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  • Writer's pictureBlaine Hoppenrath

Mind F***

It has been 19 days since I hiked out of the Grand Canyon. It has been the longest two and a half weeks that I have experienced in a while. Leaving the canyon wasn't easy at all, especially knowing that half our party, the guides were going to finish the trip with a set of replacements. I went back to work and it was rough. Like really rough. The first day back to work I found myself working a washout. Where the track literally was washed away with a flash flood, and the part that wasn't washed away was covered in a couple feet of mud.

This washout had one of our branch lines shut down for about 4 days, which is a big outage in the railroad world, but there was just that much that happened. Its hard to fathom how much damage the water did unless you were there and able to walk around, even if you were able to see pictures. Either way, it was a long several days of working a combination of 36 hour and night shifts.

Compounded with the fact the whole time my mind was somewhere else. It was trying to imagine a much grander scene. It was imagining being back in the Canyon with the boat fam, getting excited to see what was around the next bend in the river. It was no where close to San Antonio, NM at the scene of a railroad emergency.

Life keeps moving. It was starting to feel endless. The washouts drained me mentally. I was the first manager on scene and I made a lot of mistakes (example: telling the VP's that it would be a five day outage instead of just under four), and "they" literally brought people in to replace me (it was humbling). This isn't my first "service interruption" (the technical term for any disruption that will delay or has the potential to delay a train) and it won't be my last. I learned so much from the other managers and supervisors there that I know I will be able to do better in the future.

Even after we opened the track back up for service, my mind still wandered. Granted, my mind is always wandering but it was on a wild goose chase this week. "Where were the boats now?" and "How are the rapids?" were questions constantly on my mind. That was way more exciting to think about then "Where is the darn rock train?"

That weekend I was going to catch up on sleep, get a couple of good trail runs/workouts in, and maybe even write for a little bit. Instead on Saturday afternoon, there was another dreaded service interruption. A derailment. No one was injured, but the mainline was out of service (OOS). That meant I was going to go on another field trip, this time to southeast New Mexico.

I got on site a little after five to assess damage, determine a cause, and get the track put back together to run trains. While there was a good amount of damage, the cleanup was pretty simple. We would install three track panels (a panel is a pre-made 40' section of track) and call it good. Not bad, we were done and open but seven the next morning.

I went to the hotel, slept and drove four hours home. I figured I would get another nap in, drop some stuff of at my friends place and then maybe get that elusive trail run in. As I was dropping some stuff of at a friends my boss called, which is really atypical thing for him to do. I answered and found out ANOTHER derailment, but this time three times as many cars on the ground. I went home, packed an overnight bag, and found a rested coworker to drive me the four hours back to the derailment site.

Needless to say, it was a long few days. And after this service interruption I was exhausted. I was beyond tired and I knew it was going to take a full weekend to recover. I somehow made it to the weekend. A washout, two derailments, and a staff meeting later, I made it to the f***ing weekend.

I was beyond humbled at work, I faced more challenges. Got the honor of learning from my mistakes on the spot, and just when I felt like I had it under control the railroad Gods laughed in my face, they had a significant amount of fun at my expense. But I made it somehow. And it made me think about what one of our guides, Jen, said on the raft. "What's worse than a first year guide? A second year" They know just enough to think they know enough, without actually knowing enough. That was how I felt for two weeks straight.

At some point our boat family finished out their trip. Morgan, from my boat fam, found me on Facebook and I was so excited because I didn't want to not hear from her ever again and we chatted a little bit back and forth. I also wanted to hear about the rest of the trip (which I found out Susan and Bill, our boat parents, got to swim in Lava). We both concluded that after being out of the Canyon for at least a week, is that pace will mind f*** you. You will always want to go back and you will think about the great time that you had there when it is the most inconvenient for you.

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