Thursday, June 1, 2017

Week 1: May 3-7, 2017

SUPER CREW at the Backbone Rock Relocation

working with Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club, just south of the TN-VA state line

Click here for the complete photo album.

It’s official: Konnarock Volunteer Trail Crew is back in business for the 2017 season! To start the summer off strong, Crews 1 and 2 joined forces to form a Super Crew and set their sights on the Backbone Rock Trail just south of Damascus VA, in Tennessee.  

The goal was to complete a trail relocation years in the making, connecting the A.T. with the impressive rock formation that lends its name to the trail.   The existing trail was brutally steep, creating an unpleasant hiking experience as well as an unsustainable tread surface.  After the work of past Crews in addition to the Tennessee Eastman Club, only 1000 feet of new sidehill trail remained to be dug at the start of this Week 1 project.

The Super Crew consisted of 2017 Crew Leaders Jerry Kyle and Justin Farrell, Assistant Crew Leaders Brian Allgood and Josh Reynolds, and a team of tech professionals from Cisco Systems. Eager to get out of the office and into the woods for a unique volunteering experience, the group from Cisco came with a wide range of prior camping experience.  Some crew members approached the realities of trench privies and a lack of showering facilities with a bit of trepidation.  Kudos to these brave souls for striking out into the great unknowns of Leave No Trace camping and hard manual labor that are essential to the Konnarock experience. 

To make matters even more challenging for the team of daring volunteers and their fearless leaders, the project work site sat atop a steep and grueling 2-mile hike.  
The Crew was sweating and breathing hard before the digging even began.  As if the hike wasn’t daunting enough on its own, the crew also got to experience some local wildlife on the first day’s ascent: a 3-foot timber rattlesnake basking on the trail was successfully avoided, but definitely made everyone watch their step a little more carefully thereafter. 

Once the team got down to work, progress accelerated throughout the week.  Through practice and coaching, volunteers who had never wielded a pick mattock before gradually developed the combination of endurance and finesse necessary to create effective and sustainable sidehill trail.  Safety and technique were repeatedly emphasized throughout the process - starting with the introductory tool talk, and never ceasing throughout the work day.  

By the second work day, many of the volunteers were becoming more independent and productive, and collectively the Super Crew progressed up the trail’s flag line.  The digging wasn’t easy.  A preponderance of mulchy organic materials, roots, and a surprising number of large rocks embedded in the dirt made the task tricky.  Nevertheless, the Crew persisted.

In addition to hundreds of feet of sidehill, the Konnarock team installed several structures to address problematic sections of the relocated trail.  Jerry led a smaller team in the construction of several log steps, while Brian worked with several volunteers to build a beefy log crib wall.  Members of the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club came out for a day and installed some structures of their own, including rock cribbing and a French drain. 

Toward the end of the third day of digging, with darkening rain clouds looming overhead, the weary Cisco volunteers were faced with a choice.  Call it a day and dodge the rain, or work late, get wet, and attempt to finish the project a day early.  After a brief conference with the Crew leaders, the decision was firm and unanimous: work late and aim for completion.  With the end in sight - and the prospect of a dinner trip to Damascus afterwards - the volunteers threw themselves into the work with a new vigor that eclipsed anything thus far seen on the project.  Even as rain began to fall, the work continued with gusto.  Soil flew, rocks popped loose, and pulaskis cleaved offending roots to pieces.  At this pace, it didn’t take long to finish off the trail, and the tired but satisfied crew members packed up the tools and made one final descent down the infamous hike to the Backbone Rock parking lot. 

With the mission accomplished, Konnarock celebrated with a trip to Bobo McFarland’s in downtown Damascus, VA.  As it was Karaoke Night, this was no ordinary dining experience.  Crew members enjoyed some unforgettable entertainment courtesy of charismatic locals and a motley crew of thru hikers.  When the musical selection abruptly shifted from country to 2000s hip-hop, several Konnarock volunteers hit the dance floor and busted out some moves alongside the local crowd.  By this time the rain was pouring, and many hours were passed in the shelter of this eccentric establishment.

Having gotten a taste of Damascus nightlife, the Konnarock team returned to the campsite for one last night.  The following morning, the crew broke down camp and hit the road, returning to Base Camp in time to unpack gear and clean tools before enjoying a delicious soup n’ sandwich lunch prepared by Camp Coordinator Rachel Esrig. 

A big thanks goes out to all the volunteers from Cisco, many of whom took a step decidedly out of their comfort zone for this experience.  Thanks also to the Tennessee Eastman Club for their assistance with the trail work this week.  Week 1 was a success!

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