Wednesday, March 29, 2017

24/7/365 - Tips for staying together when you work together and live in a 160 square foot box

24/7/365 - and loving it!
A few days ago we were out working on the trail and stopped to chat with some passing hikers. As usually happens in such conversations. Once folks learn that we live onsite, volunteer for fun and  are full time 'retirees' they ask 'how do you do it?' We launched into our usual explainations (covered in prevous blog posts), but they stopped us short. "No, How do you live and work together every single day, all day?"

We didn't have an answer for that. But I've been thinking.

First off, we're lucky, we do get along well. Somehow we're just generally in the same grove and there are few conflicts. So the bigger question is how do we handle problems, or what do we do when we're annoyed with each other?

Working together on the trail, when it was hot and dusty, gave me some time to think. I think it boils down to timing, an appreciation of possible consequences, and the ability to give the other person some leeway. In other words it is being together so much that allows us to get along so well. It's timing...and knowing...and using both of them together.

Take, for instance, S.D.'s habit of using the McLeod to push the rocks into a berm on the side
The McLeod -
Get one, they're great!
of the trail rather than completely off the trail and down the hill and thereby creating a trail trough. This annoys the bleep out of me.  At the beginning of the day, when we're fresh, cool, and full of energy I'll either casually mention it or let it 'ride', following him, and pushing the rocks off myself.  About the same time, I'll notice that he's casually clearing out the water bars that I 'overlooked'. He thinks I'm a little too lax in my water bar maintence. But we're in good moods, it's no big deal.

Later in the day, as our moods and tolerances lower, I'll make a comment, hoping it's a hint, about how the last trail crew piled the rocks on the side.  "Looks at this berm" I'll cleverly say, "that last crew just created an canal for the summer rains to run down and erode everything." Meanwhile S.D. wll offer to clean all the waterbars for me.  We're getting a little too tired to let it ride, but still thoughtful enough to kindly broach the subject of our annoyances.

By the time the sun is beating down and the wind is blowing dust up our noses we could be more annoyed than ever but know that ours moods might be too foul to bring up the subject in a constructive manner.  Now when I notice him clearing my water bars, it's hard not to comment, but hopefully I manage some restraint.

Also being together all the time means we don't have to ask that dreaded couple question "how was your day?".  We were together when he dropped a huge rock on his toe at 10:20, and then I wacked myself with the McLeod at 2:00.  That having happened, I know at 2:30, it's probably not a good time to mention the pile of rocks left in the middle of the trail.

Conversely, if it's been an especially bad day, we know without asking that it's a good day to say or do something nice for the other. Take for instance last Wednesday.  Sunny, 82 blistering degrees, 4% humidity and we were on the trail, chainsawing juniper, oaks, cholla cactus and sotol. Well, we were supposed to be. After lugging the chainsaw, and the gas half way down the trail (1.5 miles) the bleeping thing stopped working.  We had to lug the thing all the way back and....look forward to doing it again.  Oh and we ran out of water.  We went through 6 liters in 5 hours.  We both knew it was so bad, it was time to be especially good to each other. We cracked a few jokes and when we got home, brought each other big glasses of water, cool bottles of beer and made ourselves an especially nice dinner.

On the other hand, if it's been a beautiful day, we've watched a pair of red tail hawks ride the
Refreshing lunch-time spot
termals up Bear Canyon, seen a herd of mule deer grazing below, enjoyed lunch in a shady, cool wash; we know that now might just be the right time to talk about 'issues.' After a particularly nice day, say a hike up to Guadalupe Peak, it's a good time to forward S.D. the 2007 "Guide to Sustainable Mountain Trails" and facilitate a discussion on their recommendation of a 10 to 15 percent horizontal footbed slope. Then when he points out the section on waterbar maintaince, I can laugh and take the lesson in stride.

SD says:  She's lucky I'm so easy going.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Between a Sotol and a Cactus

All sorts of scratchy things in the desert
The rattlesnakes are starting to come out.  That's what they keep telling us when we head out to do trail work.  And every time I turn over a big rock, or starting reaching into a giant rock pile, I'm reminded of those words.  So far, however, no rattlesnake encounters. But not to worry, there are lots of other 'desert things' that are out to get us.

Take, for instance the nasty little scorpion that managed, in the second it takes for me to flip over his hidy rock, to sting me in through the one small hole in my glove before scampering back beneath another rock.

There are also lots and lots of biting ants. Rather than scurry away, they attack.  Running up your arms and legs, crawling into gloves and under cloths, and then biting.

Even the rocks here are sharp. Really sharp. We need leather gloves to move them, and we need to replace the gloves every six days.

And then there are the plants, especially the sotol and the cactus.  These are ubiquitous desert plants that aren't terrible bad on a one to one encounter but bad because they are everywhere they are so common that you forget about them, or in come cases so unavoidable...and then they get you.

Sotol is described as an "evergreen rosette plant, with long spine-clad leaves that attach in a series of circular tiers around a shortened, central stem." While native Americans found the sotol a useful food source, harvesting and eating the central stem, trail hikers and trail crews are more concerned with those 'long spine-clad leaves.'  The darn things are sharp! And they seem to especially thrive right next to, and occasionally in, the trail. At one spot in there are two growing on exact opposite side of the trail leaving a passage space between them of only one foot. It's impossible to get through without getting scratched or having your cloths snag.

The cactus also like growing in and beside the trail. This being the Chihuahua desert there are lots of cactus. Big barrel cactus and cute little hedgehog cactus are fine. It's the prickly pear and their little unique glochids that cause the real pain. Glochids are "clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines found just above the cluster of regular spines. glochids are yellow or red in color and detach easily from the pads. Glochids are often difficult to see and more difficult to remove, once lodged in the skin."

They only look soft and fuzzy
To me, it was pretty funny when S.D. lost his balance and reached out to steady himself on a prickly pear. He had his gloves on but spent the  next few days digging almost invisible, painful, little spines out of his glove and hand. A week later, S.D. had the last laugh as I actually laid down on a prickly pear pad. I had to sheepishly ask hm to find and remove what he could find of the two inch long line of glochids on the back of my arm.  The area is still tender and I swear there is still one of them in there.

This week we'll finish 'rocking' the Frejole Trail. The next step is cutting back plants.  Armed with long sleeves, gloves, loppers and a chain saw, I know of few spiny specimens that are going down!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Infrastructure or Life on the Trail Crew - The Common Ground Tour Continues

Breaking rocks in the hot sun!
Never again will I blithly hike along a trail watching the scenery, looking for birds and animals and not giving two thoughts for the trail under my feet.  Doing trail work at Gaudalupe has changed all that.  Now when we hike it's the trail width, tread condition, water bars, plant encroachment and overhang, switchback planning, and lots of other little details that also demand attention.

Like much of the U.S. infrastrucure, and trails here were expertly designed, built and maintained until about 20 or so years ago.  Then a series of budget cuts, two one hundred years flood, and hiring freezes began to take it's toll. This national park is well known and loved for it's 80+ miles of trails. Usage, both by humans and horses is constant. As I mentioned in my last post, folks love their national parks. They appreciate and use them more and more every year.  At the same time maintenance and trail crew budgets and staff have been more than halved. That's where S.D. and I fit at GUMO.

Our boss, Mark, is the Mule Packer and Trail Boss. Our first day at work was foggy, wet, and
Before "rocking"
 at one point hailing, but nevertheless we walked out along our two mile 'job site', the Frijole Trail.  Mark pointed out all the work that need to be done to bring the trail that climbed up through outwashes and along the top of the allevial plain into good condition.  Some of the work was significant and involved, some just pretty hard and tedious.  Being new to the job, the hard and tedious tasks naturally fell to us.
After "rocking"

Our second day at work was sunny, warm and clear. S.D. and I hiked out to the mid-point of the trail (the Bear Canyon trail intersection) dropped our packs, mattock, sledge hammer and McCloud, took a long drink of water and began clearing the millions of loose rocks off the trail and out of the hundreds of clogged water bars.

Since then our trail work has been much the same, but that trail sure is starting to look sweet! We still get tired and dirty but our muscles are getting used to the work but we've experienced many special moments, discovered some new things things and had and a few adventures. (Adventures worthy of their own posts.)