After spending a few weeks getting oriented, certified and such, this week we were set free for three days to work the trails ourselves. Each morning we did a pre-ride inspection on our machines, filled out the required paperwork, put gas and oil in the vehicles, cleaned the air filters if need be and then we were free as birds to wander (um, I mean work) the trails. We suited up covered in the required head to toe garb with the additionally required first aid kit and fire extinguisher and a service radio (which we are required to use to call Central Dispatch and inform them where we are going, on what and when). “Central. Stone and Colvin are leaving the OHV Center on ATV’s and going to the Yellow Trail.” “Central copy that. Stone and Colvin leaving OHV for Yellow 08:30.”
A map of the North OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) Trails. All of the colored / squiggly lines between the roads 19, 316 & 150 would be OHV trails. The ones on this map encompass approximately 135 miles of the 200 miles of trails available to ride. Do you see the red square? That is where we live.
The machines of choice this week were ATV’s (or Quads as some folk call them).
Yes, Nicole is under there somewhere.
You should see it when she is riding and her bandana covers her mouth and nose.
And here is Darlene. She’s taken like a pro to these machines having never ridden one before the certification course.
On this ride, Darlene was in charge of ‘The Baby’ which is otherwise known as the Forest Service Radio. The government entities are not fond of folks who lose these high priced items and so a harness is required for carrying.
The task for Week 1: Trim / Cut / Chop 7 miles of the yellow trail and Monitor / Inspect another 7 or so for safety issues, hazards or problems with signage.
So, we ride along and we look for trouble spots and clean them up. Sometimes we discover whole sections that have grown in and really ‘squeeze’ the trail. Those can take up to an hour or more to clear. We’re talking an hour or more to cover only .1 miles.
The tools: hand saws, ratcheting clippers and gas powered hedge trimmers.
We have other hats, as you will see later, but we quickly discovered that working in this environment with a motorcycle helmet on (while it can be terribly hot) is really quite nice. We can walk full on into our work with essentially ‘no fear’.
The phrase “It sure is a good thing I have a helmet on!” is exclaimed several times each day.
Nicole tries out the gas powered hedge trimmer for the first time.
Now that is a face that expresses the pure joy power-tools deliver!
Make no mistake about it. The work we are doing is hard. The temperatures right now are still quite warm especially when you are covered from head to toe. The creatures are many. Nicole was bit on the neck the other day by a cute little green caterpillar. When she grabbed him to take him off of her he pooped on her neck and then her pants. Needless to say, his cuteness factor went to negative numbers at that point.
But the work is rewarding in several ways. We know that we are doing a service for both the Forest Department and the Riders by making the area safer for everyone. We also know that you have no idea what a workout really is until you go out and cut the forest by hand which translates to… ‘We expect to be in darn good shape when all is said and done!
And then there is the fact that THIS is our ‘office’.
Oh, and in the category of Things That Do Not Suck there is always the 12 mile (or more) round trip ride through the forest on an ATV to get to and from your work site.
To add fuel to the awesomeness fire, it doesn’t hurt that during the week it is just us, the forest and the critters. We do not see another human the whole day. But the critters are out and about. Three baby bears the first morning and a mama on our third. Loads of others we will probably spend all five months trying to capture on camera since they typically appear when our hands are gloved and unable to work the darn thing.
No, trees do not get married in the Ocala National Forest.
But they do get marked with white rings as habitats for the RCW’s.
The Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers are a protected species.
Well, that’s the story of Week 1 and we’re sticking to it. All in all, it was hard but rewarding work. Two days later, however, we are happy that we still have two more days before hitting the trails again! Three days on and four days off.
Wait, when we first hit the road we had every day off.
What’s wrong with this picture?