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Becoming a Rover: Not your Average Volunteer Experience

Two Saturdays ago, at around 8:30 am, the quiet spring air was filled with the sounds of closing car doors, crunching footsteps and sips of coffee. Interjections of small talk and nervous laughter would occasionally break the silence as we starred at our feet tracing shapes in the gravel. Indeed, we arrived at the Mohonk Preserve as 12 complete strangers, but we left 12 good friends.

As we gathered near the worksite, the anticipation of the work translated into shared excitement, and our energy rose with the sun peaking over the Shawangunk ridge. Our acquaintances became more comfortable, and our laughter more genuine. As we circled up around a carefully dressed display of tools, we smiled and warmed up to each other.

The instructors briefed us on what to expect for the days ahead: we will be tired, we will be sore, but we will feel accomplished. As the training began throughout the day, we began to bond through trail and error. We contemplated how we would move a 400lb mass, we asked ourselves how it would crumble if we split the stone . We anticipated nature quashing our efforts and worked around it. We learned a great deal about the stonework, but our next lesson was each other.

The 12 recruits and instructors gathered for lunch, and we all exchanged tales and experiences. We bonded over carrots, pb&j sandwiches, jokes and laughter before we summoned ourselves back on the trail. An overwhelming sense of connection and acceptance resonated throughout those first two days of training.

As the sun set on Sunday evening, we all gathered our tools and readied them for the truck. Our arms swung around each other, and we echoed high-fives for a job well done (yes, high fives are still ‘in’, everyone). With a great deal of work left to be done, we couldn't wait to arrive the next weekend to finish the project and, of course, meet the reinforcements.

The following Saturday we all met in the parking lot, complete with the necessary camping gear to spend the night. Old members greeted each other like family on Christmas. The collection of Rovers grew to about 30 as they were wrangled up for a morning debrief.

Each rover was cheerfully introduced to the crew one by one, and split off into separate training groups. Today I would learn to rig and fly, tomorrow, shape and set. The project leaders were patient, detailed and passionate about what they were teaching. It was hard to believe that all the instructors were volunteers themselves, and encouraging that they all were once in our shoes.

The first day with the Full Crew was a success, and we were all rewarded with a delicious BBQ provided by the fantastic staff at the Mohonk Preserve. After consuming an impressive amount of food, we all gathered around the campfire to share stories. We welcomed other hikers and campers to join as we discussed the work we were accomplishing up the trail. As the sun set behind the mountain, we talked about the stars, and the meteors, and, one by one, peeled off to bed.

I awoke that cold morning by "un-burrito-ing" myself out of two layered sleeping bags. I unzipped my cave and crawled onto the earth feeling refreshed and ready. To my surprise, everyone was already up and taking turns boiling water for coffee and tea. After a short breakfast, we all met back at site to finish the project.

With only eight hours remaining, it was hard to imagine that the work would be completed. Each group was assigned different portions of the staircase. All parts would eventually fit together, but how could we do it in such a short time? As we got down to the final hours of work, the pockets of labor tightened.

When finished, we relieved ourselves from close working quarters. The dust settled and revealed a beautiful, 30-step stone staircase. The crew gathered tools and headed for the summit, barely looking back at what they had just accomplished.

I stood at the base of the staircase and looked up towards the setting sun. My eyes traced down every step, trying to find the parts my hands could take credit for. But upon my scan, all I could see was the entire project and the work of the entire team.

At that moment I realized that I was not merely a volunteer this weekend. This was not a short sentence that would beef up my resume, or a braggy picture to add to my Instagram feed. I was becoming part of something much bigger.

We were not training to be a volunteer in your average trail crew.

We are training to become members of the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew.

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