Just us. No streets, no cities, no nothing. Just my fellow trail workers, the clouds, the mountains, and the tall trees that swayed lazily in the breeze.

I was on a week-long high school trail project with ADK, working near the shores of Spruce Lake along the Northville-Placid Trail (NPT). The assignment was to replace old bog bridges along a small brook.

On the hike in, the only thing on my mind was getting to camp. The idea of putting my pack down and letting my feet rest felt like a dream. We trudged through the bugs and sweltering heat with the most awkwardly shaped packs strapped to our backs. But as much of a struggle as it was, it was most definitely worth it. Our first campsite featured a small pit for a fire right in front of the lean-to, and, off to the side under a tarp, our makeshift kitchen for the first night. In the morning we moved to a different campsite that had been vacated by another group. This campsite was incredible. The shore of the lake was less than twenty feet from the lean-to, and the view of the lake was stunning.

Let’s get started

We started work by cutting down a tree whose removal had been approved by a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) forester assigned
to the project. With the help and supervision of our leaders, we used a large serrated saw to fell the standing tree and cut it into sections, then used chisels to flatten the logs into good walking surfaces. We then used metal rock bars and slings to transport the large logs to where the bridges were being placed. Over the course of four days we were able to make and place two full foot bridges for the trail. Now anyone hiking the Spruce Lake section of the NPT will notice two solid new foot bridges.

I hadn’t originally signed up for the Spruce Lake project, but I’m so happy that I ended up there. The value of being ten miles into the middle of nowhere was unique. It was like taking life as we know it today and forgetting all of it for one week. We were away from everything modern day has to provide. We were so far into the Adirondack Park that the thought of civilization was hard to find.

Knowing how far from everything I was and being disconnected gave me the freedom to enjoy the sights and smells of the pure forest air even more.

The rain came and went numerous times during the week, leaving the worksite wet and muddy. Walking around the site was a constant guessing game leaving my boots, socks, and feet drowned in muddy water. My originally tan boots became an unrecognizable shade of deep brown after sinking into the mud so many times. Luckily, we were staying by Spruce Lake, so I could use as much lake water as I wanted to wash up, at least until someone thought they saw a leech.

After a long day’s work, the smell of dinner being made over a backcountry stove was something I’ll never forget. The delicious aroma of chili or pasta mixed with the pure pine air and the breeze made it way better than just an ordinary dinner. The luxuries we take for granted, like meals, seem like normal routine things we do from day to day, but as soon as you step into your boots and put a heavy pack on your back, everything changes. As my dad says, “Everything tastes better in the mountains.”

How to do derbs

Before dinner we needed to make “derbs,” a trail crew tradition. These were hors d’oeuvres, or appetizers. They were made and eaten before dinner in a particular manner. We took a Ritz cracker and added a slice of cheese along with hot sauce and a small piece of onion on top, the latter apparently eaten to keep mosquitoes and oth-er insect pests away. And the traditional way to eat them was to pass the plate around and take two at a time. When there was one left, we had to flip the plate and toss the derb up in the air, hoping it would land in our mouths.

After “lights out,” we listened to the distant cries of loons resonating across our small lake, waking us up throughout the night. I loved waking up in the morning without the sound of an alarm, but to the glittering lake just before the sun rose. The reflection of the clouds on the lake created a mirror image of the towering mountains and trees surrounding us.

This program really helped me to appreciate nature and the simple things in life. Five days without any connection to the outside world changed my perspective on my life. I learned so much about how important it is to appreciate the many things we consider “routine.” There is nowhere else in the world where I could have learned these crucial lessons than through this program.


Devon Strauch lives in Rochester, New York, and attends Pittsford Sutherland High School. His ambitions are to become a 46er while still in high school, and then, he hopes, enroll at the University of Vermont. He says “hiking and the Adirondacks have had a major influence on my life”; he also enjoys biking and snow-boarding.


To sign up for one of our high school trail projects, visit our website. For more articles like this pick up your March-April edition of the Adirondac available now. Members can view the magazine in their Members Area on the website. Non-members can purchase the magazine in our online shop.