On Friday night, I drove out to the Cottonwood Campground near Arrowrock Reservoir. This is a road that I’ve been on many times before, sometimes driving, often in the passenger seat while my husband drove. But this time I was all on my own.

I had left my husband behind, because I was on the way to a Women’s Only Weekend of volunteer trail maintenance with the Idaho Trails Association.

I’d first noted the existence of these last year, but none of the dates lined up for me. I wasn’t planning on doing the one in June, but then one of my Facebook friends posted that they needed more women, even if we could only come for Saturday. I’d made a commitment for Sunday, but I could go out Friday night and work all day Saturday.

I signed up.

I was nervous about going to spend time with a whole bunch of strangers – and one person that I knew a bit. I don’t make friends easily, and being social takes a lot more energy for me than being solitary. So even though I made my way without drama, I was feeling as jumpy as the road was bumpy. 
But when I got there, it wasn’t bad. I said hello, and then picked a spot to pitch my tent. I’d taken the duplex rather than the car camping tent because that tent was way too big for just me. This would be a nice tryout of my new quilt, and I was borrowing Ambrose’s new backpacking pillow, so I should be pretty comfortable. The ground was damp from recent rain, and most of the spots were right by the high flowing creek, so I figured I’d get condensation overnight, but I’d survive. 
After I was all set up, I joined the other women around a campfire. I sat on a picnic table bench because I don’t own a camp chair – that was one item on the list of things to bring that I hadn’t been able to comply with. I mean, I did bring a crate and a sit pad, which could work as a camp chair, but I didn’t break those out the first night. 
I could feel my tense neck muscles relaxing from being out in the woods. It was pretty easy to talk with the women. A little hard to hear at times because of the creek, but I felt comfortable. These were my kind of people. One of them even asked “Who has the duplex?” and I was pleased to have it recognized by a fellow backpacker. 
I was a little uncomfortable when someone made popcorn on the fire, because I can’t eat that right now, but there was no weird reaction when I declined to take any. It was fine. Nothing to worry about. 
I turned in earlier than everyone else, because I had been up since 4:30 in the morning. Staying up past 9:30 was a hard ask for me. Especially as it was getting colder. I slept pretty well that night. 
I slept in and then got ready to go. I wore my Rail Riders pants, Mountain Hardwear shirt, the boots that now leak, but I figured they’d be better for this kind of work even with a less than perfect waterproof status. I carried my weekender pack so I’d have room to carry more stuff if needed. More stuff besides what I was carrying, which was snacks, lunch, ten essentials kit, water crossing shoes, towel and 3 liters of water with Nuun mixed in. 
After a basic tool and safety lecture, we carpooled over the to trail head since the road out there wasn’t great for low clearance vehicles. I rode in a Subaru, and while I think I could have gotten my Focus out there, it would have been a whole lot slower. Then we got our equipment and hard hats and paused for a group photo by the sign. Several shots, actually, one for the ITA and a few for a reporter who was coming along to add to a larger story she was working on about women and the outdoors. 
There were two forest service personnel with us, and, because this district had no women in a particular position, one of them was a man. But he didn’t impinge very much on the women-only-ness of the trip. We had talked on Friday night about embarrassing the guy by talking about periods, but he did not require embarrassing. 
It turns out that there’s a specific way to carry tools while hiking. Only the crosscut saw can go over the shoulder. Everything else gets held down by your side, like a suitcase. And they all have to be held on the downhill side of the trail. I started out the hike carrying a Pulaski, which is a combination of ax and adze. It didn’t start out heavy, but it got that way when I couldn’t switch arms except when we crossed the creek. 
We only hiked out two miles, but I hadn’t been training in my boots, so it felt like a lot longer. Plus, I kind of felt like I needed to pee, and I had no idea where I’d be able to do that in such a large group. As we hiked, the leader of our group would stop to point out areas that needed work, why they needed it and the basics of what we would be doing. I relished those stops to let the Pulaski rest on the ground – and to learn. 
After we got two miles out, we stopped because there was no bridge across the creek and the ford was going to be pretty gnarly. Better not to risk it – and there was plenty to do in the first two miles. But first we took a break. I sat near another woman, and the reporter came over to us both and talked with her first. When she talked to me, I did take the opportunity to mention that I write about backpacking and have self-published books on it. At that, she asked for my email address, so I thought that was pretty neat. 
After the break, I worked with another woman on building a water bar. Then we filled in a hole in the trail. And time just flew and it was time for lunch. After lunch, I ended up with the pole saw, and I spent the afternoon cutting down high limbs. The trail is cleared for stock, so it had to have ten feet of clearance overhead. I had a lot of fun with that, and I even got someone to take a picture of me using it. 
We got back to the trail head just before the sky opened up, and back at the campsite I was focused on getting to the bathroom and staying as dry as possible. This means I didn’t bother to check on my tent until the rain had pretty much stopped and I wanted to change shoes. 
I was dismayed to discover that one of my stakes had popped out of the ground, allowing the rain to flow freely inside. I was pretty close to just calling it a day and going home, but as luck would have it, I had pitched my tent on uneven ground, and the water was all on one side. Nothing inside was too wet. My quilt was hardly wet at all. So I went to the car and got all my towels and mopped it up, cursing and grumbling the whole time. Then I got my shoes on and went back over to the potluck dinner where no one asked me why I’d been gone, so I didn’t even end up telling anyone about my troubles. 
My husband cautioned me about the potluck, because in his experience backpacking potlucks did not typically end well. But this was a group of women. We know how to feed each other. There was, if anything, way too much food, including some chocolate humus that I wish I could have tried (no beans for me right now though). I ate, I enjoyed myself talking with people, and I turned in early again, because I needed to get up early and go. 
I had a harder time falling asleep that night. I was missing Ambrose, and a bit leery about the rain coming back. But I fell asleep and got up in the night to pee and looked at the stars, because I didn’t use my headlamp so they were brilliant. And then I woke up on time and headed home. I will definitely be doing that again. 
Closer to a creek than I’d normally pitch. 

Ambrose’s new pillow was pretty comfy.

A little sunset paint for the sky.

Trail head!

Pretty nice views from the trail.

And the sky was so blue.

High, fast water.

I helped make this waterbar!

And got dirt shoveled in my face – by accident.

Here there was a hole, but the hole is no more.

Fluffy clouds with a hint of possible rain.

Flowers were in bloom.

Fungus too.

Too early to eat these fiddle ferns.

Me working the pole saw. 

Butterflies love sweat.

More raging waters – from the safety of a bridge.

I managed to catch an insect in flight along with those storm clouds.

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