American toughness will not go out of style

American toughness will not go out of style

Reassured American toughness will not go out of style

for the Siskiyou Hiker
by Luke Brandy, lifetime volunteer

Volunteer Luke Brandy had the chance to spend ten days working with our Chetco Bar Squad in August 2018.

AUGUST 2018 | TAGGART’S BAR, OREGON — Bedded down by that big old abandoned rusting delightfully incongruent dozer blade, the soft applause of the low flow summer Chetco murmurously acknowledges our grueling slog from Boulder Creek through last summer’s burn scar to reach this sliver of exquisitely swimmable ecstasy deep in the Kalmiopsis.

I am physically depleted but more deliriously inspired than I have been about anything since my early 20s. The exuberance of the rugged, confident, and saw-sharp interns and staff of this late-August Siskiyou Mountain Club work crew kept me stubbornly stepping along the ravaged trails, across my favorite river, up through mountain prairies, below cobble-barfing buttes, past dark-canopied cedary springs, through charred and barren brushfields I’d helped to tame years ago with countless lopper snips when the trail was a deep green leafy tunnel, past logs–blackened and boney now–that I remember struggling to cut ignorantly incorrectly with the mighty crosscut on my first ever Kalmiopsis rookie work trip, and seeing new logs, freshly cut perfectly and sprinkled with rakered fairy saw dust, conquered earlier in the season by this robust, enthusiastic, energetic super crew of trail zealots. They exude pride, and grit, and determination. Working alongside them is a dream achieved.

The unrelenting, wild, adventurous American spirit lives on out here. The task of reestablishing buried tread on jagged scree-spewing slopes felt hopeless at first light, but by midday the ting and scrape and chime of synchronized treading tools rang out a rough continuous discordant yet invigorating harmony that echoed across the burned-up deserted topography. We made immense progress carving anew this lonesome stretch of trail, excavating switchbacks, correcting old mistaken trail reroutes exposed now by the fire, rediscovering the hard work of our never-met, though fantastically imagined, trail crew predecessors. I sense the spirit of the people who built these trails here with us now, assessing our efficiency and quality, and I am absolutely certain that we do not disappoint them; we perform exceptionally, ensuring no cut corners or half-assed construction, restoring trails to their newly built glory.

These routes and linkages provide a glimpse into our past and into an untrammeled thrilling world of rowdy adventure-induced feral euphoria. We lovingly nurse these trails not because they are popular, crowded, and loved to death, but because they are neglected, scorned, and could very well be forgotten and erased from human memory, if not for us. This is not an easy place to reach, it takes strenuous efforts and an obstinate constitution. Miles are earned out here, you cannot take this hardscrabble place for granted, it is a vast severe inverted Garden of Eden…a Garden of Demons– poison oak shadeless firestorms meat-hungry cobra lilies toxic rocks sunbathing rattlesnakes playful writhing killer newts derelict busted mine detritus swarming yellow jackets mounds of manzanita berry bearshit and bowtied furry fecal cougar noodles. Harsh, barely hospitable, yet it is also somehow our secret favorite haven, too.

Under the savage veneer there is gentleness here: clear still pools in the upper Chetco tributaries, a tickle of breeze on the crest between Taggarts Bar and Box Canyon Creek, kingfishers and woodpeckers filling the canyons with joyous raucous calls, extravagantly diverse Ericaceous chaparral humming with drunken pollinators, and orchids erupting by gurgling streams. I am uplifted as I watch a new cadre of interns being mentored by the seasoned staff and interns of years past–skills and lessons are handed down the treading line, words of encouragement crucial advice criticisms corrections and compliments. On this last intern work trip of the summer I see the magnificent growth that the wilderness has encouraged in the hitch-hardened young comrades, June-blister hands are leather-tough and polished now, they are giddy spring-drinking hardboiled wilderness heroes and highly productive, focused, and driven. The short breaks we take on the sun-scalded peridotite scablands are filled with friendly banter, and long-running fever-dreamy jokes and true stories being woven into trail legends while the afternoon plume of the ash-belching Klondike fire to the north rises as reliably as the moon will when we are back at camp tonight.

I watch and listen to the crew and I am reassured that American toughness will not go out of style. Nobody sacrifices their summer break for $40 a day to haul massive packs and perform manual labor in the brain-broiling backcountry because it is trendy and popular on the internet. The wilderness spirit is burned into them just as the hot tongue of the wildfire is seared onto the heat-exploded rocks along the trail. After a few days out here, I care about nothing more than restoring trails, achieving Gabe’s impossible goals, obtaining Aaron’s approval of our work quality. If I can contribute to the continuation of the American legacy out here in this fantastically beautiful wasteland, if I can help ensure that future generations come here to explore, and suffer, and work hard and experience the mind-altering serenity that backcountry adventures can produce, then I can allow myself to experience a moment of undiluted Taggart-worthy satisfaction as I settle in to a blacked-out slumber securely surrounded by the tents of my Chetco Family. ###

Luke Brandy is a lifetime volunteer at Siskiyou Mountain Club. Lifetime Volunteers are those who have contributed as much as most do in a lifetime. He lives in Ashland with his wife, Erin.