The Long and Winding Trail - My Family Travels

A trail is not a simple thing to construct. You can’t buy trail parts from a store or order a trail over the internet. It requires days of work from a group of determined individuals to make a useable trail. At Spotted Bear National Park in Montana, I united with a group of strangers to undertake the daunting task of trail construction and renovation. Little did I know that the labor involved would teach me not only how to carve out a path or build a jack-leg fence, but would shape me more than I could ever imagine.  Deciding to leave the comfort of my home to travel to Montana was one of the best things I have ever done.

I met the members of my group in the airport, shy and anxious about the two weeks to come.  All of us had signed up to volunteer at Spotted Bear, a two hour drive over gravel roads from the nearest town of Kalispell. Personally, I had been reticent about the trip since registering up months earlier, and on many occasions considered pulling out and staying home.  In fact, I had joked to my friends about being sent away to a “labor camp”. 

In the car, we chatted apprehensively, slowly warming to each other.  That night in the bunkhouse, the sounds of worn bedsprings, protesting as people, unable to sleep, shifted in their beds, showed how nervous everyone felt.  Over the next two days we bonded over hard work and beach conversations, and from that point on, we were family.  Possibly the best part of the trip was seeing the group bond together as one, working towards the common goal of completing the trail.  We supported each other, talked about anything and everything, and played possibly the most entertaining game of whiffleball ever.  Living with such an assorted and diverse group of individuals from different places and backgrounds taught me that everyone has a story.  By showing a willingness to listen, I learned a multitude of interesting things about each person, and that the many differences between us were nothing more than facets which make each person unique and fascinating.

The trailbuilding itself also taught me important lessons. The words “trailbuilding” and “easy” can be considered complete opposites. More than once, a root or large rock blocked our progress, forcing us to literally look at the problem from a different angle in order to continue.  Problem solving became second nature as we moved down the serpentine trail we created on the side of the hill. We utilized a variety of tools in order to achieve our goal, and worked together cohesively. The difficulty of our task necessitated persistence, and we rose to the challenge. These problem solving skills that I picked up while on the dusty slopes continue to help me succeed back in civilization. 

Though at times our task seemed impossible, we quickly learned that optimism about our progress was the best way to make it through, and some of the more musically gifted in our group would help us out with a song while we toiled. Our faces beamed as we grew nearer to finishing, ecstatic with our achievement. Words cannot express our pride; we talked about the trail as if it were our child.  This indescribably great feeling of achievement remains something I hold on to and pursue in all my endeavors.

In conclusion, the risk I took in traveling from my small hometown to a huge forest in the middle of Montana to build trails impacted me in a very positive manner. I left with a greater appreciation for people and individuals in general, and a respect for what a group of people can accomplish if they come together and work toward a common goal. My problem solving and teamwork skills received a huge boost, as did my pride. Building a trail usually has that effect.

Click here to view all of the pictures from my trip.

Landmark Volunteers

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