I pressed my forehead up against the window to see undergrowth and trees blow by in a cloud of dust. The van bounced over a particularly large pothole in the center of the road, and I slammed my entire face against the glass. I quickly turned towards the interior of the vehicle in embarrassment only to find Alice holding back a grin. She was almost hidden by the 50-pound duffel bag that was pinning her into place. I smiled and leaned back into my seat, struggling to find comfort beneath my own bag. Driving the bus was Sam, a 25 year-old trail crew leader who could rip a tree out of the ground with his bare hands and easily move a 120-pound rock. His driving was analogous to his personality; no pothole or rock would slow his van down. Riding shotgun beside him was Nola, the self-professed tomboy, flipping through radio channels. She went right past a bit of Bruce Springsteen and unidentifiable heavy metal to stop at a classic Tom Petty. I had grown accustomed to her extremely introverted, shy personality and, not wanting to embarrass her, did not comment on her good choice of music
“Hey man, you definitely got the shaft on choice of seats” Mike called from behind me. I glanced back and saw him lounging complacently next to Sadie with one arm over her shoulders. His bag was lighter than mine and was somehow squished into the small corner between the seat and door, a testimony to his love of cutting corners.
“Keep it down up there” Brian piped up from the third row back. His accusation was typically sarcastic, and I could tell his efforts to sleep were not serious. He sat behind Mike and between Mark and Stephanie. Ryan's eyes and long curly black hair covered by a Dodgers hat were the only visible parts of his body behind his bag. Roped to the outside of his bag was an extra mattock, a pick-shaped tool with a flat shovel on one end. It brought back recent memories of hacking through roots and digging drainage channels from the past week.
I twisted back into position and moved my bag so the feeling of claustrophobia was not so prevalent. Sam rolled down the front windows to help vanquish the foul odor of trash from food leftovers drifting from the back combined with the smell of tired, unwashed teenagers. Most of the crew was probably envisioning showers and an Appalachian Mountain Club style barbeque once we returned to Camp Dodge, but my mind was in the present. The beauty of the relationships and atmosphere in the van meant the world to me. Beneath the stench, sweat, and fatigue lay the accumulation of the entire week’s work and events, such as manually sawing down trees, constructing bog bridges, and forging friendships. Never again would I have the privilege of retuning from a memorable week in the woods with this group of people with whom I had become so close. My knowledge that the van ride back to base camp would be short-lived made the moment bittersweet, but I was grateful that I could enjoy the experience for what it really was.
(This essay was written and submitted by a a past Teen Spike Crew participant from summer 2006)