Inside the PCTA’s Skyline and Sasquatch Volunteer Vacations

By Justin Brimer, PCTA Crew Leader

Trail crew volunteers are pretty amazing.

The sacrifices people go through to work for eight hours a day through harsh weather to keep the PCT open blows me away. Midway through a second season of leading volunteer vacations, I’m reflecting on the incredibly diverse and awesome volunteers who show up with heavy packs, strong backs and eager limbs.

Last week Bryant returned for his fourth, weeklong trip in as many years.

Bryant Hampton works to make the PCT a whole lot better.

Bryant Hampton of Salem, Oregon, cuts new tread in the Three Sisters Wilderness as part of a recent PCTA Skyline Crew volunteer vacation.

“I just love this,” he told me when I asked why a 27-year-old who could be climbing mountains, cruising rivers or sitting at home binge watching Netflix chooses to do a week of trail work.

He said that working on backcountry trail crews reminds him of a coming of age time in his life when he worked with youth corps in the Northwest. He said he was a shy and quiet kid and learned how to be social and fun while a part of a tight-knit trail crew. To me, the most surprising and telling thing that Bryant shared was that this was the only vacation he took from his job as a maintenance foreman at a Salem, Oregon, museum during the last two years.

Fletcher “Gravy Crockett” Meadema walks with a McLeod after repairing damaged tread on the PCT in the Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon.

Fletcher “Gravy Crockett” Meadema walks with a McLeod after repairing damaged tread on the PCT in the Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon.

During the same trip, Fletcher “Gravy Crockett” and Rachel “Marsh Mouse” talked about their thru-hike of the PCT last year. Other volunteers listened intently as they told stories about the people, the food and the mountains they encountered during their 2,650-mile trek. I was amazed that college-aged kids, in the prime of their life drove more than 3,000 miles to volunteer for a week on the PCT. They both said that a day of trail work was more of a challenge and more of a reward than a day hiking the PCT.

That is by far not the longest distance volunteers have traveled to lend a hand at maintaining the trail they love so much. Jorge came back for his second volunteer vacation this year. The Mexico City resident, who is the cleanest trail worker I have ever met, said he loves learning more about other hikes and hikers. Like many, the trail work is only a part of his reason for returning. He said the camaraderie of being with other long-distance hikers and learning an appreciation for the amount of work it takes to maintain the trail are big factors.

Repairing damaged tread near North Sister during a volunteer vacation Aug. 5-11.

Repairing damaged tread near North Sister during a volunteer vacation Aug. 5-11.

Another international traveler, Liam, said the primary reason he made the trek from Alberta, Canada, to do two consecutive trips last year was to learn how trails are made and maintained. The public relations professional said he wants to connect the PCT to existing hiking trails in British Columbia, and he has the motivation and tools to do it. Jorge agreed it would be pretty incredible to extend the PCT into his home country and they exchanged e-mails and made plans to keep in touch.

We’ve also had doctors and nurses, a trial lawyer, several computer software engineers, a railroad worker, a prison guard, a pharmaceutical executive, a wildland firefighter, school teachers, college professors, recent high school and college grads and scores more who have retired and are looking to stay active, meet like-minded people and help keep the PCT great.

Skyline crewmembers in the Three Sisters Wilderness, from left: Ken Geib, Justin Brimer, Fletcher Medeama, Cye Sheller, Bryant Hampton, Mindy Williams, Rachel Corrigan, Holly Schnee and Ian Connelly

Skyline crewmembers in the Three Sisters Wilderness, from left: Ken Geib, Justin Brimer, Fletcher Medeama, Cye Sheller, Bryant Hampton, Mindy Williams, Rachel Corrigan, Holly Schnee and Ian Connelly

When I first took the job, I questioned marketing these trips as vacations, worrying that volunteers would get the wrong idea of the upcoming experience. Coming from the professional trail building world, I thought it was inaccurate to tell folks they would be on a vacation when I intended to work them hard for eight hours a day and get miles of quality trail work done. As it turns out, that is exactly what so many people envision as a vacation. Especially when we get swimmable alpine lakes, delicious organic meals and the peace and solitude that comes with being on the PCT.

Thank you volunteers, I will keep cracking the whip on the trail and serving up quality food in beautiful places if y’all keep signing up.

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