This post is authored by Casey, an ACLC Corpsmember and Assistant Crew Leader of the Ridge Runners.
This summer I served as an Assistant Crew Leader on the Ridge Runners Camping Crew. We worked out of the Pike National Forest in the Rampart Range and cut six miles of new single-track dirt bike trail over the course of two and a half months. The crew consisted of ten 18-24 year-olds and required us to camp out for ten days at a time. With the exception of an occasional bathroom break and a few minutes of alone-time in our tents at night, we spent virtually every moment of every day with one another. By the end of the summer we were like a family. Living with a community of nine others, working and living in the woods for ten days at a time was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. It brought me closer than I have ever been with a group of coworkers and taught me more about myself than I could have every imagined.
Tuesdays and Thursdays were our travel days, but once camp was set up from Wednesday-Wednesday our average day looked something like this: We would wake up around 5:00am, have breakfast and make our lunches for the day. This usually consisted eggs and oatmeal, but occasionally we had time to make bacon, potatoes, and green chili if we got up early enough. Lunch was usually a couple sandwiches, some fruit, and an assortment of snacks including energy bars, trail mix and plenty of protein. Dinner was the real treat, where Matthew would whip up the most gourmet meals you had ever seen at a campsite. I still can’t believe how well we ate out there. Long story short, food was a very big part of our camping experience, mostly to sustain ourselves and get through the intense days on the trail.
After breakfast and making our lunches we would have a stretch and safety circle which usually included some ridiculous question such as: “If you could be one mythical creature what would it be?” or “If you had 24 hours left to live how would you spend your final day?” or “If you could marry one celebrity, who would it be?”. After that we would take off for the trail, which was typically a 1-3 mile hike. All in all, we were hiking around 5 miles a day. Once out on the trail we would get to work and assume one of the various trail-building roles. Usually a few of us would go up front and clear the corridor, removing and large logs, branches, or vegetation that were in the way of the flag line that marked the trail. Behind them were usually a couple pickmatics and a few McCleods, breaking ground and pulling away the dirt. Next would be a couple more pickers, McCleoders, and shovelers working on the backslope, defining the critical edge and flattening the bench. Once we got in our groove and figured out an effective process for constructing the tail we were unstoppable and cut an average of one mile per 8 days on the trail.
After getting back to camp in the afternoon we would usually just hang out and relax, read, listen to music on our solar-powered iPod dock, play hackey-sack and bocce ball, or take a much needed nap. Dinner was always a personal highlight of the day where we would come together and share our highs and lows from the day while relaxing over a delicious meal usually spearheaded by Matthew, one of the other Assistant Crew Leaders. The night was usually finished off with some Environmental Education or a hike up to the ridge near our campsite.
The summer was full of memorable moments that I will always carry with me. Some of them were humorous and left us laughing uncontrollably, while others tested us as a group and required us to overcome unforeseen obstacles. Everyone got a good laugh when Jason, our youngest Corpsmember, shrieked in terror as we discovered a cricket in his shoe one morning. We had some of the most amazing views any of us had experienced in Colorado, particularly the ridge near our second campsite. I saw more wildlife this summer than I have seen in the last three years living here. We got to eat bear and elk, and had some of the deepest and most insightful conversations you could imagine. On the flip side, working in the middle of the forest fires was an intense challenge. We talked about anything and everything while out on the trail. The smoke in the air combined with the high altitude we were working at took a toll on everyone. The final hitch involved a flat tire, lots of inclement weather, and a day where we hiked 12 miles. We were forced to evacuate our third campsite and move closer to the main road after being visited from a young black bear and we had our fair share of cold, rainy nights.
Coming back to the city after being out in the woods for ten days, you start to appreciate the simple luxuries in life. Ice cubes in a glass of water, sitting down on a couch, or simply being able to take a nice long shower seem like the most amazing things in the world. You also notice how nice things are out in the wilderness when you get back to 100 degree Denver weather with all the noise and stress of the city. Reflecting back on this summer, being separated from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle was therapeutic and good for the soul. When we were out there in the woods, the food never tasted so good, the sleep never felt so good, and the bonds between me and my coworkers were never stronger.
For more pictures of the Ridge Runners’ summer adventures, check out our Flickr.