Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Back Country Horsemen

Accompanied by the courage I am inspired to feel whenever I can hide behind my camera lens and reporter’s notepad, I’m able to walk into almost any situation, stick my nose in where it normally wouldn’t belong and say, “Hey, what’s going on around here?”

I love my job, it takes me to amazing places. Saturday I took a ride I will never forget.

Packwood Lake Trail #78. That’s Johnson Peak in the background and Doc Wesseluis on his horse, Rocky, and a father and son out fishing for the first time at Packwood Lake.

It was National Trails Day and the Lewis County Chapter of the Back County Horsemen of Washington invited me along for the ride to “brush back the forest and push logs down the hill” all along the 4.5 miles of trails deep in the Cowlitz Valley vicinity of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Doc and his wife Deb loaned me a horse and let me tag along to chronicle their trail-busting journey for tomorrow’s issue of The Chronicle.

That’s my new friend Lacey. She’s 29-years-old and doesn’t look a day over 12 and a half. She put up with my nonsense for over 6 hours, she probably deserves a medal and an extra serving of oats.

She wasn’t all patience and kindness, however. As the day wore on and my, er, knees (yeah, knees) started getting tired, I caught her rolling her eyes at me when she thought I wasn’t looking. Then she called me a “sack of potatoes” when my tired, er, knees gave out and I bounced around in an undignified and uncomfortable manner as she tried to hurry down the hill to home.

It couldn’t have been a better day for the ride. It had been dry for a couple of days, so there was little mud and muck on the trails, for which I was very grateful. Here you see a gentle drop off, but there were plenty of more dramatic turns along the way.

Doc rode in front of me and Deb rode behind me.

Do you see that white stuff behind Deb? That’s snow. Packwood Lake is only 7 miles (as the crow flies) from the White Pass Ski Resort and it has been a long, cold spring. Doc told me he has never seen the snow last this long into the year, and he has been riding in this area since about 1988.

The first log the crew cut up yielded an interesting possibility …

“Hey, maybe I should take this home to my wife,” Lance said, “it’d make a great planter.”

Doni skootches Whiskey over a little bit to allow Doc back through the line while John watches over her. It was Doni and John’s first trip with the group. It seemed to me that everyone was hoping it wouldn’t be their last.

The trails were plenty steep in places. I tried to keep my eyes glued to the back of my camera — kinda like a horse wearing blinders.

The snow caused the riders to dismount and walk through a couple of dicey patches.

Uh oh, Ringo!

Pack mule Ringo Starr gave Ray (17) a bit of trouble as they first headed into the snow. A hard hat flew from the pack while Ringo’s hooves kick chunks of heavy spring snow into Rays face. Ray dug in his heels and didn’t let go of the rope.

It took Ray only a few (heart-stopping) seconds to get Ringo calmed down and heading up the trail again.

The crew used chainsaws to cut and clear away the fallen logs — but only as long as we were outside the designated wilderness area.

Once we passed by this sign, they had to put away the chainsaws and use a little more teamwork and lot more muscle.

Sometimes the job needed two men …

Sometimes the job required four men and a woman.

And at other times some may have thought the job required a little friendly advice and supervision.

But if you’re willing to criticize, you’d best be ready to jump in and show ‘em how to do it.

And I guess Jim was doing all right because I see Ray giving him the double thumbs up there in the background.

We met many hikers along the way. As we passed by each of them, Doc would say, “It’ll be clear the rest of the way down!” and they’d shout after him, “Thank you very much!! You guys do great work.”

These guys came along just in time to give Lance and John a break. That log you see up in the air under Lance’s hand was “talking” to him, creaking and moaning, the whole time they were sawing on it. Once the log broke free and stopped moving, everyone was able to take a breath and sigh in relief. You never know for sure which way to log’s going to move, but they do the best job they can to keep everyone safe.

The job’s done, 4.5 miles of trail cleared. Time to go back home.

Back at the trailhead, Lacey seems pretty pleased to have me off her back.

And now, finally, the saddest moment of my day.

Thanks for the great day, LCC-BCHW! If another invitation to ride with you guys is ever offered to me again, I hope you know that you’ll be seeing me on your doorstep before the call, email, text or letter leaves your hands. :D

 

2 comments

  1. What a beautiful story, Kim. Thanks for taking the time to tell it to us.

  2. What a great day! And exhausting – whew! I hope you soaked your, um, knees :)

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