A Travellerspoint blog

Fernley Day #2

sunny 0 °C
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Day 2 was a lot more interesting because I had to go into the crawlspaces, which are aptly named in that they are spaces you have to crawl. But it did mean we had to get dressed up in some rather natty gear.

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Ghostbusters eat your heart out. Anyways these house (which were usually still gutted) would have one or more holes in the floor. Jump through those and your in the crawlspace, i.e. about a metre of space underneath the house. Our job was to cut out the soggy, damp, E. coli flood water infested insulation and pass it up to the surface. We also had to remove the plastic sheeting covering the mud floor which meant things got very messy indeed...


It was pretty hard work; it's very, very dark, there is not much room to maneuver, it's wet and cold, it's tricky dragging yourself along mud and there were black widow spider's nests. Turns out they are not as dangerous as I believed; their venom is pretty nasty but they're fairly small so you don't get much. You'll almost certainly live but you will be badly sick for a few days. Plus they tend to run off when humans get near. However knowing all that still doesn't mean I want to see a nest of them or have the little buggers crawling on my glove. That's the good thing about England; there isn't any wildlife that can do you serious damage...

Despite the conditions it was reasonably good fun. The ridiculousness of the whole thing meant it was kind of hard not to laugh your way through the day. Either that or cry I guess. But we laughed. And then showered. A lot.

Posted by MrKWatkins 16:25 Archived in USA Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Fernley Day #1

semi-overcast -2 °C
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My next trip out was to a place called Fernley which is a small town near Reno. Back in January a levee along the Truckee Canal broke causing some 3,500 homes to be evacuated. Our job was to help with the flood relief by ripping out the wet insulation from under people's homes.

Accommodation was pretty sweet compared to Overton; we got to stay in the First Baptist Church in Fernley. Which meant we got cots to sleep on, heat, showers and lots of nice, hot food. Sweet!


Some of us even had time to build a fort.


First day's work was relatively easy for me because I didn't go into a crawlspace. I was basically grabbing the stuff handed to me, bagging it up and taking it outside for disposal. Pretty straightforward all in all.

Posted by MrKWatkins 16:14 Archived in USA Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Leaving Overton

snow 10 °C
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Up at 5AM, (well okay, 5:25AM after whacking the snooze button a few times) dropped the tents, in the trucks and we were off back to Reno. The morning was actually pretty warm (around 5.0 °C/40.9 °F) which made packing up much easier. Had a nice breakfast and we were making excellent time on the journey. All in all things were going a bit too well.

Then the tire on the woodchipper blew up.


In the middle of nowhere.


With no spare.



Luckily we were about 45 mins or so from the tiny town of Tonopah. We took the wheel there hoping to get a new tire put on, leaving the chipper behind. Brad and Matt then drove back to the chipper, put the wheel on and drove back to Tonopah. Gave me a chance to buy a cowboy hat in the Western Store in Tonopah so it wasn't a complete disaster. Look forward to photos of me in that...

Got back about 5PM to a snowy Reno. Shower wasn't as warm as I would have liked (I drew quite low in the 'who showers first' card draw; I'm gonna mark the deck next time...) but still felt damn good. Three washes of the hair managed to get it looking vaguely respectable; at least enough so that Sunny stopped calling me Einstein. Which was nice.

Posted by MrKWatkins 00:11 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Overton Day #6

sunny 4 °C
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I have never been as cold as I was that morning. The temperature got down to -5.6 °C (22.0 °F) and hovered around that for most of the morning. I usually woke up around 5:30AM due to being too cold; that day I woke up at 2:30AM and every hour or so after that. I managed to avoid the frost on the sleeping bag that some of the others had though.

What gets me about all this is that half the crew don't even bother with tents. They just sleep outside in their sleeping bags. So not only do they get the cold temperatures but they get the massive wind chill too. You can see their bags in this image of the campsite; the pink bag and ones nearby on the left.


Nutters, all of them. Having said that there was an option to sleep in a temperature controlled tool shed that I turned down so I'm not exactly sane either.

This last day was pretty tough going. The cold did not start the day well, I hadn't got much sleep and was feeling pretty worn out from the previous two days. However we did get to finish early (3PM) due to the chipper backlog which certainly helped.

The evening was lots of fun; I think everyone was glad to be finished. The N.C.C. members (i.e. the Americans) weren't as glad as they had to go on a compulsory volunteer day the following day, whereas us internationals got to go home. Packing, food, campfire yarns and bed.

Posted by MrKWatkins 00:00 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Overton Day #5

sunny 5 °C
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Tidying that bloke's garden again... However I got to have a go on the wood chipper which did break the monotony. Much more fun to drag branches that other people have had to cart around and throw them into the big massive grindy teeth and watch them get ripped to a pulp. I was quite surprised by the size of the lumps these things can mash up; they're pretty bloody powerful. The only annoying thing is that the grab the branches and pull them in. As you put the thick end in first that means you get lots of little spiky branches whipping around behind you which can really cut you up and bruise you if you're not quick enough to get out of the way...


The wood chipper did get clogged up a few times though, which meant we ended up with a massive backlog of brush to pulp up. Ironically this probably made the place a much bigger fire hazard as we had basically moved a forest 50 foot to the right and piled it up in nice easy to burn piles. But the owner of the land found a car he forgot he had after we'd cleared the place out a bit so he didn't mind too much.

Posted by MrKWatkins 23:55 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Overton Day #4

sunny 7 °C
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As the athel had ran out we went to join another crew on another project. This one was to do with fire safety; a bloke's land had a few tamarisk and lots of spiky mesquite that could be a problem if there was a fire. Doesn't make much sense to me to be honest; after all some of the trees must have been there at least 20 years and they hadn't caught fire yet... Combine that with the fact that there wasn't that much nearby to catch fire anyways and you couldn't help but shake the fact that we were basically tidying up some bloke's garden...

The chainsaws were out for this project. Sadly they don't let us international volunteers get to grips with the saws. Which basically meant I spent the entire day dragging freshly severed spiky branches to the wood chipper pile and hulking big lumps of tree to the firewood pile. Not exactly thrilling work, but it does help get me fit I guess...

Posted by MrKWatkins 23:47 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Overton Day #3

sunny 6 °C
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Last day on the athel as we'd finished our assigned area by lunchtime. Spent the afternoon checking an area that had been covered before to ensure the garlon had done its job and none had been missed. The area we were checking was much more canyony and very picturesque. Combined with the decent temperatures (it got up to 8.3 °C/47.0 °F) and lack of wind it was quite a nice day to be out.

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Did get quite annoyed with the hybrids though. We weren't allowed to kill tamarisk as they've basically given up on tamarisk in the area. Seems silly to me to kill the athel but not the tamarisk as you'll still have the same problem, i.e. that the tamarisk is taking all the water away from the native plants. Anyways... But we were supposed to be killing athel and athel/tamarisk hybrids. Problem is that you can then get athel/tamarisk hybrids that crossbreed with more tamarisk giving you annoying hybrids that are very difficult to tell apart from normal tamarisk... I spent half the day inspecting bloody leaves...

We went out in the evening; it was Stu's birthday. Pizza followed by ice cream. (They have ice cream parlours in America with about 9 million flavours of ice cream. Very odd.) Sadly no booze though; we're not allowed booze whilst out on a project. Presumably to avoid hangovers the next day. Not allowed booze in our accomodation between tours either for that matter; apparently some earlier internationals got drunk a lot and trashed the place. (Of course I'm allowed to go 30 seconds to the local bar, get wankered then come back and trash the place; that's perfectly fine...) Turning into quite a booze free break...

Although the food was good the washing of face and hands in the pizza place's toilet (or restroom to use the Americanism) was probably the highlight, sad as it might sound. Seriously, 4 days without a shower or water to wash yourself is not good. Especially if you're buggering about in dead plants and desert all day. Those wet wipe washes really don't cut the mustard...

Posted by MrKWatkins 23:33 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Overton Day #2

sunny 4 °C
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Not a good night's sleep due to the wind which was getting up to 23 miles per hour... Woke up too many times by large gusts and paranoia that my taped up flaps (ooer) might rip open. Although it was technically warmer (-1.1 °C/34.0 °F was as cold as it got) that wind chill really did not help...

More of the same work, except I spent most of the day spraying garlon instead of hacheting. Let me tell you that walking through 7 foot high dense brush is not fun at the best of times; when you're wearing a poor man's proton pack it's a thousand times worse... Didn't find as many athel as the previous day so I spent a lot of time standing around... Still was a fun day though. Even if the wind did piss me off royally.

Posted by MrKWatkins 23:22 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Overton Day #1

sunny 7 °C
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Arrival in Overton and setting up camp was relatively straightforward. After a fine dinner and a few yarns around the campfire I headed to bed. This took a little bit longer than I anticipated because the zip for the flap on the inner part of my tent decided to break, meaning I couldn't zip up the tent. 20 minutes of improvisation with medical tape fixed the problem, more or less.


Fuck me does it get cold in the mornings in the desert. Down to -1.1 °C (30.0 °F) to be precise on that first night. Certainly not what I needed for my first time camping in eight years or so. The nights generally fluttered around this sort of temperature. It wasn't a major problem as I have a pretty decent sleeping bag and I can always wear 47 pairs of socks. The only problem was that it screwed with my sleeping; I'd wake up several times during the night which I never normally do. Sometimes I'd wake up due to it being bloody freezing, other times due random noises (coyotes howling, Englishmen snoring, etc) and sometimes for no apparent reason whatsoever. And almost always when I was about to get to the juicy bit of my dream.

After making breakfast we jumped in the truck and headed out to the site, which was about 20 minutes away from the campsite at the bottom of a long dirt track. The area used to be Lake Mead, however the waterline has receded the past few years and it's now just sand and brush. With the odd volleyball and beer bottle for good measure. Which we're apparently not allowed to tidy up as it's 'historic trash'. Go firgure. Lake Mead can still be seen in the distance, but only just.


The task for the day was to kill athel, an invasive species. Basically this involves hacking the shit out of it with hatchets. If a branch is small enough you can just lob it off. If it's too big for excessive hatcheting then 'girdling' (a verb which I've only ever heard applied to 'loins' before) is done instead; this involves cutting a ring around the branch.


The branch stub/girdled area is then sprayed with herbicide as these plants have a nasty habit of living through violent hatchetings. We used a pleasant red substance called Garlon, sprayed via Ghostbuster reminiscent backpacks.


Now... Hacheting the crap out of athel is relatively straightforward. You'll get the odd branch that is awkward to get to, but it's basically not a problem. The problem is the massive, massive amounts of brush and branches separating the athel that we had to wade through to get too.

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Guaranteed to give you a few scratches and cuts and make you shout swearwords you never even knew existed.

The day was a lot warmer, getting up to around 15.0 °C (59.0 °F) with little wind so no wind chill. Even managed to catch a little bit of a tan. However when we got back to the campsite around 5PM the night basically dropped (the sun sets bloody quickly out there) and it started getting cold again... Dinner, more yarns around the campfire and off to bed around 9:30PM. Early for me I know, but I did have to be up at 6AM...

Posted by MrKWatkins 12:05 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Travelling To Overton

sunny 9 °C
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My first project on this conservation trip was based at Overton, a small town 60 miles or so away from Las Vegas. Sadly that means it's about 480 miles away from Reno so the trip was started with a fun 9 hour car journey... This journey was not made better by patchy radio coverage for half of it. For some reason the Jesus channels always seemed to get through though; presumably this is because they have the power of Christ behind them.

We did get to travel along the Extraterrestrial Highway near Area 51 during the trip. However that isn't as much fun as it sounds; it basically amounts to a few sign posts, a bar with an alien based pun for a name and no UFOs whatsoever. Despite being one of the most desolate roads in America it has more UFO sightings than any other road in the country. I'm gonna put this one down to boredom playing tricks on the mind...

Posted by MrKWatkins 11:51 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

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