Monday, July 22, 2013

The Tao Of McLeod

Just below Newcomb's Saddle on the Gabrielino Trail, with Sri Roshi McLeod. Photo courtesy Dominic Grossman
Today was a very good day to set aside the camera, and swing a McLeod with the AC100 Trail Crew. And no, the trail did not get magically shorter.

It took about an hour to realize that I was keeping the McLeod from doing its job. All I really had to do was raise it high overhead, and guide it as it fell towards the brush. The blade severed branches and twigs with far less effort than before. Only problem was that I had about 90 minutes juice left. The memory of what I had been able to do years ago was trumped and punked by ass-time in front of a computer.

The McLeod is a brush-clearing tool of great simplicity. A long ash-handled cutting, raking, and clearing implement, with a 9x9" hoe-blade/coarse tooth rake 1/4" steel plate at the end. Chop with the blade, clear with the rake. The simplicity requires much study and devotion before it reveals itself fully.

Getting There Is All The Fun

The July 20 trail work was the final trail work by the Angeles Crest 100 Trail Volunteers before Race Day, August 3, 2013. This party consisted of 25 runners, led by 82 yr old Hal Winton and Gary Hilliard, AC100 Co-RDs. Hal and Gary are chainsaw-certified by the USFS, so they get to wear the Kevlar butt-cutout chaps while sectioning logs. We provide the help to move things aside. 

The drive in to Newcomb's Pass up the Rincon-Red Box Road was the most challenging of any of the trail work events thus far this year. My Honda Element had the lowest clearance of any of the vehicles thanks to dangly underbits. Therefore all rocks larger than small melons looked like boulders when seen through the windshield. 

All this was not just for the benefit of what Dom Grossman jokingly referred to as my "Little Grey Princess", which she is, dammit; but also the Aid Station crew that is going to be rolling in on Saturday morning Aug 3. The Newcomb's Pass aid station (69.75mi) is more remote in mileage than the Idle Hour aid station (83.75mi), so all lurking rocks and hazards that can be cleared is for the greater good. In addition to the multiple rock clearings, there were several downed tree sections, and in one instance, chainsaw a multi-limbed canyon oak that had crashed down on the roadbed. 

Things were not complete until Hal's rear-wheel found a sharp-edged boulder and ripped a flat. The spare was installed, and we were at the jump-off point by noon. It had been a 3-1/2 hr convoy in.

The Walk In

The lead-in from Newcomb's Saddle. Angeles Crest 100 Trail Volunteer group, Newcomb's Pass & Saddle
area of the Gabielino Trail. Sat, July 20, 2013. Hal Winton, crew boss..

I had originally decided to come along for the ride and document the process. Once on site, things took a different turn. My first discovery was that I had very carefully left my lunch at home. I fossicked around in the back of the car, and dug up a 4oz bottle of dry CarboPro powder, which I tipped into a 2qt water jug. Hello, lunch. I was annoyed at myself for not only leaving lunch, but also not having a Plan B backup in the wagon. Goddamn, I had everything else. 

"Hal, do we need this frame-pack to portage in the chainsaw?" I'd brought a salvaged Kelty frame-pack with its own colorful story as a possible backup.

"No, I think we're good". Done. I locked up.

While Hal finished the final tool-up and orientation, I started down the trail. The file appeared, and  got what I figured would be decent shots of the walk-in and so on. Falling in at the back of the line, with the irrepressible Dom Grossman, who had brought his ever-present iPhone, which was playing Wilson-Phillips' "Hold On". After all, we were on the flanks of Mt Wilson (Phillips).

Hal dropped groups of five at various points along the trail, going down about 2 miles. On the way down we were talking about the history of the trail volunteer program (since 1996 or so), and the aging process. I mentioned my mom is 87, and while being in pretty good shape, there were challenges. Hal then floored me with "Hell, Lar, I was doing great til I hit 80. Then my health fell off a cliff!"

Holy fuck. He must've only fallen 3 feet. Here he was leading trail crews in, bucking a chainsaw, and putting up with all kinds of bullshit to boot. Right after this, he then had to go back, get the chainsaw, and take out a 3' diameter downed tree that had come down in the big wind gusts of 2010 or so.

Eighty-motherfucking-two.

Now, The Working Part

But once out there, I looked around. The reason for pictures had vanished. I slung the Nikon over my shoulder, set down my lunchy water jug, and went to work with the McLeod. In a very short time I felt sweat coursing down the backs of my legs. My shirt was soaked, the lightweight French milsurp F1 jacket was sodden. Fortunately my Swiss Army alpenflage party-pants concealed all. 

My blue-gumball 1975 model climbing helmet had not been out in the sun for years. I'd brought a bandanna for the back of my neck, and I was grateful. Meantime the leather sweatband in front was dissolving in a red stain. Unbeknownst to me, it had dripped down on my face, prompting someone to mention that I had a bloody nose. "How the fuck did I get that?"

By 2:30pm I was done. Office life had punked my ass. My water was done. I figured I'd ghost back up to the car. Pretty soon I had company. I was moving so slowly that I said "Hey listen, if I'm slowing anybody down, I'll step aside..." Guffaws followed, with assurances that my pace was Zombie Fine.

Another guy said "Christ! I'm sweating so hard it looks like I pissed my pants!" I replied "I was going to say the same thing, but I didn't want you to get jealous!" More guffaws. Guy humor is like that.

This Is The End

As everybody made it back to the top, the cloud cover advanced, a breeze rose, and the first spatters of rainshowers appeared. Conversation turned on whether or not we'd be so lucky on Race Day. We'll soon find out.

Uncle Hal (far right) and the 2013 AC Trailwork Season Final Outing. 


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