Building Trails

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(HOST) Before the deep snows arrive is the best time to work on the many cross country ski trails that criss-cross Vermont, and that’s just what commentator Alan Boye did on a recent weekend.

(BOYE) This isn’t what I’d choose to do at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but my friend Ken said he needed some help clearing a trail in the woods.

When I pull up to his house, he’s all ready to go. He’s loaded a kid’s plastic sled with chainsaw and tools.

We greet each other, but I don’t even get a chance to finish my coffee before we head to work. Ken has been skiing these woods each winter for the past quarter century. He knows them well. Today he has it in his mind to clear an old trail.

We soon stop where a downed tree has blocked the way.

Ken bends over his old chain saw and yanks at the cord a time or two. It sputters three gentle pop-pop-pops, and then falls silent. “This chain saw is twenty years old,” he says between tugs at the rope. “Every time I lift it up it seems to get heavier.” He jerks it one more time and the machine roars to life. As he works, I grunt and moan as I lift each cut section of the log. I shove and roll the big, heavy chunks out of the way. Before long I’m sweating and winded.

We move deeper into the woods, lifting branches and throwing them to the side. Ken stops every dozen yards or so to figure out the route. I don’t mind one bit, as I’m happy to give my arms and back a break.

We move on to a spot in the trail where a skier might have some trouble on the way down a rather steep slope. Ken powers the chain saw through a couple of small trees in order to make a wide spot in the trail for skiers to bail out. Soon I’m struggling to clear the tangle of branches he’s left behind.

After several hours of this kind of work, Ken finally stops. He took off his stocking cap an hour ago, and now his sweaty head steams in the cold winter’s air.

“That’ll do for today,” he says. “That’s a good morning’s work.”

I could have kissed him then and there, for my back and arms were killing me. We slowly made our way back to his house. Ken talked about how good the skiing would be – when we finished the trail. He said he’d give me a call next weekend and we’d finish the work. I’m glad he told me; I’m not answering the phone.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College. He spoke from our studio at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury.

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