Backcountry Orientation, 1987

Before I talk about the Backcountry Trail Program Orientation of 2017, I’d like to tell you about Backcountry Orientation thirty years ago, in 1987. That was the year that I went Backcountry. I was from Del Norte Center. Del Norte was on the North Coast, at the mouth of the Klamath River and near the town of Klamath.

In 1987, there was no AmeriCorps. The Backcountry program was strictly for members of the CCC. There were still six crews. That year there were two Yosemite crews, and one each in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, and the Inyo and Shasta-Trinity National Forests.

Each Corpsmember was responsible for getting themselves to Delta Center in Stockton for Orientation. Since joining the Backcountry program was essentially a voluntary transfer away from your center, you had to provide transportation to your new work location. I spent the weekend before Backcountry at my parent’s place in Antioch, so it was easy for them to drive me over to Stockton. Other CMs either were dropped off, or took a Greyhound bus to Stockton.

Monday was our travel day. We came dribbling in, individually or small groups, and were directed to our quarters for the next couple of nights. We were all housed in a long barracks-type bay at Delta. We were on our own that first night for dinner. We all knew what crews we had been assigned to, but hadn’t been formally placed upon those crews yet. A bunch of us formed a hodge-podge group and went out for pizza.

Tuesday was our Orientation Day. Peter Lewis was the Backcountry Director at that time. He was a remarkable and dynamic man. He had worked trails in Yosemite National Park for years, before becoming a CCC crew supervisor, or C1, and leading Backcountry crews himself. The morning of debriefing was largely a pep talk from Peter. He told us what the expectation would be for the summer. His key words of wisdom boiled down to “Wake up early, and hike fast.” He reminded us of the Big Five Rules of the CCC: No drugs or alcohol, no fighting, no refusal to work, and no destruction of State property. Violation of any one of these rules called for automatic termination from the program. Peter also spun magical tales of life in the Backcountry that held us spellbound. This is what we had all volunteered for. I had first heard about the Backcountry Program during my initial training at the Academy, outside of San Andreas. When I saw the Backcountry slide show that night, I knew that this program was exactly the adventure I had been looking for when I had left Illinois only about a month earlier. The entire focus of my CCC time for eight months was earning a place on a Backcountry trail crew, and now I was here. Everybody else here was just as eager to get started.

After lunch, we met formally with our crews for the first time. The C1 introduced himself or herself and shared their background that had brought them here. Everybody on the crew did the same. The C1 talked about their own expectations for their crews, and talked about the coming work projects for the summer. That took us to dinner, which we ate in the Delta dining hall.

And Orientation was over.

That was it. The next morning, we all piled in our vans and took off for our work projects and the rest of our summer.

Orientation in 2017 is a little more complex. Tomorrow we will begin that tale.

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