AmeriCorps 2020: July 13

This post continues the account of my 2020 AmeriCorps term with American Conservation Experience (ACE) in Boulder, Colorado. The previous entries in this series are located here.

The Front Range near Boulder, CO.
Our view of the Front Range from the Towhee Trail on July 13, 2020.

My first ‘real’ workday in ACE/AmeriCorps took place on July 13, 2020. On this day, my coworkers and I returned to the South Mesa Trailhead, which is where we worked on our field training days.

Upon arrival, we all disembarked from our van, loaded ourselves up with tools, and began the hike to our worksites.

Today the trek was longer and harder than before. Our arms and packs were full of pick-mattocks, double-jacks (sledgehammers), shovels, and other tools, which became heavy before long.

Furthermore, some of us (mostly just me) weren’t used to the altitude yet, so every breath was labored.

I therefore had no cause to argue when one of our crew leaders, Bonesteel, told me to help her with the project that was nearest to the trailhead.

The goal of this project was to finish building a drain that Bonesteel and two other corps members (the term for lowly AmeriCorps volunteers) started working on last Friday. It wasn’t difficult, and I enjoyed working with Bonesteel; she was polite and friendly, and patient with my many questions.

Bonesteel and I finished our drain before long, and then caught up with the rest of the group on a path called the Towhee Trail.

The narrow Towhee Trail was carved into the edge of a hill – like most trails in Boulder – and fully exposed to the relentless sun. A drainage ditch snaked its way across the landscape to our right, which was shadowed by green bushes and shrubs. Behind us loomed the ever-photogenic Front Range, whose feet were covered in Ponderosa pines and other conifers.

However, we were there to work, and not to find shrubberies.

Kait – our main contact with the City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks department – was with us that day. She showed us how dirt and vegetation had built up along the outside edge of the Towhee Trail, creating a berm.

This berm gave the trail a bowl shape, which prevented water from flowing off of it. Our task was thus to knock down this berm, so that the trail would once again slope outwards.

Berm-busting wasn’t difficult. For the most part, we took our picks and chopped at the berm until the trail had a gentle outslope (i.e. it was angled outwards). Sometimes we had to hack through bushes or deal with large rocks, but these obstacles didn’t present much challenge.

Still, Colorado’s sun-baked earth was harder than the moist soils I’d encountered in Ohio, northern California, and Belize. This meant that constantly swinging a pick quickly became tiring, and that lunch was a welcome break.

A field mouse.
A field mouse that we encountered during lunch on July 13, 2020. Photo courtesy of Sarah Larkin.

We all sat down in the most comfortable spots we could find. During lunch, a tiny field mouse appeared next to Nick – our other crew leader – and elicited much baby-talk from my coworkers.

Unfortunately, we had to return to work after half-an-hour, so we had to leave our mouse friend behind.

I then spent the rest of the workday trying not to wet myself.

I had to pee terribly, but there was nowhere discreet to go that wouldn’t have violated Leave No Trace (LNT) principles.

To make matters worse, no-one in Boulder works: they just hike all day while looking beautiful. Consequently, I never had a break in the traffic long enough to relieve myself, and had to endure my agony for several hours.

I managed to avert disaster until we returned to the trailhead, which had a bathroom that appeared to have been cleaned four months ago. We loaded our tools into the van; and, after I’d made a pit-stop, began the drive home.

On our next workday, we’d find out how quickly the weather in the Rockies could change.

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