Backcountry Orientation, 2017

As the 2017 Backcountry Trail season winds down into its last weeks, I wanted to share the glimpse that I had of the birth of the season.

I had intended to write a chronological piece covering one typical day at orientation.

I couldn’t do it. Not chronologically, anyway.

A Backcountry Orientation is a very chaotic animal. Many different things are happening simultaneously, but every piece of that chaos is directed towards a very specific goal: outfitting six separate crews and getting them on the road to their respective Backcountry locations. Those six crews are made up of six supervisors and ninety-seven Corpsmembers, or CMs. These ninety-seven people are mostly from California, but a good number of them are coming in from all over the country. They are arriving by car, bus, plane, and train…and not all at the same time.

The first day of orientation is Arrival Day. Backcountry Program staff have a carefully crafted itinerary of rounds between the airport, bus station, and train station to pick up incoming CMs and getting them safely to the CCC’s Placer Center in Auburn. Unlike 1987, when all of the arriving CMs were coming through the bus station and it was easy to let them wait there for a while until a van-load had accumulated, or the had the option to walk the few blocks to the center, CMs today have to be transported from the west side of Sacramento to Auburn, about thirty miles. They are arriving all day. Sometimes arrivals are not on time because of their transportation. In 2016, flights from east of the Mississippi River were delayed because of a hurricane that diverted flight paths. This is quite the logistics undertaking.

The CMs arrive at Placer by the van load. Backcountry Program Director Karlson Hubbard is there to meet each group as they pile out of the van. He greets them with a Welcome Speech, and knows them all by name. What makes this really amazing is that this is the first time he has met the out-of-state arrivals face to face. He knows all ninety-seven of them from the application process, which involves phone interviews and background checks. Each application has included a recent photo of the applicant, and Karlson knows them all by sight by the first day of Orientation.

So far so good. This part is easy to cover chronologically.

But then…

After hearing Karlson’s Welcome talk, the CMs are split up into their crews and meet their supervisor, which in the CCC is titled Conservationist 1, or C1. The first van might have anywhere from seven to fifteen people in it, so there are only a few people with each crew so far. The C1s introduce themselves and begin going over preliminary procedures with each CM, which includes inventorying gear. Each CM has received a list of gear they are expected to bring with them to orientation. Each C1 has to make sure that each CM does, indeed, have every item listed on the inventory. Each CM is also provided with a set of uniforms and work boots. If a CM is not already a member of the CCC and has already brought uniforms from their center, uniforms need to be issued. Each CM is also expected to report with several pieces of documentation relating to employment, such personal identification and verification of employment eligibility. Each C1 has to check each CM to make sure their documentation is in order. Each crew also has to set up their camp in a big field.

This is where it starts getting chaotic. More CMs are added to the mix throughout the day. Karlson greets every van. Then each CM is directed to wherever his/her crew is at the moment…but the crews don’t stay put. They might be erecting tents in the field. They might be at supply. They might be in an out-of-the-way corner of Placer Center going over paperwork. Each C1 is responsible for directing their own crew through all of these stations and keeping track of every one of their CMs.

By the time all ninety-seven CMs have reported, it’s close to dinner time, and the end of Arrival Day at Backcountry Orientation Week.

Just wait until you see the program for tomorrow!

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