a forward direction and I started lagging behind. I felt so tired and discouraged, but Kenzie and Sammy were right there, saying “How are you doing, Bon?” When we reached the trailhead, we all stopped and hugged each other, proud that we had finished. We were crushing it, as Kenzie would say. I am so grateful that I have this opportunity to be challenged and grow as a person, but I am most grateful for the people surrounding me, who are giving me support, guidance, and helping me realize that I can accomplish a lot more than I ever thought.

One of the highlights of the hitch was arriving at Fish Lake cabin after hiking to Fish Lake Saddle, where we encountered snow. Fish Lake cabin is a picturesque little spot in the middle of lovely, quiet, absolute nowhere, which seems to becoming increasingly rare in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We watched fog roll across the airstrip and saw elk in the distance. Our spirits were joyful as we sat around in the light of a Coleman lantern, and we celebrated the summer solstice peacefully, telling stories that were (of course) accompanied with a lot of laughter. As I settled into my sleeping bag, my body grateful for stillness, I realized that although I was exhausted, I was extremely happy in the simplest of ways: getting to know two wonderfully genuine people and having the privilege to explore this landscape. I believe that the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is incredibly beautiful and majestic, but I am convinced that the people that I work with and spend time with are truly what make it a special place.

     — Bonnie Ricord, Wilderness Ranger Intern | June 26, 2013

 

A welcome sight — the cabin at Fish Lake.