There is nothing quite like a CIR backcountry trip.

On each trip, an assemblage of tamarisk mercenaries systematically surveys the designated watershed, leaving no trace aside from a path of tamarisk skeletons in its wake. The group composition changes from trip to trip, but the enthusiasm for eradicating our target species does not. Despite being a bunch of plant assassins, we are actually nice people and we view our heartless killing as just. For us, the end (restoration of our cherished backcountry) justifies the means (merciless eradication of the poor tamarisks).

Aside from maniacle tendencies, our group shares a passion for the natural areas our work is helping to restore, which is in wilderness watershed areas in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, including the Sisquoc River, Piru Creek, and Santa Ynez River watersheds. On any given trip, our team probably includes people very knowledgeable in local plants, birds, mammal tracks, geology, topography, regional trail systems, and on and on. You get the idea. The point is, our combined knowledge of an area’s natural history is formidable, and we learn from one another. Each trip can be approached not only as work, but also as a sort of field course. My favorite aspect of backcountry trips is learning from my fellow CIR employees and volunteers; at the end of each week, I feel like I have learned so much, and possibly made people more enthusiastic about birds and mushrooms (two of my main areas of interest). At the end of a trip, on average I’ve probably learned about several new plants, a few new bird calls, a new star or constellation, local geological features, topography, and how to get to that stunning-looking peak in the distance. Even better, each trip gives to me the gift of the soul-cleansing, purpose-clarifying power of being out in the wilderness, away from the distraction of technology and the hustle and bustle of my civilized life.

...it doesn’t take long to come to love and appreciate our backcountry areas for their subtler brand of beauty. They are pristine, quiet, and inspiring places that have so much to offer. Let’s keep them that way.

It’s impossible to talk about a backcountry trip without mentioning our cowboy team from Los Padres Outfitters, who pack in all of our equipment and supplies, make camp, and provide hearty meals for the entire trip. Our work would be impossible without them, since the areas we work in are too remote to hike in all of the necessary equipment and camping gear to do our work. For each week in the backcountry I can always count on some great conversations with my cowboy friends, and about a pound of weight gain from their delicious camp food. I will also add that if I were less intimidated by horses (they’re so big and powerful!), I could probably learn a thing or two about cowboying out there as well. But you can’t win ‘em all.

IMG_4163.JPG

This is not to say that our backcountry trips don’t offer their share of minor trials and tribulations. I’ve learned the hard way to “double bag” with two sleeping bags after spending multiple semi-sleepless nights with chilly feet. I’ve had a tent totaled by ridiculously strong winds, removed my fair share of ticks, and accustomed myself to having a dirty face and gross fingernails for days at a time. I guess that last is my own fault, but still. But anyway, I remind myself each time that if my main worries have to do with comfort or appearance, then I’m probably in a good place.

 
IMG_0793.JPG
 

By Day 5 of each trip, I am usually ready to get back home, see what’s happened in the news, take a shower, and do a thorough tick check. But I always leave with a smile, and within a week I am ready for the next trip. It’s amazing to me that within an hour’s drive of civilization and a few miles of hiking, you can find yourself completely isolated with a low to negligible chance of seeing a stranger for days on end, and with a high probability to see something incredible that you’ve never seen before. The places we work might not have the sort of in-your-face beauty or grandeur that attracts hordes of sightseers to Yosemite and other places, but it doesn’t take long to come to love and appreciate our backcountry areas for their subtler brand of beauty. They are pristine, quiet, and inspiring places that have so much to offer. Let’s keep them that way.