Week 11 | From Home to Home: Missouri to Montana | July 22-27

Hi there, readers!

Looking at these dates got me like, “Whew, it has been a minute!” This is 1 of 2 posts detailing my Big Sky adventures with AmeriCorps St. Louis. It’s a long one, but it is perhaps my favorite kind of writing—travel writing. Come get swept away in a cross-county caravan, visit a remote state park, and enjoy some mountain vistas. Enjoy!

All the colors coordinate? Who could have planned that?

Monday, July 22 | Monday mornin’, rain was fallin’. I woke up to rumbles of thunder and phone alerts of flood warnings. I made some adjustments to my gear to try to save it from the soggy commute (mainly throwing things in a garbage bags). I wondered for the tenth time if I was overpacking. Keeping an eye on the radar for an opening in the storm hardly helped. Everything—myself included—was drenched after my five minute walk to the office.

As excited as we all were to get out of Missouri, it was a slow pack-out while waiting to see if the rain might let up. It did not. Looking at everyone else’s piles of stuff, I felt like I actually might have underpacked. I also wondered if packing my laptop in my Montana bag (not to be accessed until we arrived) was such a good idea with all the bigger, heavier bags sharing the same covered truck bed. In all the hustle and bustle, there I was, wandering around and looking for ways to help while not knowing what or where things were. I finally found my place in the middle of a fireline, a cog in the conveyor belt tossing gear—duffle bags, sleeping bags, 70L packs, boots, sleeping pads, helmets—through the rain and into a truck.

With our (hopefully) trusty steeds Seawolf, Growler, Chester, and Vanna, each packed with 5 soggy people, dank gear, and a loaf of vegan banana bread, third wave rolled out of HQ just before 0900. With Frankie behind the wheel of Chester, we listened to oldies, classic rock, and country as the rain dissipated down our westward path. After a couple hours, the sun poured into the back seat of the green pickup and I realized that dear old Chester had no A/C.

Wave 3, ready to roll!

Our first stop was a Haymakers gas station in Macon, MO, for gas and lunch. The cool, dry post-rain air was fantastically refreshing. I perused the gas station looking for a somewhat substantial snack to serve as lunch. Only after I walked back to the trucks did I see a tailgate down and two coolers open for the lunch operation. Then I knew, lunch traveled with us. One of those things I would have known if I had done ERT, a nagging theme that would follow me to Butte and back.

For the next leg from Macon to Mound City, MO, I switched out of the back middle seat and onto the sunny side of the truck, where I had more leg room but fried like an egg. I already looked forward to my shower on Wednesday. I tried to imagine that the wind coming through the window was a chilled ocean breeze blowing over the undulating green sea of corn.

Not far north of Mound City heading toward Omaha, NE, we spotted fields covered in standing water as far as the eye could see and the air stank of old mud. Clearly, this part of the Missouri River watershed was still saturated.

The surrounding rolling hills, with Nebraska on the right and Missouri on the left, had noticeable height to them, and I only grew more excited for tomorrow’s route to Sheridan, WY, where we’d meet the Rockies.

The hills form the East and West boundaries of the river valley and we could see all the way across the divide. When historians and farmers say the big rivers used to change their courses, I imagined the Missouri River flowing all over this valley before it was constrained. And, I wondered how often farmers here deal with the unpredictable flooding. North into Iowa the lakes continued covering corn fields and sinking silos. It was more marshland than farmland—even 3 to 5 miles from the River—and hard to tell where the fields ended and state wildlife areas began.

North of Ohama, the last of the visible floodplains receded and the landscape reverted to the monocrop Midwest I know so well. When one of those low-level, cotton ball clouds covered the sun for a few minutes, I could detect the slightest chill in the breeze. I spent the last hour and a half building a tent out of my sweatshirt to hide from the sun. I was also feeling a little dizzy from the roller coaster-force winds funneling through the open windows and battling my brow the whole afternoon.

We rolled up to the Central Baptist Church in Sioux City, IA, around 1830. It looked new, like it had been built in the last 5 years. The gym that would serve as our bunkhouse for the night was freshly painted and carpeted. We unloaded our overnight bags, got dinner at Pizza Ranch, and wrapped up a long day by exploring our overnight accommodations, staking out a spot near an electrical outlet, and, in some cases, going for a run and participating in a giggly stretch circle. Was this be the most comfortable place I sleep in the next two weeks? I couldn’t help but wonder.

Tuesday, July 23 | With sore shoulders and only a few hours of sleep, I woke up grateful I brought my new cold-weather sleeping bag because it was chilly last night. We pulled out of the church parking lot at 0700 and stopped at a nearby Casey’s gas station to load up on coffee before heading south through town toward I-90. I found myself not unintentionally in a different truck, Growler, with 3 new faces. It’s a chattier crew than yesterday and the working A/C is a game changer.

A light fog hung over the glassy Missouri River and before long we were in South Dakota—a new state! We crossed the swollen, north-stretching Missouri River around 1100, marking halfway through South Dakota and halfway to Butte. The west side of the river was immediately more hilly, the lumpy farm fields rose into scrubby cattle land, and I started to feel the oncoming Rockies somewhere in my gut. Those who know me well know how much I love the mountains, and I’m sure this comes as no surprise!

At our stop in Presho, SD, we let down the lunch tailgate and voted to stop at the Badlands even though we have 6 hours to our accommodations after that. While Yellowstone tomorrow was the other option, I’d never been to the Badlands. It was a win either way.

Lunch operation in full swing

Badlands National Park did not disappoint! The sweet smell of blooming prairie grass swept the city dust out of my nose to make room for western wildflower pollen. Layers of colors—purple and yellow shale, tan and gray sand and gravel, red and orange iron oxides, and white volcanic ash—covered 244,000 acres of Lakota land with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the U.S. While a broad range of wildlife, from prairie dogs to bison, roam the park, we were not lucky enough to spot much from our trucks.

A good view of these bad lands
Livin’ my best life

We caught sight of our first prairie dogs as we continued on. And on. And on. And on! The park just kept going. Around seemingly endless bends, we wound around mini mountains stretching far into the kelly green carpet of northern prairie. At times, the peaks seems to actively jut up toward the sky; at other points, it looked like the park was gouged out, leaving the rivulet-ridden ridges open to the elements.

ERT caravan trucking through Badlands National Park
Seawolf leading the pack

At the visitor’s center, I snagged a new National Park pin and magnet and a book of Lakota wisdom called The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living by Joseph M. Marshall III. Marshall, born in 1946 on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux) tribe and was raised in a traditional native household by his maternal grandparents. Under their roof, Marshall learned Lakota as his first language and inherited the ancient tradition of oral storytelling. He is a leading cultural and historical consultant and is perhaps most well known for being seen and heard in the Turner Network Television (TNT) and Dreamworks television mini-series “Into the West.” Furthermore, he handcrafts primitive Lakota bows and arrows, and he is a specialist in wilderness survival. I look forward to reading more of his work.

A shuffle at the last scenic overlook found me in Smokey as the all girls truck. Three little storm anvils peeked over the western horizon as we got back on I-90 and, naturally, I wondered if we would meet them in a few hours. And we did, the faint mountains of Black Hills National Forest under their ever-growing shadow. Mountains and storms—two of my favorite things. We lost the sun behind the thunderhead as we rolled through Rapid City, SD. Looking back from Spearfish, WY (another new state!), the view from the other side was any cloud aficionado’s dream. I was convinced that more than one good rain must’ve come through the region pretty recently, leaving ditches full of standing water and spring-green grass.

As we journeyed on, I saw a tiny Devil’s Tower 30 miles to the north. Rain shrouded the mountains of Bighorn National Forest as we trucked over the last of the foothills, but through the rain sheets we spied some snowcaps. Dozens of pronghorn deer emerged for their evening snack. Despite the fanned out clouds, there was no rain to wipe the insect onslaught coating the windshield.

At last, Sheridan, WY. We wobbled out of our trucks and into Qdoba for dinner before setting up for the night at First Baptist Church, where the ERT caravan has stayed before. I continued to feel accepted by the Members of ERT. People were generous in their snack offerings and compliments, especially regarding my little blue Camelback and how it cradled my Nalgene like a baby. I had a sense of who I’d befriend if I were in ERT with Year 25 and, luckily, some of them are staying on for Year 26. It was a long but good day of ’90s jamming, picture taking, and cloud watching. I hoped to actually sleep and avoid more sore shoulders.

Wednesday, July 24 | It’s Montana Day! Most of us were up by 0600 MST. I’m sure it was partly our CST circadian rhythms and partly the relatively short drive (6 hours) to our final destination. A box of donuts and a stop at McDonald’s sent us on our way to Hardin, MT, where I’d driven through before! Signs for Billings made my heart leap in my chest—home.

We made it to the Montana border at 0800. Our group photo under the sign was the quickest stop of our whole trip. I was back in Crow country. I reflected on how much more I appreciate, know, and continue to seek wisdom about indigenous culture. I didn’t remember ever seeing so many pronghorn deer out here. The colors, one of my favorite things about the west, came through mighty fine without help from the sun. My heart felt so happy.

Hello, Montana!

The stretch between Hardin and Billings was beautifully bare of development (minus I-90) and comfortably familiar. Hardly any cattle, crops, or homes to speak of. At last, I saw the outlines of the Crowne Plaza hotel, Wells Fargo, and First Interstate Bank in the heart of the Magic City. Sadly, we picked one of the least picturesque gas stations for our Billings pit stop. I kept the heartfelt memories visible from the highway—the sugar beet factory not far from our humble house on the side side, one of the elementary schools I visited every week, the bicycle path that follows the curve of the Yellowstone River—to myself as we passed south of Billings. As much as I wanted to share more about the large town/small city (depending on where you’re from) that meant so much to me, I had to remember that Billings was just a stop to many people on this trip. Oh well, I’d be back to make more memories with my old JVC housemates, the Billings Babes, next month.

The wide open spaces of eastern Montana fell away in the rearview mirror as we started along the more developed and mountainous stretch toward Bozeman. I enjoyed the familiar views and thought back to JVC retreats and trips deep into the west side of the state. Rain and clouds shrouded the beloved Beartooth Mountains (as usual), but the iconic and mysterious Crazy Mountains, with their snowy crevices, basked openly in the summer sun. We passed Livingston and the exit for Paradise Valley, where my housemates and Billings friends spent 4th of July weekend in 2016, where we saw The Last Revel at the Pine Creek Lodge, and where we got caught in a storm heading up to Pine Creek Lake. We were driving through the heart of some of my favorite memories from my last AmeriCorps program.

At the Bozeman stop, we made lunch from whatever food in the coolers wasn’t spoiled—which didn’t leave much. One leg left. I finished Beyonce’s Homecoming for about the 100th time as we pulled into the gas station in Butte a little after 1400. We made it! After a gas refill and bathroom break, we collected ourselves in a side lot and got our assignments from Wren, our Stewardship Coordinator, who came to meet us. I would be on the team staying in Butte while the other 3 teams went out to what were prefaced as gorgeous places. I was a little jealous and hoping that Fleecer was lovely, too. We split off to go grocery shopping and get oil changes. I was just along for the ride as the newbie, but I also felt like I was using my year in Billings as leverage maybe a little too much.

That is, until I was charged with grocery shopping for my new team for the rest of the week while the trucks got their oil changed. I remembered the days of budgeting and counting pennies in JVC, but I was out of practice. I thought I was taking the low road by snagging a couple of pizzas and salad stuff. I didn’t want my team plus Kenan and Kelley to think I was lazy. But, the teams who were cooking with camp stoves for the next three days at their sites eyed the pies with big, hungry eyes. We joined the other teams in milling around Walmart for awhile and in the end we had a decent menu.

At last, the trucks were done. We all loaded our groceries and headed to Feely, MT, to our cabin, Fleecer Station. After exiting off of I-90 onto I-15, we drove into the sun toward some rolling hills. The scents of pine and sage wafted into our cab.

We turned from the scrubby prairie into a grove of birch trees, and the winding gravel road brought us into an opening in the trees where the red Fleecer cabin sat, surrounded by battened down grasses, scattered tents, a wall of firewood, pines on the west side, birches on east, and a pristine blue sky overhead.

This is exactly what I hoped for! Somewhere far from the highway where we just spent the past 3 days. The breeze conjured up the familiar hushhh of the birch trees—one of my favorite sounds.

We unloaded Seawolf of all the gear we couldn’t get to while on the drive. I gathered my bags, then picked a spot for my tent. I wandered to the pine side and quickly got a thistle in my toe. So, I moved to the birch side. Then, the flies descended. They weren’t biting, but their constant buzzing and running into things was enough to encourage me to quickly set up my tent. I took a tour of the cabin. I could see why we all had to camp outside, for it is pretty small. One bedroom is Bruce’s base, the other an office packed with radios, printers, and laptops. The sink was the only thing that worked in the bathroom—no shower, no indoor toilet, hence the two porta-potties on the property. I arranged the inside of my tent while the newly arrived Members reunited with some Members already at Fleecer who they hadn’t seen in a few weeks. Other teams are off site.

After dinner, I already felt a chill in the air around 1800, so I donned my long layers and spent the evening chatting around the fire pit while Members worked on the trucks, fixed chainsaws, chopped wood, play cribbage, washed their hair with the garden hose, called loved ones, and planned to pack out for their assignments. It was after 2200 and the sky was still a soft blue when I cozied up in my thick sleeping bag and sweatshirt as temps dropped into the 50°s. I wondered how to keep my nose warm as cows moo’d nearby.

Thursday, July 25 | It was a cold, windy, sleepless night. Temperatures bottomed out at 40° as the sky began to orange behind the pines. I grumpily made my way into Fleecer, smashing a brown, quarter-sized spider before getting to the kitchen and opening all the cabinets to find a mug for tea. I completely bypassed the fridge since I didn’t know who’s food was whose or where my team’s food ended up. I settled into the living room to read The Lakota Way and warm up. A few others joined me in the 0500 hour and we talked about how cold it was. More folks woke up and rolled through for breakfast and coffee and then went back out to pack their tents and head off site until Saturday.

Today was my first day on project! Our team—Mo, Jason, Andy, and I—is putting up a “kiosk,” big or trail sign, at Rocky Ridge Trailhead, which leads to the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). I packed a bag with everything I thought I’d need, plus my camera.

It was a long morning meeting with reminders about safety while driving, when crossing train tracks, when cutting down trees, when a storm blows in, etc. Safety is definitely of high importance with ERT. We’re here to get things done—and make a good impression on the new folks at our partner agencies who don’t know much about our legacy here (and may not want it to continue)—but, nothing is so dire that we need to put ourselves in harm’s way. The meeting went on longer than I expected, but I wondered if Bruce, the Executive Director, was thinking in the back of his mind that this could be his last summer with ERT in Montana. I had no way of knowing, so I tried to pay attention to everything.

Three teams prepared to “spike out,” which apparently just means camp while on project. (Some of these little things I try to pick up using context, but sometimes I have to ask someone because I have no idea and they aren’t very intuitive.) Kenan and Andy joined Team Gold and I’m glad, because when I saw what this kiosk was supposed to look like, I thought, Oh sh*t. We had a lot of work to do in 3 days!

I hung around the garage trying to help but not knowing what or where anything was, again. Teams checked and double checked who had what equipment, if the generators had gas, if the liquid in the gas containers actually was gas, etc. Truck after truck rolled out of camp and into the crisp mountain morning. As for our team, we went just to the end of the road leading to the cabin. We were greeted by some “woo” cows from across the little North Fork Divide Creek. Maybe they were some of the same ones rustling near camp last night. Fleecer is just a small plot of land surrounded by a private ranch.

Rocky Ridge Trailhead sign with Mount Fleecer in the background.

Bruce joined us as we measured where the three post holes needed to go. Once marked, Kenan drove the auger into the dusty, rocky ground. It wasn’t called Rocky Ridge for nothing. We pulled up some big rocks stunting the auger’s progress. Mo and I drove into Butte to pick up to post hole diggers (one of the few tools I actually knew) to help lift the dirt and rocks out of the 4 ft. holes.

During lunch at Fleecer, I finally understood what food was communal and I also found my team’s snack stash. I stayed at Fleecer with Jason to sand and paint plywood boards for the trail sign. I got Forest Service Brown paint on my AmeriCorps St. Louis t-shirt and I felt like a true Member of ERT. The flies were relentless temperatures rose and an aggressive horsefly severely hindered my flow as I attempted not to get bit. Late in the afternoon, I prepared my pizzas and strawberry salad so it was ready when the rest of Team Gold returned. We sat in the living room talking, laughing, and hearing stories about moose and baby grizzly bear sightings.

I finally had some quiet time in my tent, which cooled down significantly in Fleecer’s shadow. On my way out to brush my teeth, a herd of 8-10 cows broke into a run by the fence; they seemed more restless tonight. I watched bugs jump around outside my tent, thankful that they were neighbors and not roommates (I double checked all zippers to keep it that way). Across the property, it was not much quieter with the other teams gone. Tools clinked and hammers tinked near the shed as the last of the day’s light slipped away.

Then came time to prepare for the cold. The winter leggings and wool socks made their first appearance. I prepared a garbage bag to slip over the foot of my sleeping bag for when I woke up in a few hours feeling like a refrigerated burrito. I also shifted my sleeping pad to the center of the tent to get away from the draft coming under the rain fly. I put my duffel of clothes at my feet so my toes wouldn’t freeze when they slid off the sleeping pad due to the slight incline of the ground. Only my face better be cold tonight!

As I started to feel the chill in the breeze and the nerves about being able to fall asleep, I made sure to still enjoy where I was. Out my tent door to the southwest was a lovely scene. Closest to me was a few feet of mowed lawn before the long grasses and thistles as tall as me reached for the sky. Twenty feet beyond that began the birch grove with its army of slender, white trunks with round two-tone leaves quivering like spirit fingers. A cow path cut through the small grove and the green and gold prairie lay on the other side. Across the valley, the mountains glowed purple in the pink sunset. It was the kind of vista I dream of, and I must not take it for granted.

Friday, July 26 | It was a better night, but still rough. I got more than 4 hours, which was the goal. 0400 is the coldest hour, and if I wake up any time near there, there’s no going  back to sleep. I started water for tea around 0500 and read my Lakota wisdom book, which I was really enjoying so far. The dry air was starting to take effect, and I was so glad I brought chapstick and lotion for these cold mornings.

The Fleecer team was a good size today: Kenan, Kelley and I would dig more post holes, Andy and Jason were cutting down trees blocking part of the Butte 100 bicycle race, and Wren and Mo would sand, grind, and paint other parts of the kiosk before departing to measure a corral for replacement wood.

I rolled out in a green pickup named Reptar, past a herd of a few dozen black and brown cows, auger trailer in the back, “Kenan and Kel” in the front. We crossed the I-15 valley and I got a better view of Mount Fleecer, bald at the summit and still holding on to a patch of snow. The cabin hides from the highway like a secret getaway. After winding around and downshifting up a few miles of dirt road, we hit an incline that proved to be a formidable opponent against our auger-laden, 20 year old, former Forest Service pickup. It took 3 tries to pull the trailer up the hill, even with Kelley and I waiting in the brush to lighten the load. While standing off the side amid the alpine plants, the scents of sage and pine covered us like dust from the road and I was determined to find an organic candle to match it when I got home. The smell of sage reminding me of the Crow smudging ceremonies from my memories of their reservation.

Kenan adroitly navigated the dips and rocks as we continued up Highland Road. He and Kelley asked about my time in Billings. I talked about being a JV and the similarities between JVCNW and ERT. Sharing my experiences was like aloe to cool my burning impostor syndrome.

We stopped briefly at Burton Park Trailhead before deciding to check on the other trailhead in the area, Highland, before beginning. On our way to Highland, we caught sight of a huge moose!

The Highland Trailhead overlooked a wildflower meadow near the Highland Mine Historical landmark. Beyond the meadow, I think we could see the mountain range home to Stine, Maurice, Granite, and Tweedy Mountains (based on Google Maps). I couldn’t remember the last time I was that excited to be at work on a Friday.

Hi, I’d like to never leave – thanks!

Kelley and I broke ground around the posts of the old sign and Kenan pulled it up and out with the auger. Using the holes left behind, we measured out spots for the holes for the new kiosk. Using the neon orange spray paint for marking post hole spots, Kenan tried to cover some obscene drawings in the trailhead bathroom. But, the permanent marker showed through and the drawings were highlighted instead, so no one could miss them.

Just like at Rocky Ridge Trailhead, I got down on bruised knees to pull up dirt and rocks with bent shovels, post hole diggers, and two hands. Unlike Rocky Ridge, the ground was plush with dark dirt, brown clay, and jagged multicolored rocks, instead of dusty brown dirt and large round stones. The flies were merciless.

Eventually, we hit a literal rock bottom in some of the holes. Attempts to break through with the auger or rock bar were futile. We stopped for lunch while Kenan thought about other options.

I grabbed my camera and wandered down part of Highland Trail to try to capture the amazing view from today’s office. Up there, I heard another favorite sound of mine: the wind in the pines.

Getting back to the task at hand, we couldn’t get the generator going for the jackhammer, despite Kenan’s best efforts to tinker with the inner workings. We headed back to Burton Park for more of the same—pulling up the old sign and digging holes for the new one. Kelley and I mostly watched Kenan run the auger, took measurements, and avoided cow pies while taking in another fantastic view. Bruce drove up to talk to Kenan and show him some things on a map. I took a moment to stop and look around. I was really having a good time.

Back on paved road down the mountain, my eyes itched from the dust. We drove into Butte to drop off the auger, rolled passed the Forest Service office, and had a serendipitous run-in with Andy and Jason. They sized up the kiosk posts—13 ft. tall, 1 ft. in diameter—with Kenan in the Forest Service lot and I jumped into another truck with Wren and Mo (also visiting the office at that moment) to get some things from Walmart. I thanked Kenan and Kelley for a fun day, because it surely was.

At Walmart, we used the last $35 of our team budget on snacks for the cabin in preparation for more Members returning tomorrow. With my backpack full of gear and my clothes, arms, and face covered in dirt, I felt like I would’ve been quite a sight in any Walmart east of Mountain Standard Time. I was proud to walk through the aisles with Wren and Mo, three ladies in our “A”s, getting things done, like buying ice cream.

Back at Fleecer, I uploaded my photos while waiting for dinner. I have some serious cutting and editing to do! After dinner, I finally got to take a shower, which I hadn’t done since back in Missouri on Sunday night. Mo, Jason, and I drove back to the Forest Service office to use their showers, which were so nice. I was a new woman. A lean, clean, post hole-digging machine.

Saturday, July 27 | At last, I finally slept well thanks to a warmer night under cloud cover. I noticed more people sneezing and sniffling as they shuffled around in the morning buzz; the mountain shrubbery doesn’t agree with everyone. After our morning meeting, we split into two teams.

I hopped in a Forest Service truck with Wren and we met Jason in Vanna at the Forest Service office to pick up a jackleg to reinforce a cattle fence. While searching the yard for a pre-made jackleg, it was cool to see “Continental Divide Trail” stenciled into half logs for the trailheads I dug post holes for in previous days. We caravanned north on I-15 toward Helena, turned left onto Boulder River Road at Bernice, and disappeared into camping country. We followed the Boulder River from shrubby gulches into the dense, pine wilderness. Radio in hand, Wren kept in touch with the team coming back from clearing over a dozen miles of the CDT to let them know Vanna was on its way to the Rock Creek Trailhead. Along the way, we had to cut and move part of a tree that was hugging the side of the road a little too close to let us through without a scratch. We parked Vanna at a clearing near the Rocky Ridge Trailhead and turned around to head to our next assignment.

We had to backtrack quite a ways to get to Lowland Creek along Kit Carson Road, which lead to to Sheepshead picnic area near Mary Lake. We found the spot for the jackleg, but we did not find our drill bits. Well, no pilot holes for us. We found a mallet in the truck and went to work smashing 7-9” nails into the old wood. By the time we were done, not even the most ambitious of cows could make it through our section of fence!

A quick lunch break was followed by the trek back to Rocky Ridge, where the post holes were dug, the poles were on site, and the second team was doing a lot of math. The ground on which we measured out the post hole was slanted and the bottom of sign needs to be 38” off the ground. There seemed to me to be too many cooks in the measurement kitchen, so I waited to see how I could help in other ways. A storm came over Mount Fleecer, and Andy cut the bottom of one 13 ft. pole before the first raindrops came down. We waited out the shower in the trucks. At times, the wind drove the rain sideways. I thought back to camp and hoped my tent was anchored well enough to stand its ground. With much finagling, measuring, leveling, sawing, re-finagling, re-measuring, and re-leveling, we got the posts set in the holes and supported by 2×4’s.

Teams who had been on project since offsite before we arrived started returning to camp with tales of almost hitting a bear with their truck, pooping in the woods for the first time, dealing with trench foot, talking to CDT thru-hikers about chainsaw scars, and things I didn’t understand because I haven’t learned enough ERT language yet. People asked me how I’ve been enjoying Fleecer and if I’ve gone out on project, and I appreciated their interest.

One moment, camp was bustling with teams unloading trucks, scavenging for snacks, hugging it out with friends they haven’t seen in weeks, and the next moment, 3 trucks pulled out to take people to the showers and the movies, leaving about 15 of us at camp. Our entertainment, besides stories from the past few weeks, was watching the construction of an outdoor shower made of tarps clothes-pinned to old laundry lines and fed by the cold hose and, later, a warm water “cubie” (cube-shaped water jug) that had been in the sun all day. We sat around the campfire playfully judging how others built fires, or hugged fires, or combed hair, while through the birch trees to the northeast pink and purple rain clouds slowly ambled across the mountains dozens of miles away.

By tomorrow, all teams will be together again, and the 45-ish of us will celebrate the end of Year 25. After this week, I felt closer to the folks I’d been on project with and I felt more a part of ERT than before. Now, I’ve successfully participated in 2 of the 3 focus areas: disaster response and conservation (wildland fire is going to be a stretch haha). 

Thank you so much for reading! Part II is comin’ at ya next!



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