One of my favorite places to be is in the mountains surrounded by trees. The long winter has made it pretty tough to get up into the mountains due to the snow. But, the snow is melting fast (yay!) and the trails are beginning to open up. In our ranger district (Cle Elum) and the one to the south of us (Naches) the trails are officially closed until June 15th to motorized use. But, if you fill out the appropriate paperwork, say the right words in the right order and sacrifice a chicken under the full moon you can volunteer to patrol and clear trails, which is what I did. So yesterday we put the little chainsaw on the dirtbike, loaded up and headed for the hills. We found lots and lots of trees down which we stopped at each one, cut up and moved off the trail. In 3-1/2 hours we managed to get in 9 whole miles (round trip). We finally got to the point that my itty bitty 14" Stihl was not up to the trees that were across the trail, so we decided that it was time to call it a day and come back later with a bigger saw. Even though it was lots of hard work, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
As we worked I was reminded of how different riding in the mountains is compared to riding in the desert. One of the biggest things is visibility. In the desert (for the most part) you can see someone coming toward you quite a ways out. But in the trees this is not the case, so it is really important to slow down around blind corners and when you do meet someone going the other way, use hand signals to indicate to them that there is someone behind you, or if you are the last in line, let them know that you are last person in your group. Depending on who you talk to, some people will say to indicate the number of people behind you with your fingers and if you are the last just a clenched fist. I tend to lose track of how many people are either ahead or behind me, so I prefer to just use my thumb to indicate there is someone behind me or the clenched fist if I am the last in line. Always keep an eye out for hikers and horses. Horses in particular don't mix well with motorcycles. Even though some of the people you run into in the mountains think they should be the only people allowed on the trails, that's just not the case. We all have to share what we have and figure out how to get along.
Another thing I was reminded of as we worked the trails was how quickly you can get winded, over-heated and dehydrated in the mountains. I think this is largely due to the change elevation. We live at about 1500 feet above sea level and I like to believe I am in reasonably good shape. However, when we start riding in the mountains the staging area is somewhere around 3500 feet and goes up from there. I find myself huffing and puffing in no time just walking up a hill or moving tree rounds. At higher elevation you have less O2 and your body has to work harder to draw air into your lungs since you don't have as much air pressure pushing the air in compared to lower elevations. So, as you start getting back into the mountains it's important bring and drink plenty of water. Don't wait until you are thirsty, or worse start having muscle cramps. Trying to "conserve" your water is not a good idea. Most riding areas around Kittitas county have lots of streams and creeks. Thanks to our abundant wild-life it's not generally a good idea to drink straight from the creek. But for about $5.00 and a very small portion of your pack you can get water treatment pills so if you do run out you don't find yourself having to decide between dehydration and quality time in the bathroom later. Also know your limits, if you can avoid it, don't push yourself to the point of exhaustion. At least on a motorcycle; once I get to the point where I start feeling worn-out that's when I start making mistakes and crashing. Which then leads to more exertion, since usually a crash in woods means dragging your bike back onto the trail or having to push it up-hill. Once you start you are stuck in a downward spiral and a fun day in the woods turns into misery, or worse you seriously hurt yourself and turns into a helicopter ride.
If you think that working hard for no pay sounds like a good day, you should join a volunteer work party. If you don't know how to do that, follow us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/crossroadsoutdoormotors/). We will be posting more trail clearing days in the next few weeks.