The crew poses before departing camp. Photo by Bradley Harmon.

Written by Mel Elbert, Wild Stew Field Crew Member.

As this chapter of my time at Wild Arizona comes to a close, it feels important to point a spotlight on what a great time I have had these past 4 months. I have recently given a lot of thought to how much this experience has impacted my life and WHY every hitch, despite each one’s unique challenges, group dynamics, weather, and work have felt so positive and meaningful. I believe that our most recent supercrew hitch in the Huachucas summed up what makes this organization such a shining star. It is the people. 

The first day the weather was beyond perfect. Clear blue sky, cool air, minimal wind. The type of weather I think we had ALL been hoping for (for months!) The bulk of the Wild Stew trail family (minus Nico and Iman, who joined us on Saturday, and Sam and Young Joseph, who were sadly out on a different project!) hiked, heavily laden with camping gear, 8 days of food, layers, and tools the 3.5 miles up the Carr Peak trail to our EPIC ridge campsite.

The crew cooks dinner at our cliffside kitchen. Photo by Jonathan Patt.

Despite the bluebird skies and warm air temps, we were greeted by several extensive snow drifts on the way up. Thankfully I had my trusty lunchbox in hand to help support me on the steep, slippery drifts! Others were not so lucky, as several members of the crew had too much stuff to reasonably fit into their bags and were forced to carry heavy items (like food and sleeping bags) in their arms.  I cannot claim that navigating steep, narrow, brushy snow drifts with excessively heavy bags and full arms is particularly fun. But not one person complained. In fact, I heard singing and laughter and the happy voices of Dexter and Kyle chanting “Light as a feather! Light as a feather!”  Because that is our crew. And that is one of the most important elements of our happy workplace — people who are willing and able to get through challenging moments with positive attitudes and humor. I notice this time and time again with the humans who work for Wild Arizona. Whether it is monotonous work, freezing temperatures, torrential downpours, 50 mph winds, broken tents, or tired bodies, everyone that I have had the pleasure of working with approaches challenging circumstances with such grace. And that sure makes it a much more delightful and meaningful experience for everyone.

From Thursday morning to Wednesday afternoon we brushed and re-treaded a mile-long section of the Carr Peak trail between its intersection with the Arizona Trail and the faint intersection with the Carr Peak Spur trail. The majority of this section was quite narrow due to rock and soil creeping down from uphill onto the tread. We were assigned to the quest of removing this excess material in order to widen the trail and redefine the backslope and hinge. The work was exhausting, repetitive and after about the first day not very exciting. But again, because of the amazing humans that are involved in this organization, I think we all had a great time! 

Before/after of tread reconstruction. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

The physically demanding nature of treading was made easier by the help of a “tread train”. A tread train is a teamwork oriented technique similar to constructing fireline, where every crew member has a specific tool and works as a small part of the whole on a specific task to aid in trail construction. Not only is working on a tread train faster and easier than everyone taking on their own section of tread to work on, it also means that we get to work closely together during the day.  This allows for more space to pass the time talking and joking around with one another during the day. Several times throughout the hitch I found myself doubled over with laughter as the conversations and jokes got progressively more and more “unhinged” in our secluded backcountry home. Many crew members were christened with their very own cowboy names (Steady Hands McGillicuddy, One Swing Susan, Two Eyed Willy, and Tootin’ and Hollerin’, to name a few), but we also took squirts of melted chocolate from a candy bar during break, regularly laughed at one another’s faces as they got progressively more odd looking from the regular mixing of sunscreen and a whole lot of dirt, and shared “hot goss” from the outside world to keep us occupied, because we all get along too well to have any good drama within the crew. 

Before/after of tread through cut deadfall. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

I hold such deep gratitude for the awe and respect that every single person on the crew has both for the small and large aspects of the natural world. Countless times throughout the hitch we would hear someone yell “Oh my goodness, look at this chaos!” and everyone on the crew would come running to watch in amazement as the living beings who had been uncovered by an overturned rock scooped up their larva and ran for the shelter of their underground tunnels. We would then temporarily skip over that section to let our insect friends get settled underground so as not to cause more unnecessary harm. Everyone on the crew regularly shared tidbits of knowledge of the natural world to a group of attentive and excited listeners. Each evening yelps of delight could be heard throughout the campsite as the sun dropped past the horizon and gifted us with another stunning sunset.

Calling my Wild Arizona co-workers my “trail family” is not an overstatement. I deeply love and cherish every single person on the crew, both for the gifts they bring to the world and in the ways that they have helped me grow. While I believe that the beauty of the landscape, great schedule, being outside, exploring new places, and making a positive impact have drawn me to this work, what makes it truly special are the people I have met along the way.

A fond farewell. Photo by Jonathan Patt.