Our team of eight volunteers carpooled from Seattle on an overcast Saturday in June to meet up with Bill Hawley, regional representative for the Pacific Crest Trail Association. In the Snoqualmie Pass trailhead parking lot, Bill and two other sawyers reviewed safety and procedures. We knew what the day had in store – two hours of driving, a six-mile hike laden with gear and hours of trail work. I expected a day of hard work and to feel good when it was over. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love.
After working in three small groups for the day, we had cleared 11 trees, hundreds of branches and filled a giant hole. Every one of us was laughing, sweating, and loving every second of it. We spent the day three miles in at a knot of 10 blowdowns that snarled the trail for a hundred yards, presenting anything from thin trunks leaning over the trail at head height to old giants that would have swallowed our 6-foot-long foot saw. But now our biggest challenge lay before us and none of us wanted to leave until we’d cleared it. It was an old growth behemoth that had split in several parts, leaving a giant, 600-pound section blocking half the trail.
Five of us dug our feet into the ground, boots sliding and grinding into the soft dirt. We threw our shoulders against the fallen tree and waited.
“Ready” Bill yelled out.
All together our battle cry ripped from our throats “PUUUUUUSHHHHHH!”
Nothing happened, the log did not move a sliver. I stood up and wiped sweat and mud from my forehead. Birds, startled by our yell, returned to chirping overhead.
“Hikers!” our lookout yelled and we stepped off the trail as a train of happy people walked through the holes we’d carved and scrambled over the logs we had not gotten to yet.
Suddenly I was back.
Back to my 2013 PCT thru-hike. Back to the trail where I’d hiked through 101 days of blisters, dehydration, and effort to pour more sweat and effort for a day of trail maintenance.
It was mid-August of 2013 and I was on the PCT in Oregon, about to cross into Washington. I’d been hiking for months. As I crossed the Bridge of the Gods a tingle ran through me, I had just walked through Oregon in 11 days and my body felt great, except for my feet. They had gone numb somewhere in the last state and now felt nothing.
After averaging 40 miles a day through Oregon I was ready to push to the end. Beautiful evergreen Washington stood between Manning Park, Canada and me. My daily elevation gain started to creep up and up, and before I knew it, it climbed to more than 10,000 vertical feet in a day. The new norm consisted of a 1,000-foot climb followed by a 1,000-foot drop only to rinse and repeat every five miles. And downed trees were everywhere. Each one took effort and strength to go under or over, power I no longer seemed to possess. It was then I knew how I would give back to the trail I loved.
Just like the tight-knit community that thru-hikers form on trail, our day of trail maintenance was about all about the people. We became obsessed with tackling each problem presented by the layout of the blowdown. We gave each other trail names and laughed and learned the rhythm of the five-foot double-buck saw.
Bill led us through adding a perfect system of levers and rollers beneath the behemoth. This time our battle cry came was met with movement. The behemoth rocked in its indentation before falling back in. Again and again we pushed, rocking the sleeping giant until it exited the lip of its crater and to our horror rolled directly across the trail and crashed to a halt in a worse spot than before.
I sat back, resting to regain the energy needed to tackle this new problem. I looked around at the inspired volunteers around me. Several were people I’d met that day, but many were friends who joined our little company on our monthly adventures. It’s been 22 months since my PCT thru-hike inspired the official founding of Uphill Designs Co. I like to think that the ‘Co’ in our name stands for “collective,” because that’s what we are — a small collective of adventurers and creatives based in the Pacific Northwest building a better world through adventure.
In our small Fremont, Washington, workshop, we handcraft custom gear. To build a stronger connection to nature we use natural materials, burned logos, and simple designs to reflect the simplicity of the woods. This gear draws inspiration from and will spend its life on the trail and it is in our blood to maintain those trails for the future. Now, on this day, to have gathered volunteers for a day of trail maintenance and to have our equipment on the PCT and bearing the tools for its upkeep gave me a deep sense of completeness. It was inspiration and adventure coming full circle.
After taking a break to refuel, we regrouped at the side of the behemoth. Now there were eight of us with hands and feet braced, taking any safe pushing position the sloping trail offered. The two lookouts on either side gave us the all clear, keeping a pack of interested onlookers a safe distance back.
Bill started the count, “One, two, three.”
This time the behemoth sprang to life eagerly below our hands. The levers of branches creaked as the beast used their length to launch itself off the edge of the trail into the hillside below. A deafening cracking and pounding filled the forest air until with a final thud, the behemoth came to rest against the base of another giant.
Applause greeted us as happy hikers filed past. They thanked us profusely, the clear trail ahead a stark contrast to their log-filled path just hours before. This time we filed in behind them and started the hike to the cars.
At the parking lot, watching my crew being fed beer and snacks by a group of onlookers, a familiar feeling washed over me. It was the same feeling I had after hiking 2,650 miles and finally touching my hand to Monument 78, the small structure delineating the U.S.-Canada border.
The feeling that the hard work was over, for now.
The feeling that this adventure had reached its temporary close.
The feeling that I’d see the PCT again, very soon.