The Beginning

lifeinthewildlands

The Beginning

A Forest Service recreation technician, Becky Shufelt, operates a chainsaw.

I had just finished my junior year at Humboldt State University and, in order to graduate the following year, I had to line up an internship.  Since I was studying Natural Resources, emphasizing in Recreation Management, it became very convenient one day in one of my recreation classes that an employee with the Forest Service was a guest speaker- who presented on the field of recreation management.

He announced to the class that there were potential openings for summer employment so I took the opportunity to speak with him after class. He informed me that there were openings on the trail crew which, at the time, did not sound as desirable as getting a job as a Recreation Technician.  Little did I know that I was very wrong about that, but if you stay tuned to this blog you’ll see why.

As I started panicking over not having an internship lined up for the summer, I sent my application to the Eldorado National Forest, for the available Trails Technician position.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but, as grueling as it might be (and not what I want) I was going to do this and prove to myself that I would see it through.  When I got an interview, I did all that I could to show that I had the skills to make me worthy of the position.  I explained that I assisted my father with many tasks and tools while he built 3 houses (this is true but a lot of that time working with him on these projects was served as my “grounding” when I got in trouble.  But who needs to know this?).  I might have even said that “I know I may not be the most experienced but I am a hard worker, and I am willing to learn as quickly as I can.”   

I can’t believe I got the job!

I reported for duty in my vintage boots and a pair of old Levis.  I just also happened to be the one girl (a short one too) out of seven guys, at least until Whitney Mitchel joined a week or two later. Phew! There is another female on board!  Right away I noticed the look on the trail crew foreman’s face that he was going to have to deal with the greenest of green, or very inexperienced, on the crew (Yes, that’s me the weak link) and it would take a lot of work to get up to get me up to speed. Is this what my boots say about me?  As nervous as I was to try and “keep up with the boys” I did everything in my power to do exactly that—you may look like you don’t have what it takes but you got this Becky!

After my first two weeks, I had so much soreness on what seemed like every muscle in my entire body and each foot felt each like one big blister. But I had to power on.  The entire crew was then sent to chainsaw training, as required by the agency, before you can operate a chainsaw.  I kept observing the guys on the crew who seemed to exhibit massive testosterone anytime there was chainsaw talk.  I felt like I was not a club member or any part of this “chainsaw world” and, truthfully, the thought of running a chainsaw scared the living crap out of me.  Becky you are going to learn this and do this.  You can be one of them.  I know this is scary but you CAN DO THIS!

After the classroom portion of the training I was given a chainsaw to practice what I had learned.  I gulped and sweated profusely, took a deep breath, and yanked the starter cord.  Nothing.  I yanked it again. Nothing again.  Great, I’m looking very incompetent. Finally, I gave it my all and yanked it up for the third time and it finally started. Yes! Then I went in for my first cut, then my second.  I started to really enjoy the feel of cutting through this log.  It was like butter, so smooth.  I started to realize why the guys all get excited over chainsaw operation.  This is awesome!

Time seemed to pass quickly as wood chips continued to fly in the air.   I was doing rather well after a few hours of practice time and having a blast. This was a great experience that I can give credit to Alex Kittrell (trail crew leader), Anothony Bortello (the instructor) and all the crew members on the team.  No one made me feel stupid or like I was an idiot.  In fact, each of them at some point would take their time to patiently teach me or show me a few tricks- with no judgement. This was the environment I needed.

Vintage boots and all, I finally felt a part of the club–and one I would become addicted to.