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May 06 2016

Home Away from Home on the CDT

A diverse group of volunteers start as a crew, leave as good friends

On the Trail, Featured

"You have arrived at your destination," my phone's GPS sang out to me.

I looked at the bright screen in disbelief. It was 11:30 p.m., it was raining, and though the headlights on my old 4Runner weren't the best, I could see enough to know that I had arrived absolutely nowhere. Well, actually, I was somewhere, somewhere between Lincoln and Helena on a rainy mountain pass in the dark. Oh, and my heat wasn't working.

I stopped the car in the middle of the road, grabbed my phone, and attempted to pull up my email so that I could reread the directions, but I had lost service. I was on my own. I laughed as I realized I had fallen into one of the greatest pitfalls of my generation. Due to the constant presence of a phone in my life I had never needed to use a map and now that I did, I realized that not only did I not have a map, but that I had yet to even purchase one in my short 19 years. My phone had failed me so I did what any rational person would do. I began to wander. About an hour and a few failed Forest Service roads later, I happened to pull into a campsite and see the CDT logo emblazoned on a pile of white helmets. I just about screamed with joy but remembered it was past midnight and the CDT Montana crew were fast asleep.

When I awoke the next morning and stepped from my car I found that the camp was already bustling. Crew leaders Meg and Jackson already had a hot kettle of coffee on the Coleman and had already arranged breakfast and a packed lunch for the entire crew. Trail bags were now being packed, Pulaski’s and shovels sorted, and waters filled. Within an hour we were off to the worksite with our tools slung over our shoulders to begin the day's work.

The crew consisted of five volunteers from out of state and three from Montana. There were four college students and three retirees. And although we all came from different walks of life, it was amazing to witness how quickly we came together. On the first day we were spread out across the worksite during lunch, but two days later we were practically cozying up like old friends.

Our project, on Flesher Pass between Lincoln and Helena, involved building a crib wall that would help restore the integrity of a particular section of trail in a scree field. Our work included cutting, peeling, and hauling logs; digging a trail bed; and hauling and crushing rock. All of it required teamwork and dedication, but the product was amazing and was something that would remain on the trail for years to come.

What I didn't realize when I stepped out of my 4Runner that early morning was that I wasn't walking into a camp – I was walking into a mountain home away from home and the people I was joining weren't just my crew, but would soon become my friends.

I had indeed arrived at my destination.

There are still plenty of volunteer slots open for a CDT Montana volunteer project this sumer. Check them out now.

- Tyler Courville, Stanford University student and former MWA intern