The thing the trail teaches

By Mick Mc Bride

I’m often asked, “why trail maintenance?”

I used to answer with the standard response entailing how the Pacific Crest Trail needs constant upkeep to remove those big trees Mother Nature likes to throw across it during her winter temper tantrums, and to ward off damage done by people, melting snow and running water.

These days, I answer the question with a single word, one the trail teaches me a little more every year.

Mick Mc Bride is the leader of the Southern Oregon Rockers.

Mick Mc Bride is the leader of the Southern Oregon Rockers.

I see it every time new groups of people come together from all walks of life to work on the trail because they love being out there.

I see it every time a group of strangers sits down for lunch together just a couple hours after having met and all of them are laughing, telling stories or sharing food with one another as if they are the best of friends — which of course they are, because that’s how things work on the trail.

I see it every time folks address a problem on the trail and, even though they may differ on to how to deal with it, these complete strangers listen to each other without interruption. Hell, they even encourage each other to come up with other solutions until the best one is agreed upon.

I see it when someone has been working in the sun for too long and another volunteer walks over and asks if they’ve been drinking enough water or maybe offers to take a break with them in the shade.

I saw it when a new volunteer who had recently lost someone close to her just needed to be on the trail with, “nice, kind folks.” We did less trail work that day, but laughing hard and laughing a lot is hard work too, right? She said it was just the sort of day she needed.

It showed itself when volunteers incessantly reminded me last trail season to take it easy as I recovered from a back injury. (Seriously, they were pests about it and I love each of them for it.)

It showed itself as I watched a husband lovingly help his wife through a very tough situation on trail.

Trailwork near Mount Ashland in Oregon. Photo by Mick Mc Bride,

Trailwork near Mount Ashland in Oregon. Photo by Mick Mc Bride.

It showed itself one morning while I was eating breakfast at a hotel cafeteria and a man with a very noticeable limp walked up to me. He told me he noticed my PCT hat and asked if I’d hiked the entire length.

“No, I haven’t,” I said, “but I’m part of a volunteer group and we maintain 8 miles of the trail near Mount Ashland in Oregon.” He looked at me for a moment and said, “Well damn, that is awesome!” He told me he is a wounded combat veteran and that when he walks the PCT, albeit slowly because of his injury, he finds a peace that he can’t find anywhere else.

Before he got up to go back to his table, he looked at me and said: “I wish I could help maintain that trail with you all but I can’t due to my injury.” He looked away for a moment. Then he looked me right in the eyes as he shook my hand. “I really appreciate what all of you do so a guy like me can enjoy some peace,” he said.

It shows itself every time a volunteer takes time out of their life to dig in the dirt to make the trail just a little better for the next stranger who walks it.

That single word I mentioned earlier? Kindness. Trail work teaches me a little more every year. And I can’t wait for trail work to teach me another lesson.


Mick Mc Bride is the leader of the PCTA’s Southern Oregon Rockers. The group maintains 19.5 miles of trail near Mount Ashland. Follow them on Facebook or Instagram. Find out how you can get involved.