Blogging has introduced me to some of the most amazing, fun, quirky, and talented people. Megan @ WannaBeACountryCleaver definitely falls into all of those categories. Not only is Girlfriend a Wilton decorating instructor, Pupper-Momma to Huck(le Berry Hound)–the most adorable yellow lab ever, but also has mad skills with an ax and chainsaw.
Now before you click away and run screaming from your computer, rest assured that Megan is a sweet girl and wouldn’t hurt anybody. She gained her skills with ax & chainsaw the way most girls do–as a competitive lumberjack.
Thank goodness Megan graciously agreed to write a guest post outlining what it is like to be a Lumberjack. Because I’m sure you’re all like me and are dying to know. Take it away Megan!
Guest Post: Loggers are NUTS!!
When you are the new girl on the team sporting non-Carhartt jeans, a white knit hat and surrounded by 15 seasoned college lumberjacks, a stoic muscular and all out massive mohawked Stihl Championship competitor and a burly bearded logger yelling indecipherable things at you about getting onto a chopping block and putting an axe in your hand – you do it. This is no time to woos out, shy away and turn and run – although all instincts dictate that you do. This is my first chopping block. I am now, a lumberjack.
Rewind a couple of weeks…
Prior to my first chopping block experience surrounded by all of these rough and tumble dirt and sweat covered lumberjacks, one of the guys (Josh) from the team who happened to be in my freshmen biology class started talking to me about the sport. “It’s ya know, the guys you see on TV with the big saws, the chainsaws that go fast and the ones who climb trees for fun.” Yeah, sure I’d seen it before with eyes wide opened never imagining my life would make this 90 degree turn at such a wicked speed. So, my first “wood run” or tree falling and collecting experience came along and I was un-ceremoniously dragged two hours north of my sleepy college town of Pullman, WA (Go Cougs!) to a 1 blinking-barely-stop light town known as Elk, where my life would change forever.
Fast forward to where I began.
Encircled by all of the loggers with axes or a beer in their hands was intimidating. And me hunched over, standing on a piece of wood with a comparatively “dull” axe to the ones guys work with on a regular basis was petrifying. But knowing I was not allowed off of that block until it was finished – I got to work chopping that 11” piece of log while standing (yup!) right on top of it.
And it was ugly. The cuts were terrible. I was terrified of lopping off a toe or three (even with all of the protective gear I was wearing – because if anyone could do it, it’d be me), my hands were blistered and bleeding, sweat stinging my eyes, and out of sheer fear of heckling and newbie-shame I stayed up there until the end.
Then somehow, after that – I was hooked.
In the three following years, our team took the Stihl Western Collegiate titles twice, and before my logging career ended due to a back injury, I finished 3rd for college women in our conference. Not bad for the “girly girl from the west-side” of Washington State. In those years we were a family, not just a team. There were adventures to Canada where we met the end of the road
and we even took our dorkiness up a level with jackets. We’re that cool…
But like I said – family. If you can’t be weird in front of family who can you be slightly strange in front of? Strangers will do just fine in a pinch, but you get the weird side-eye thing goin’ on. Even now, we still get together, keeping in touch and having the occasional reunion or two. But, what I wouldn’t give to be doing it again.
(Here’s a picture of all of us as we celebrate in front of the ESPN U Cameras on our recent win – that’s me bottom row hunched over)
For all of you out there who are shaking your heads at me right now, that’s okay. I’ve shaken my head at myself once or twice. But maybe a little more insight will turn your opinions of me around.
For me, there was no hope of ever getting me to climb a pole or log roll. I may have some semblance of balance and coordination, but not that much! Chopping, sawing, axe throwing, and stock-sawing was where it was at. I’m built much more like a work horse, than nimble ballerina… I ain’t no size 2, or 10 for that matter.
Where I began that fateful day was with a horizontal chop. Here the log is cradled and secured into a stand. The log (or block) is measured based on its circumference and a plan is laid out to chop it in a specific clockwise pattern to maximize your efficiency and reduce the number of “hits” you take to break it. Two events are made out of this one block, known as the Hard Hit or the Speed Chop. Hard hit is my strong(er) suit of the two since you have to have a lot of force and power behind your hits, and chop through the block in as few of hits as possible. Speed is the counterpart with chopping through a block as fast as you can. My stamina and endurance sure wasn’t cut out for this one…
Sidebar – Don’t worry – I haven’t seen anyone lop off any appendages yet…close, but no.
The best friend to the horizontal chop is the vertical chop. If you thought chopping a piece of wood while standing on it was dangerous, this one is more so. Despite having two feet firmly planted on the ground, this chop leaves you wide open for skipping an axe right off of the block and into your leg, bouncing it off the block and throwing the axe and any number of other dangers. But, daayyyuummm is it FUN! And yes all of you mothers out there, of course we do wear protective gear in the form of chainmail. (Yup, it’s the same stuff you’re thinking of and it’s under our clothes)
But what would a logger competition be without some sharp and absolutely shiny saws? I mean really people, they’re works of art, not just 7 or 8 foot lengths of sharpened metal. Each of them have to be professionally sharpened, tuned and handled with complete care. In college we typically run what’s known as a crosscut saw. You’ve probably all seen them before but not even realized it when they are painted and hanging up as decoration in a country home or antique store. But we run them through wood for fun.
What’s not to love about bearded manly men carrying around shiney saws? Swoon.
No? Just me then?
(See the guns on that kid? When I said strong man, I meant it. And helping him out is my friend Josh – the whole reason I got into the sport in the first place. I blame him for my downfall.)
The pro’s use saws even more intense than ours which require the strength of an Olympian mythical god to run through wood. And if you’re not doing it completely properly – Hidy Ho, Mr. Back! It’s been nice knowin’ ya! Two slipped discs and pinched sciatic nerve running down both my legs later – my logging career was done. No Buenos! But I’m (trying) not to let it hold me back anymore. Instead, I bare my teeth and growl at it. True story. But this is an impressive event– Watch it in action here!
Whether you do this even with one (wo)man or two, it’s a feat of strength, stamina and teamwork. You. Move. Fast.
Now, we get to the Tim Taylor event – stock saw. This is undoubtedly my favorite event. I may not require the brute strength that sawing does. It may not require agility like log rolling does. But it does require an immense amount of patience to be had in a particularly short amount of time. After my first foray into stock saw, where I was un-coached and thrown into an event without ever having practiced it before – well, a chainsaw almost lost its life that day.
Instead of curling up like a puppy that peed itself, I buckled down, going back to school and learning “the way of the saw”. It was very Mr. Miyagi/Daniel-san. By the end of my tutelage I was kickin’ butt and taking names. Placing first in the Stihl West Coast Collegiate was one of those happy dance moments.
The key to going so far in an event is to remain CALM! Talk about a skill not easy to muster when you’ve got a tree toppling contraption rumbling in your hands. Lining up your cuts to make sure you don’t use too much wood, and making those cuts straight is a mental fight more than anything. That extra half second you use to make the proper cut can mean you come in first or last – no joke. It’s a matter of fighting the instinct to rush and hurry that will leave you a Winner in the long run. Tortoise and the hare, anyone? Exactly. This is the instinct we all must fight.
But hey, I realize that these events aren’t for everybody. Don’t worry, there are plenty others that are right up your alley. Us brain damaged lumberjacks will play with any thing sharp, shiney, and that quite possibly has a motor attached. But we do enjoy the more laid back events like axe-throwing, caber tossing (yup, just like the Scotts do), obstacle pole (yes, we run with chainsaws), limber pole, choker race, pole climbing, and last but not least burling/log-rolling.
C’mon what’s not to love?
So, sure we’re a little (okay, fine – totally) nuts. But on the plus side, there’s always someone more nuts than you if you look hard enough…
I’m not helping my cause, am I?
Next time you find yourself at your local fair, or event give these guys an extra round of applause. There’s a lot that goes into the sport, like time, money and broken backs that they never get credit for.
And be sure to clap for their sanity…they could really use it.