You may have noticed that I’m a WIS volunteer for the the San Juan Mountain Association in conjunction with the National Forest Service. It’s been really positive for a number of reasons: getting me in the backcountry more often, trying new trails and regions of our 600 square miles of public lands in the neighborhood, and meeting new folks along the way.
I sandwiched two WIS trips around the GD ride last week, which made for a non-stop couple of weeks outdoors lately. “Hiking with a purpose” is how I’ve described the WIS experience in the past, as we clear trails of minor and not so minor obstacles, do a little water diversion, pick-up litter (amazingly little these days), remediate errant fire-rings, report downed trees and chat up people along the way.
You wouldn’t normally stop and chat with every hiker or group of hikers along a trail, other than to wave a hello and speak a greeting. But as a WIS volunteer we’re encouraged to chat with everyone and subtly, or not so, making sure they know about the Wilderness requirement of Leaving No Trace and not camping within 100′ of water among other things.
After 3 years of this, it’s getting much easier to find something to say or even open a conversation without it being awkward, forced or authoritative. I generally say, “how’s it going” and “where are you all from” before mentioning LNT or camping. On a long day hike last week, I came upon two groups of 13-14-year-old girls on four-day adventures with their leaders. After stumbling thru chatting with the first group of girls I’d wished I’d thought of something better and less inane to say than “did anyone get wet last night,” not knowing I’d have a second chance.
This second group came by about 2 miles up the trail, and I was warmed up and offered a better greeting. I told the story of meeting a group of girls on this same trail the year before and they had said that LNT – Leave No Trace was part of their curriculum. Immediately upon my mentioning LNT they formed a semi-circle around me and began singing and dancing thru this LNT skit they had memorized and practiced. I immediately welled up with emotion (a sign of getting older) seeing these girls dancing, gesturing and singing their 7 rules for LNT. I hope I don’t forget this experience for a long time to come.
I wish I’d had the forethought or opportunity to photograph or video that skit. As it was I never took a single photo that day, but the views were super in that part of the San Juan’s.
Then I got drafted to come along with a few Rotarians and friends for an overnight backpacking trip. Since it was also in the Weminuche Wilderness I hiked as a WIS volunteer and got to chat up still more folks on a very popular Crater Lake trail. My group got caught up in the routine of chatting up other groups, finding micro trash and cleaning aluminum foil out of fire-rings. (We can only guess the Boy Scouts are still roasting baked potatoes in fires.)
What was most interesting on this trip was the contrast in backpacking styles, specifically gear and weights. Two of the guys had 60+ pound packs with the “kitchen sink” compared to my 9.5 pound base weight. It was a teaching moment when they hoisted my pack and then saw I had more necessities than they at camp. They’ll be weighing things, investing in lighter gear, and buying new packs in the near future.