Woman at Work: Trail Cutter Hadley Johns

Pronouns: they/them

Hadley Johns trail worker in Maven power stretch denim and Givens Workshirt Dovetail Workwear

Hadley Johns, Trail Worker, USDA Forest Service

What does a day in your work life look like?

It can look like a lot of things, depending on where I am or the task at hand! My objective is always to clear, maintain, fix or build hiking trails with a crew of people.

I usually start at a base camp, which I pack out to by mules then hike out from there. It's always a LOT of hiking. Sometimes we'll be doing log out, which means removing trees that have fallen across the trail. We use either chainsaws or crosscut saws, depending on whether or not we're working in designated wilderness… Operation of gas-powered engines is prohibited in those areas. Sometimes we'll be fixing a bridge or other trail structures; sometimes we'll be rerouting part of a trail that's become dangerous or been wiped out by a landslide or avalanche.

There's a lot of variety, which I love; the only constant is hiking and digging.

What made you start doing the amazing things that you do?

I randomly ended up on a trail crew through a conservation corps when I was 26 because I had no clue what I was doing with my life. I loved it and have been pretty much doing it ever since.

Did you complete any training? If not, how did you learn your trade/skill?

My job is constant training and skills improvement! Just this week I completed the third chainsaw training of my career. I've only been doing trails for about four years. I know some other trail workers whose knowledge and skills blow my mind and I aspire to grow into such a capable trail worker. It's them that I learn most of my skills from.

What do you want people to know about being a woman in your field?

I'm nonbinary, but often perceived as a woman, so I'll talk about being a not-cis dude in my field.

I'd say that we often have to face a lot of microaggressions and people assume we don't know what we're doing, regardless of gender identity. We aren't born knowing how to do trail work or run a chainsaw, and the learning process can often be hard and embarrassing because anytime you encounter a new situation  and have to ask questions, men will often act like it's because you're an idiot girl.

It takes a lot of emotional intelligence and endurance to recognize that and not take it personally. We work with a lot of different kinds of people in a lot of different places, and often it's not safe for me to be out about my queer/nonbinary identity.

What's the biggest challenge you have faced in your work?

I think my biggest challenge is– because of the constant variety in work tasks and new situations I've never been in before– I often feel like a novice and have to push through insecurity in order to learn new things.

Also weather. When it's near freezing and raining, all my stuff is wet and I have 8 more hours of work ahead of me for 6 more days, it's incredibly hard for me to feel excited about my job.

Who’s a role model who helped you in your journey to where you are

Honestly, I didn't know a damn thing about trail work when I signed up for my first crew. But since then, I've met a lot of other tough queer femme trail workers and they're always my hugest inspirations. Specifically my friend Pamela, she never ceases to inspire me. Hi Pamela!

What are you doing when you’re not working hard?
Hanging out with my friends, going to queer dance parties, drawing, eating, drinking beer, hiking, backpacking, whatever I feel like!

How do you encourage other women to start doing what you do?

I like to talk really openly about my job and my identity and post pictures about it on my Instagram, and I sometimes post job opportunities I hear about and specifically encourage non cis-men to apply. I also really love it when folks find my IG and send me questions about my job or how to get in the field. I'm always happy to answer them and point folks in the right direction!

Follow Hadley at @gingerbrains.

While this blog is called Women at Work, Dovetail Workwear prides itself on showcasing people from all walks of life, like Hadley, who is non-binary. The one thing that bonds us together? We're fit for the job, and capable of anything.

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