Wednesday, 27 April 2011

2011 - An American addiction

So it's a year to the day and I find myself at Heathrow airport waiting to drop off my bags, once again bound for the land which brought me cactus, cheap chicken wings and life long friends.  I feel nervous and I don't know why - am I expecting more of myself? Maybe other people are expecting more of me and I know it? Either way I'm heading West into a slight uncertainty albeit six months later than I had originally planned.

I'm already in Flagstaff as I write this, having completely forgotten about my blog until a chance run in with another blog inspired me to seek it out and explore it once again. It's not that I don't want to write about my travels, it's just that I find it a chore and I suppose I need to fall in love with writing again before I can really express myself. I won't say this post is based on true love but there may be an ember of an affair here.

I'm heading back out to Lake Mead tomorrow, having already completed one hitch based on the Arizona side of the lake. It was my first fencing project and I can genuinely say I enjoyed myself as I have done on every project but it was without doubt the toughest one to date. As I knew it would, the heat played a major part in my struggles. Last time around (January to March) the climate was much more bearable and I guess I chose a summer series of projects to challenge myself more than anything. Another factor in this challenging project was the amount of hauling we had to do. Hauling is as it sounds, effectively carrying shit loads of material miles and miles. Add to that the desert terrain and the blazing sun and you have an interesting  conundrum.

I know I'm not the sort of person to throw in the towel and quite simply you have to get on with it, to suck it up and keep going. You have to invent stories in your head to pass the time as each painful step just adds to your catalogue of gripes. You duct tape your blisters, re-apply your sunscreen and carry on. And then, when you've reached the fence or your final destination and finally unload your cargo, you hike back to the road to do it all again. I did a long haul the first day and then hauled for all of the second day and it was brutal but the sense of achievement was and always will be worth it. There are others who hauled more material and for longer periods and the statistics for the total amount of material moved in that week were very impressive.

I moved away from hauling to try to experience all aspects of the fencing project and found myself on the stretching crew. Our task was to effectively construct the actual 'meat' of the fence. We would follow the pounding and 'H' brace teams and stretch three rolls of wire (two barb and one smooth) from post to post. We would then divide up along the fence line, hand-stretch each wire and clip it in place adding or removing tension on each wire as and when needed. This process would then be repeated down the fence line for as far as the eye could see. Now parts of this process are easy and slightly tedious at the same time. For example if you are stretching you are basically standing at the same place for at least an hour with very little to do. The biggest challenge for our stretching crew was the hiking distance both to and from the section of fence we were working on. We were not based with the rest of the fencing crew and had to drive around 40 minutes further in the morning to our drop off point. From here we would hike for around an hour to the work location and it was a nice downhill hike in the early morning sun. This of course meant the return journey was uphill, in soft sand and again, oh yeah in the blazing desert heat. Also, the more progress we made throughout the day the further we had to hike back and often we would leave at 2.30pm to allow for increased distances. This was easily the toughest part of stretching and quite often we would be hauling material out and so again it came down to a mental battle. The best method I found was to focus on a point in the distance and then just keep my feet moving. I know this sounds basic but I'm under no illusions that my hiking skills are not quite as refined as they could be and there were certainly more accomplished hikers in our crew who found it quite manageable. For me it was definitely a challenge and one I accomplished without moaning or serious injury. I guess that's an achievement in itself.

On the eve of my second project I am feeling quite optimistic for my 2011 American odyssey. I know I can overcome the toughest of challenges, I've had enough practice after all and life around Flagstaff and the ACE community is shaping up to be quite interesting. He who dares wins, go on my son.

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