We've been working around station, continuing to prepare for assignment. Then we have our preparedness review, and we pass, with flying colors (Every year, the crew has a preparedness review.). The crew is available now, nationally. We continue with everyday business. Then we learn that we have a resource order to begin project work in Big Bend National Park, way down south in Texas. I was excited and nervous again. My first roll with the shots! Do I have everything? Is my bag packed correctly? Stop and have confidence in what you were taught, and think clearly. I hop in the buggy, mind still racing, but I know that this is what I have wanted my whole life. And now, here I am sitting in the back of the crew carrier, about to go on my first roll. The drive was fun, heading south on I-25 with a convoy of five vehicles (superintendent's truck, three crew buggies, and a chase truck with a UTV in the back). I was so excited, and heading south, I called my parents to let them know we were heading their way. Las Vegas, NM, is right off of I-25, so it would be a perfect opportunity to see them. Maybe Paul would let me see them, let them see me with the Alpine IHC. We pulled off to get gas, and it was like clockwork. Someone filled the tank, another person emptied the trash, and others washed windows. Everyone worked together to improve efficiency, to get back on the road, to head toward our assignment, and to get there as soon as safely possible.
It was great! We stopped just outside of Las Vegas and I got to see my family. I remember pulling up and seeing the big ole smiles on my parent's faces. I walked over and gave them a big hug. After introducing them to Paul and a couple of my mentors we had to hit the road, but not before my mom handed us five dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies. Of course, it was a bit hard being so close to home, family, friends, my comfort zone, and then having to leave. But we were off again, and the drive steadily got hotter and hotter as we headed further south.
Big Bend National Park
We arrived in Big Bend, and I am still very unsure about the work, how I'll fit in, and how I might hold up. Fortunately, we checked in, got situated, briefed, and got straight to work. Our job was to reduce fuel (dead trees, cactus, shrubs, other vegetation) around park housing/structures in order to eliminate/minimize fire hazards. Everything we worked on removing was thorny or sharp in some sort of way. My job was to swamp. So whatever that sawyer cut down, I removed. I carried this cut material and placed it along the road to be picked up and hauled off. At first, I felt that the work wasn't so bad, dragging brush to the road. However, a couple of hours go by, and I begin to get sweaty, my band on my helmet is no longer absorbing the sweat off of my forehead. Sweat dripped down my forehead and cheek. It was hotter than hot! By the end of the day, my body was completely soaked from hauling brush and loading trailers full of brush. At the end of the shift, we picked up all of our gear, gathered everyone together, debriefed, and headed to the park dining center.
Then the best part: dinner!
I had chicken fried steak with ice-cold lemonade. After a hot, hard, day of work, that drink was like heaven. Others got hamburgers and salads. We ate well.
After dinner, we went to camp, debriefed, then set up our sleeping areas. I laid out my ground tarp, my Thermarest, then my sleeping bag (The key is to keep everything organized, because in the morning we are given 10 minutes to be packed up, loaded in the rigs, and ready to roll. It's part of keeping all of your things and yourself in order so that the entire crew can move as one, proficiently, professionally, and safely). The first couple of nights were pretty interesting because we were frequently visited by a skunk. The skunk crawled over people in their sleeping bags and actually licked some crewmembers while they were sleeping! Folks jumped up and yelled, instinctively, to scare off the animal!