SWEAT Crew, 2016, Session 1 by Joan aka Blue Jay

SWEAT Crew, 2016, Session 1 - Silers Bald Shelter to Derrick Knob Shelter

-Written by volunteer Joan aka Blue Jay 

We are the SWEAT Crew, 2016, Session 1. We are a group of 3 crew leaders and 6 volunteers.

Crew leaders are Katie, Matt, and Sean. Volunteers are Andy, Brad, Bryce, Jeff, Joan, and Ray.

We are from 5 states and range in age from 21 to 64. Some have completed hiking the AT

before; all feel the pull to help maintain this national treasure. We gathered on Sunday 6/5 at

the Soak Ash crew house for a gear and physical fitness shake down. We all passed! We had a

delightful meal and started transitioning from strangers to an organized work crew.

On Monday, 6/6, we drove to Clingmans Dome; our base camp is at Silers Bald shelter. We

hiked carrying packs heavier than some of us were accustomed to carry. We hiked with bluets,

Solomon Seal, and blackberry blossoms. Birds sang their sweet songs of welcome to the

backcountry. We arrived at Silers and set up our tents. It was (mostly) an easy day and the

weather proved to be delightful. We enjoyed a group meal and evening camaraderie, hopped

in our tents around sunset, and dreamed about hard labor.

Tuesday was our first work day. By 8 am, we were all ready for a day of hard work and a labor

of love for a trail that has special and personal meaning to all of us. The AT lives in the hearts

and minds of so many people all over the world. We, the Smokies Wilderness Elite, felt a sense

of honor and pride to be among its caretakers for a week. On this day that gave us perfect

weather, we – among other things - created 3 new water bars, cleaned out many existing water

bars, added stone treads over a sloggy wet area, cut back brush, reclaimed a short section

rerouted by hikers, found and crushed rocks for trail repair, and managed to stay safe and

happy all day. We retraced our steps back to base camp and were very pleased to hike over our

hard work. We enjoyed a community meal, assembled back at Soak Ash and rehydrated over

our camp stove in a huge pot. We had strong winds most of the night that sounded like flowing

water. The night was clear with a zazillion stars and was considerable cooler than our first


Wednesday, 6/8, was our second work day. We awoke to a cool, clear, and beautiful morning.

We all were thankful for the weather, even with hats, gloves, and jackets on. We started our

day again with our Safety Circle. In Circle we learn a bit more about the lives of our fellow crew

members, we do a pretty complete set of stretches, and we remind ourselves about safety

issues that we could face in the day ahead. Like yesterday, we encountered various creatures

that call these woods their homes. There have been huge worms, snails, bright yellow spiders,

Jordan salamanders, bees, inch worms, and a few deer. We move critters as we work and try to

put them back in their homes when we finish. They are good and vivid reminders that we share

this lovely trail with creatures large and small, and they are part of what makes this trail, with

all its unique and abundant life, so special for so many. Again, we feel the honor of our work,

and that less-than- perfect night in our tents or those muscle aches become less significant to

us. We encounter hikers along the trail in our work. We shout “hiker up” so those working

ahead can put down tools and let the hikers pass safely. Often, very often, the hikers thank us

for what we are doing. That feels pretty good! What's a bit of dirt – actually a whole lot of dirt

– on our work clothes compared to the knowledge that we have helped to make someone’s

outdoor experience a good one?

Thursday, 6/9. Our third work day. It was a bit harder to get out of our tents this morning. Our

minds were willing but we had to push our bodies just a bit more. We were tired from two

good days of work. It's great to hear the pot of water boiling for coffee and breakfast, and our

Crew Leaders make sure we all hear the morning cracking of the whip. Actually Katie and Matt

never push us too hard; they encourage us, as good leaders do. Today was another reminder

that nature is prolific and relentless. We pushed back brush and weeds, knowing that in a few

short seasons it will look like we were never there. We cleared out existing water bars,

knowing that water is nature’s strongest force and rains will erode our good work. Sometimes

it's like the trees and the trail itself are laughing at our noble efforts. Yet we work on. And we

are pleased with our work. And many of us come back for other sessions; we come back for

more. And we love the ache in our backs and the tightness in our muscles and the cold nights

in our tents. We love the group meals. We love to clean the dishes together. We love the hike

back to camp each night, walking over the trail that we tended today and on the rocks that we

set yesterday and seeing the cleared brush from our first day. We know the trail will forget us

in its own good time. But we won't soon forget our time together and our work on this beloved


Friday, 6/10. Before this blogger tells you about how great Safety Circle was this morning, I

must digress a bit and talk about our meals. Last night’s was especially good. It was a bean

dish. We all joked about beans, of course. Everyone over the age of four jokes about farting

after eating beans. There are a couple serious things, though, one should know about eating

beans and camping. First, don't fart in a tent without really good ventilation. Keep all

vestibules open, no matter how cold or raining it is; it could be lethal otherwise. Second, never,

ever fart while in your zipped up sleeping bag. You can pass out if those smells seep out over

your nostrils. If the fart lingers inside your bag, it will penetrate into the down feathers and you

can never, ever get the smell out. There are reports of people having to burn their sleeping

bags after eating beans and not taking appropriate precautions. It may be a generational thing

or perhaps a gender thing, but some of us have trouble letting one rip when others are in close

proximity. It is not wise to hold things in; there will be trouble in the night. One can imagine a

group tent site the night of a bean dinner - there would be no concerns about bears coming

around! Moving on to this morning’s Safety Circle, the first safety suggestion was to fart often

and loudly. Today was our last workday. It was another glorious day. Bright blue sky and a little

warmer than other days. We have been a productive crew and yesterday we made it all the

way to Derrick Knob shelter, our farthest work point. So today we scouted for rocks to make a

few more water bars. There are large ascents in this section of trail, necessitating water bars.

We found rose quartz, granite, lichen-covered rocks, and rocks older than dirt. Working with

rocks was a good reminder that these Appalachian mountains are among the oldest mountains

on Earth. We smashed rocks to use for fill, used the best and perfect rocks, and built THE BEST

water bars ever made. They are works of art. We sweated in our labors today. We lived up to

our namesake. WE ARE THE SWEAT CREW!

Saturday, 6/11. We broke camp this morning about 8:00 and had our last Safety Circle. Some

of the safety issues today centered around how to eat our cold ice cream shake from the Shake

and Dawg when we get close to home. Our hike out of camp was fast, with a stop at the

Clingmans Dome Tower. We were a van full of hungry workers and there was much talk about

our Shake and Dawg stop. We were more than a little smelly but no one there called us on it. It

was a good week. It was a great week. We left last Monday as strangers; we returned today as

friends. That’s what a week at SWEAT will do for you.