The Travelling Student – Pulling the Cord

My name is Philip Kirkbride. I’m a college graduate from Ontario studying at AU. I’ve always wanted to do an exchange program or study abroad but never found the right time to do so. This is part eleven in the story of how Athabasca University has allowed me to create my own study abroad program. In part 10 we left the work camp in Longue Rive and drove down a remote logging road.
The van stopped, we had arrived at our piece, or so I thought. (Each worker has an area referred to as a ’piece’, this makes measuring how much land each person has cleared easier). Matt, myself, and a few other workers got out of the van. A few others stayed in the van as their piece was still a fair distance away. We grabbed our saws off the roof of the van and it drove away.

The boss came by in his truck and filled our canisters with gas. He instructed us to follow another worker to our piece. Little did I realize that our piece was still another half hour walk into the bush, a good portion of which was uphill. Now, to really understand the experience you have to understand that a brush saw is quite heavy. We were using the FS 560, the biggest brush cutter on the market. Essentially the FS 560 is a weed-whacker with a huge engine on one end and a big blade on the other.

As we started into the forest I burst up the hill with a spurt of energy, my arms flexing to bear the weight of the saw. It wasn’t until five minutes in when my arms started to feel like they were about to fall off that I realized everyone else had their saws attached to their harnesses. Here I was using all my strength to carry this huge saw while everyone else was simply letting it hang off their harness which thus moving all the weight to their shoulders.

Once I readjusted and attached the saw to my harness things got a lot easier. Don’t mistake a lot easier with easy, I was still breaking a sweat. While most of the crew walked on with ease, I wasn’t the only one having trouble. An older gentleman, maybe in his late thirties or forties, was having a hard time as well. After getting to the top of a hill I took a breath of relief. There was a small hunting tent set up and Matt, who was a bit ahead of me by now, stopped to examine it. “They must do a lot of hunting up here” he said.

We would later find out that hunting was the main attraction of Longue Rive. Several hunting tents were scattered throughout the forest we worked in. On some days the hunters would be waiting in the woods for the cutters to leave so they could begin hunting. When we would leave on the way out I would imagine hunters watching us through the scopes of their rifles.

Not long after we arrived the worker who was instructed to show us to our piece gave us an explanation of its boundaries. He explained that we’d be sharing a piece for the first few days. Which worked out ok because Matt had some brush cutting experience?meaning he could help me to get started. We put on our safety gear and headed into our piece. Matt explained that it was important that we had to pay great attention to the geometry of where we cut. The trick was to make sure we never had to walk far distances over area we had already cleared and to do so in a fashion that left us some uncut area near our home base where we had left extra gas, tools, and our food. Essentially the pattern we would cut in was similar to how you’d cut the grass of a large lawn. You don’t want to create bubbles of uncut grass surrounded by cut grass.

The big difference between brush cutting and cutting a lawn was that our piece was so big you couldn’t see the end of it, it was thick, full of bushes and small trees, and it was very easy to get lost in. We had a game plan and were ready to get started. I heard a loud yell in the distance, the type of loud yell that Tarzan would make, and then seconds later I heard the sound of a brush cutter being fired up. All I could think was “Wow, this is really intense stuff.” With that, we were off. I pulled the string and fired up my engine.