The Trail-Approved Sandwich

My love for sandwiches is something that is well-documented. A good sandwich, I think is something to remember. This is not something to just consume while hungry, not something that you’ll find pre-packaged in the semi-functional refrigerator at a Plaid Pantry or 7-Eleven. It is, in its ideal form, a refreshing, heaping dollop of protein, dairy, veggies, and bread. It is an all-around whole meal in a holdable, semi-portable form.

For me, the ideal sandwich is not a Reuben, though a Reuben is always appreciated and, at times, direly needed. No, the ideal sandwich is a pastrami, roast beef, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and brown mustard on rye. This is the idea. You can switch out the cheese or meats and be okay, but God help you if you skimp on the rye. It must be a rye bread sandwich, or the whole thing falls apart. White bread is barely bread. Whole grain or whole wheat are too health-conscious and are, as they say, missing the point. I don’t trust sourdough, and pumpernickel is an abomination in the sight of the Lord. Rye or get the hell out.

I’m talking about sandwiches to talk about what I did today – and yes, indeed, eating a sandwich was involved. You see, today, I did some trail work. Trail work – as I recently learned – is focused on improving trails in national parks and is typically done by volunteers. See, in the back of my head, I’d always known that trails need to be cleared of overgrowth so that they can be more easily used by people; the catch is that, since I am not by any definition an outdoorsman, I’d kind of always assumed this was what park rangers did when they weren’t educating the public, making sure people don’t kill themselves, or keeping bears from stealing picnic baskets. Turns out that this is the work of mainly volunteers, a bunch of people who get together on trail work parties, and do stuff like trim back overgrowth, stop water from breaking up a trail, or maintain paths by the aid of these big shovel things that are not actually shovels (but basically are).

I joined one of these things after being goaded into it by a friend of mine who works for the Mt. St. Helen’s Institute. I’m not clear on what the MSHI does aside from organize trail work and educate people, but I know they also watch goats. They may or may not look out at the volcano and say, “Right, you pull those tricks again and we’ll have words with you.”

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Mt. St. Helen’s. That’s a cloud. Not an eruption.

The work party I joined was to clear out a trail to Butte Camp Dome. This trail starts off near a lava field – a bunch of rocks where there used to be lava. Based on these rocks not looking like dried lava, I assume that these rocks were pitched out of the volcano when it erupted, but hey, I don’t know and I didn’t think to ask when I had the opportunity. This is how I operate, and why many of my opinions are the way they are. Anyway, it cuts up through some forest that’s well on the way to regrowth, the brunt of the eruption being on the North side of the mountain. It is, for lack of a better word, very woodsy. Someone more outdoors-minded than me can tell you all about the trees, about the flowers that were growing, and all of those important details, but the only thing that I can tell you is that there were surprisingly few birds. There were also a lot of blueberries, which made for delicious snacks along the way.

What I did was simple: I took loppers and a saw and cut away woodsy bits that were starting to creep into the trail. I did this because, in the words of our team lead, Clare, “Nature was touching me, and we don’t want to be touched by nature when we’re on a trail.” So, you got brushed by a bunch of stick things? Probably time to stop walking and cut away some of the growth. It was simple stuff, not too demanding, and a pleasant way to spend a few hours. See, my friend Chauncey and I had to leave early so that Chauncey could make it back to Portland to see an accountant. Not a very thrilling reason to duck out early, but there you go. The group lead was a guy named Brandon, who had massive dreads, used the word “mindful” a lot, and seemed to be the type of person who wouldn’t really like being in a city for any longer than he had to be. Brandon assigned us to brush clearing because it was pretty easy and we’d be close-ish to the trailhead to make it easy for us to duck out.

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So many rocks!

So anyway, we started on the trail clearing. I talked to Clare and her friend Erin for a while – both of them were people who really dug being outside. They went on hikes, both had personal hard hats from the Washington Trails Association, and did stuff like go on 25-mile hikes. They said that going on the said 25-mile hike was the first time they met, and in my head, I thought, “Jesus, I don’t think I’ve gone on 25 miles worth of hiking in my life.” Solid people, the both of them, and folks I’d like to run into again.

Anyway, we were on the trail, clearing things out, chatting as we went and having pretty good fun along the way. It’s something that I’ve wanted to be more proactive about for a while, this whole going outside and doing things out in the forests. It pops in my head every time I read about how we’re, like, ten years away from being past the point of no return when it comes to turning our world into a hellscape because of greenhouse gasses. I’ll read an article, think “I need to go out to Mt. Hood National Forest,” and then wind up turning on a movie again.

But this time, I had my friend Sarah in the back of my head. Sarah’s the one who works for MHSI, and when I told her a while back that I was seriously thinking about going on a trail work party, she pointed me in the direction. When I delayed on signing up for about three months, she texted “I don’t think you’re actually going to do it,” and I signed up that very goddamn day. See, nothing’s quite as effective at getting me to do something than getting called out like that. So I signed up for the thing, talked a friend into going along, and then waited for the time to come along.

So you fast forward to this past Thursday, when I realized that I didn’t have work gloves, I didn’t have a backpack, and I hadn’t really given thought to how to pack for this thing. Luckily, we live in a consumer product-focused world, and I solved the first two problems easily enough. Then I got to thinking about what to bring on the trail and I thought, “The sandwich. It must be the sandwich.”

*

For the past year, I’ve been living a largely grain carb-free existence. I’ve cut out most bread and rice – except for Saturdays and the odd meal here and there – and beer. As a result, I’ve dropped about thirty pounds. [Pauses for applause.] This has had the effect of me no longer having my preferred lunch – the sandwich I mentioned above. I’ve missed the sandwich, but when your blood pressure shoots up to horrific levels and you need to lose weight so you don’t die, the sandwich is something you can afford to lose.

But this time, looking at least a couple of miles’ worth of hiking and some physical work – and it being a Saturday – I thought that the sandwich would be called for. It was something needed. Something that’d wrap the day up into a bow, cap everything off with a nice, refreshing taste, and provide energy for a bit more work if required, and be enough to tide over hunger until dinner. Then I thought about how hungry I am as a general rule and threw in a couple of protein bars as well.

So, after prepping all of the ingredients for the sandwich, I wrapped them up in aluminum foil, put them in a tupperware container, stashed everything in my backpack, and got ready to go.

I touched on the trail work above, but the lunch was something that should stand out. After a few hours’ work, we stepped off the trail and sat around in the shade, near a fallen tree, looking out to the woods on our left and all around us, and the slight incline heading up toward Butte Camp Dome. I ate the sandwich, enjoyed it, and had, for the first time in a while, several extended periods of no-thought. Stillness of mind. “Mindfulness” if that’s more your speed. It wasn’t because of the sandwich. It wasn’t because of the setting. It wasn’t because of the work I’d been doing. It certainly wasn’t because I was being orbited by a group of persistent flies. All of that, though, came together and helped. It all pointed to those moments where my brain shut up for just a second. I stopped thinking about work. I stopped thinking about how I should set up my dating profile. I stopped thinking about how my roommate was so loud all the time. Fo those brief, shining moments, I could feel The Quiet, as a friend used to say

It wasn’t because of the sandwich. The sandwich, though, didn’t hurt.

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The potentially helpful sandwich.

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