Session 8: A Volunteer's Perspective

Volunteer Ron Hudnell shared his thoughts about S.W.E.A.T. Crew in a recent e-mail. Here's some of what he said:

The S.W.E.A.T. Session 8 was truly an outstanding experience for me and I would recommend it to any AT – or otherwise –hiker up to the physical requirements.  My recommendation to others would be even more enthusiastic if the S.W.E.A.T. session could be led by the same two individuals who managed our crew – Amy Allamong as Crew Leader and Ben Royer as Assistant Crew Leader.  They were the perfect crew managers while Becky Smucker did an excellent job with the back office pre-S.W.E.A.T. registration and coordination. Her information package and communications were all-inclusive!

Even though I had section/solo hiked 867.6 miles - not counting my “NSWIA” (Not-Sure-Where-I-Am miles) on the AT, I was still a little apprehensive about joining a group of strangers for a week of labor/trail maintenance.  I had visions of a much younger group of very physically fit hikers leaving me on the trail in the wake of their speed hiking.

Yes, most of the other crew members were younger, but then I am 66, and yes they were probably more fit!  However, Amy and Ben did a lot to welcome all of us into the group as equals, and calm my fears in our first meeting on the night before departure.  Their skills fit very well together – Amy, the manager and trail task master, and Ben, the hiker and forest master.  Amy, having participated in many trail maintenance training sessions and experienced in other trail maintenance locations, definitely had the knowledge of proper trail maintenance.  Ben, an AT thru hiker and enrolled in Masters forestry classes at UT, knew the Smokies and definitely had the hands-on practical experience for the week in the woods.  I personally learned a great deal from both during the session – about proper caring for the trail and some new hiking knowledge – and I am taking this newly learned knowledge for some trail maintenance on The Long Trail in Vermont in mid-September.

They checked/inspected our personal equipment on the evening before to ensure we had what we needed but not more, and then divided up the communal items so that each person equally shared in the “fun” of the extra weight.  (Please understand that my typical pack weight is around 23-25 lbs and I was carrying about 60 lbs on the session - but it was fun!)  They divided up the tools so that we all carried approximately equal weight.  Amy was especially careful to make that we all had a safe amount of water before hiking the 3000’ foot elevation climb. Ben briefed us all on safe hiking techniques before we started the trail – such as “DO NOT lose sight of the person behind you” – and had to criticize us once for not following his instructions. Ben stopped us frequently to allow all hikers to stay together.  Ben usually led the group and Amy with radio stayed in the rear to motivate/walk with the slower hikers.  The 10-mile hike up to the tenting area was done mostly in a rainstorm…  I am sure I was a pain to Ben on this first day hike up as I wanted to look at the map to see where we were and know how much farther we had to hike…  He was convincingly patient.

Once at the Pecks Corner shelter tenting area, Ben quickly scouted for good sites while Amy prepared the meal logistics.  They had a coordinated system which worked very well.  The next morning we began with stretching exercises – more than necessary for my aged body – and followed this with their training on proper use of the trail tools and their required safety practices. We then hiked approximately two miles to the work site and Amy immediately assigned tasks to all crew members.  I was particularly impressed how she and/or Ben, when not handling a tool, regularly walked the length of the work area to not only check/critique/educate on the trail maintenance work that was being done but also to discreetly monitor how the crew members were individually doing.  Amy was continuous about doing her morale checks.

The second day began as the first – stretching and review of safety practices – and then off to the work site.  

Sign me up for S.W.E.A.T. next year – and especially if either or both are leading the crews again!

Here's the report from Amy on their work:

Session Overview:  We were able to get two full days of work at Pecks Corner Shelter, but a bear came through camp during the second work day so we decided to pack up and leave on day 3. We then worked on the AT between Davenport shelter and the trail head at the road.

Specifications:  The section north of pecks does not need much brushing. There was almost no swingblading except for a few short sections. This was mostly drain clearing with a little bit of lopping.

 Results and Measurable Accomplishments: 

·         Total Trail Mileage: 1.9
·         Logs Cleared: 1
·         Steps Backfilled: 18
·         New Drains Installed: 6
·         Drains Cleared: 248

Day 1: We hiked up to Pecks Corner shelter and set up camp. It was very rainy but everyone made it to the shelter and we immediately got everyone dry and warm.

Day 2: We did some trail training in the morning then let groups of 2 dig drains; there were lots of them! We dug about 45 drains and lopped a little. We covered about 0.6 miles working south from where we stopped the last week between Tricorner and Pecks.

Day 3: We covered another 0.7 miles and removed one large sinking leaner. I did not get a before and after, but there is a before picture from Billy in one of his reports. We also cleared about 38 drains.

Day 4: We hiked out because of bear activity. The bear ripped two tents then came back in the evening and drug one pack away from camp while it was unattended. Then it came back in the morning and got very close to two tents while a person was in one of them.  It was best to leave and not try and relocate.

Day 5: We went to the Davenport Gap trailhead and worked on cleaning drains and back filling some mucky steps.

Day 6: More step filling and drain cleaning!

Week Summary: This was an exciting end to a great summer. Thankfully no one was hurt and everyone very much enjoyed the week even with all the rain we had.

GO S.W.E.A.T!!!