I’m really starting to enjoy the routines that come along with my work schedule. One example: I have to do laundry every weekend. There’s really no way around it – once you’ve spent 50+ sweaty hours in your only set of work clothes, you really need to clean them. And while I’m pumping quarters into the local laundromat (with free wi-fi (awesome)), I usually throw in my bedsheets, towels, and whatever else could use a rinse. I fairly certain that in the last two months, my sheets are consistently cleaner that at any point in the last 8 years of my life (which is when I stopped living with my saint of a mother).
Creating routine and stability is rewarding for me. By nature, I am not an organized person. It takes a lot of time and effort for me to make schedules, lists, and plans, and sticking to them is another matter altogether. But it’s worth it. You know that feeling when you get something that you’ve been anticipating for a long time? Maybe it’s a book that you can’t wait to tear into, a video game that’s calling your name, or a free weekend and a new show on Netflix that you can binge-watch. Or maybe a vacation, seeing an old friend, or even cracking a beer after a long day. I get that elation in my chest and that sigh of relief from being organized and having a plan for my time. Add to the fact that I live in a 50-square-foot vehicle, and keeping things tidy makes a big difference.
It’s been an interesting challenge to structure my life these days, but I think I’m doing pretty well for this season. I’ve got my grocery list dialed in, I’ve got the gear I need to camp comfortably, and I’ve been able to spend my time (mostly) productively on the weekends. I have a creeping suspicion that winter will bring a new set of challenges, but let’s pretend that’s a long way off in the future.
HITCH 3: Ouray (week 4)
We went back to Ouray National Wildlife Refuge to finish up the project that we started during weeks 2 and 3. The week went by slowly, marching around spraying herbicide in the hot sun. I maintain that it’s important work, but the day-to-day gets pretty boring and uncomfortable. We worked with a group of guys that have been spraying invasive plants for the entire season, which is pretty impressive. Compared to that, we don’t have much to complain about.
We were spraying in a new area of the refuge this week, which resulted in us seeing a couple herds (this may or may not be the correct term for a group of horses, which depends on the identity of the horses in question – “herd” refers to wild horses (which these probably were not), “team” refers to horses used for agricultural purposes (which did not seem to be the case), and several others that were definitely not applicable (drove, harras, troop, stable, etc)) of horses and cows, as well as a band or two of pronghorns. While cows are not exactly exciting, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of watching horses. And pronghorns, dude. They are so fast.
HITCH 4: Kemmerer (week 5)
Ah. So good to go back to Kemmerer. It’s a combination of things, no doubt. Not spraying herbicide for 10 hours a day in the hot sun was a big plus. So was a slightly cooler climate. And beautiful sights. And cool people. Lots of things.
We again spent our time in the open ranges of sagebrush that cover southwestern Wyoming repairing fences and otherwise foiling the dastardly cattle that roam the area. As dumb as cows are known to be, when you see one step arrogantly over a damaged segment of barbed wire fence that you’re trying to fix, all while making unwavering eye contact in that uniquely unsettling cow-like manner, you begin to assign malicious intent to their actions. It seems like most of the effort of the BLM in this area is focused on redirecting and containing these massive beasts.
The only “hitch” in our hitch (I’m very funny) was a punctured tire that we noticed about 50 miles from town, and 25 miles from the nearest paved road. Fortunately, we had a spare, and changing the tire wasn’t too much of a hassle.
I also learned to respect barbed wire. It’s easy enough to avoid injury when it’s already strung up, but stringing it requires some serious muscle, and the harder you work to twist and shape it the more tension that builds in the coils. You can tell how much a ranch hand has worked with the stuff by looking at their forearms. Just one afternoon of stringing barbed wire will leave you looking like you army crawled through a field of broken glass.
Kemmerer was lovely. I made a wonderful connection with one of the excellent people we worked with, and I hope to make it back to the city on my personal time in the near future. That’s saying a lot for a place with approximately 2.5 gas stations.
HITCH 5: Wolf Creek Ranch (week 6)
Wolf Creek Ranch is a 13,000 acre ranch in the Uintas mountain range that is protected by a Permanent Conservation Easement, enforced by the Utah DNR. Our job for the week was to plant 3,700 Douglas Fir seedlings in an area that had been previously logged. The area was not clear cut, just thinned, and the lumber was used to build a house on the ranch. During the logging, the DNR collected thousands of seeds and germinated them in a greenhouse. Some of these seedlings were planted in the spring, and we planted the rest of them. It’s a pretty cool story of use and renewal for the local economy.
Wolf Creek Ranch is home to dozens of massive mansions, but they exist within a set of guidelines established by the DNR. It seems to be a sustainable relationship, from what I observed. The vast majority of the land is undeveloped, and even the private parcels have strict limits on the environmental impacts allowed in constructing new homes.
We were working this project with two other UCC crews, which was a nice change of pace. The DNR employees that we worked with were great, as well. After the project was completed, the guy in charge of the project offered me a professional reference for a job opening in the area next year. We’ll see what comes of it, but it was encouraging to say the least.
Only four weeks left of the season. We’ll be doing two 8-day hitches in Pine Creek, Wyoming, which should bring us into November. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost over.