2017 Dispatch: Why am I here?

2017 Dispatch: Why am I here?

for the Siskiyou Hiker
by Karly White, 2017 intern

Why the HELL am I doing this?

Why am I working? I can enjoy views like this without carrying tools and busting my ass for eight hours a day. What is keeping me here? What is motivating me to push on, to work harder, to grit my teeth and just keep going?

24 APRIL 2018 | SEIAD VALLEY, CALIF. — Over Fourth of July weekend of 2017, I embarked on my first official work hitch on the Siskiyou Mountain Club’s Wilderness Conservation Corps. I was on a motley crew of individuals from across the United States, lead by Valentin Chavez. We would be reopening the Boundary National Recreation Trail, connecting the Pacific Crest Trail to a labyrinth of trail circuits in the Red Buttes Wilderness and Grayback Ranges.

Our journey began at the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest’s Shoofly Trailhead, our destination Lonesome Lake.

“Oh don’t worry,” said Chavez, “the hike is pretty steady. An easy nine miles. It shouldn’t be too difficult.”

And steady it was. Steady uphill. Unrelenting. For miles.

Sweat dripping from our brows, the crew trudged through tunnels of rhododendron, crossing streams and rivers as we ascended thousands of feet to Cedar Basin. This marks the crossroads between Lonesome Lake and Lake Azalea.

Moving onward, we entered the Klamath national Forest and the Boundary Trail was brushed over by thick manzanita and saddler’s oak. Over the next week, we would follow the ridgeline across the edge of the Red Buttes Wilderness, enjoying sweeping views of Siskiyou County, California. The Marble Mountains cascaded across the horizon, and snow-capped Mt. Preston would burn red each day with the light of the rising sun.

The slope below was charred in a forest fire several years previously, and was now covered in fire-scarred trees, green shrubbery, and alpine wildflowers. White bear lilies would sway in the wind as we ate lunch along the trail, and we’d take afternoon naps surrounded by the buzzing sound of bees pollinating the nearby plants.

As tranquil as the surroundings may have been, the work was not easy. Day after day, the sun beating down, we cut through the endless jungle of brush. A twenty-foot section of trail could take well over an hour to clear, and the heat was exhausting. By the end of the day, my face was covered in black dust, my hands were blistered, my neck was sunburned.

Every few hours we would take a ten-minute break, and I would immediately lay down and fall asleep in the dirt. I dreamed of hard hats and handsaws, and woke up to a similar picture.

Walking back to camp each afternoon, my muscles sore and my eyes weary, I couldn’t help but ask myself,

Why the HELL am I doing this?

Why am I working? I can enjoy views like this without carrying tools and busting my ass for eight hours a day. What is keeping me here? What is motivating me to push on, to work harder, to grit my teeth and just keep going?

We received a 2018 grant to replace signs in the Red Buttes.

As I continued my walk back to camp, a group of hikers turned around the corner. They were the first strangers I’d seen in eight days.

“Hey there,” said the guy in front, “you must be one of the trail workers!” A huge smile burst across his face. “This trip has been the highlight of my year. Thank you so much for the work that you do.”

Karli, her crew, and our partners at the Klamath National Forest

I was speechless. Muttering something nonsensical, I passed by and jogged out of earshot. Looking ahead of me, the path blurred by freshly-formed tears, I finally had a reason to keep going.

I spent my days making beautiful places accessible to the public; places that have the ability to inspire, to challenge, to change people’s lives. The Boundary Trail will be a place that cultivates good memories for dozens of hikers to come, and I played a role in that.

Sure, I was sweaty, and sore, and tired beyond all imagining. But who cares? It was an honor to do something so special.

Karli White was a 2017 Wilderness Conservation Corps intern and has since been living in different time zones. She may return this year as an assistant crew leader pending funding.

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