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Helluva load

Posted by joeabbott on April 2, 2014

imageYesterday’s project of the day was less “project” and more “project prep”. We planned building another leg to the path in our backyard, this time reaching the highest part of the yard. Given the steepness of the hillside, that was a big order. However, I wasn’t sure we’d actually get far enough in the planning phase to move on this one, only because the number of options we tossed around about the path suggested we weren’t converging on a plan: stone or timber steps? Cutting across the back or switchbacking up? With a built-in planter or bench or not?

We had a lot of options but few definitives.

When Tuesday morning came we ambled out of bed … I was pretty sore from the work on the drains from the day before but I managed to get into the backyard and talk a bit more with Suz. Seemed she wasn’t as conflicted and aimless as I was: a stone path angled up from the bench and maybe an occasional handrail. Nothing more. Done deal.

imageWe measured out the steps and came up with 12-15, depending on how big a step we’d take. And with that, we headed to a local quarry: Marenakos.

At the quarry I gave her the tour I took a couple weeks back and we quickly agreed on two stone types: Park Valley Green Tumbled Flagstone had the size and thickness we wanted for the stairs, and the adjacent Cowboy Coffee Tumbled Flagstone had the right size for the risers and stone we needed to hold back the hillside from the cuts we’d be making. While we likely could have done with smaller steps, from past projects we knew that, once left untended, the hillside would start to reclaim that space: stones and dirt would fall onto the step, a bit of overhanging grass would creep into that space, and before you know, we’d be wondering where the steps went!

imageAnd so, with high hopes and a couple pair of gloves, we dove into the piles and started pulling out the largest steps and then the necessary riser stones to mate with them. Then we had to make two trips across the scale: once for the Park Valley Green and a second time for the Cowboy Coffee. It was spendy but only because we had a car full of stone!

I was nervous the entire ride home, listening for pops, creaks, groans or other noises that might suggest we pushed our car past some sort of reasonable limit. But, other than handling like a massive boat, the 1500# load didn’t seem to bother my car a bit.

Once home we agreed that we needed to get all that rock out to the backyard. I carried the 13 large steps and Suzy carried about twice that many risers. Suzy noted there are three parts to the trip from the car to the area we were staging the stones in: out of the car and through the gate, up the dirt path by the fence, and then up the steps to the coop area.

On the way back from dropping off the stone, I always stopped at our new mason bee hive to watch the bees start to emerge and zip about. I only saw a couple but they were fascinating to watch … and I’m not just saying that because I wanted to rest longer before picking up another step!

Regardless, it was exhausting and I was spent. To enable me to even carry the steps, I looped a 1” nylon strap around my back and then tucked a rock between that strap and my chest. The strap was a nylon runner or sling that I had from my climbing days; I doubled it over and the stones were a snug enough fit that I could sometimes drop my hands and still make it up the hill with my load. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. That was a lot of weight.

At the top I laid out the stones around so we could determine which ones we wanted where. For most placements, it wouldn’t matter but there were a could key locations that one stone or other suited better than the rest. After placing them roughly along the path line, I was done. I don’t think it was even 3:30PM yet.

Suzy however wanted to get that first step in. I was a bit cross from being so physically tired but who can say no to their sweetie? Not I.

imageWe got out our shovel, large pick, a trowel, a level, and some crushed gravel and sand; together these would help transform a bunch of stone into a stairway to, well, stairway to the back of our yard. The first step, like most first steps, proved tricky and hard to place. We fiddled a long time before getting the right location, height, and stability … and even now we’re not positive it’s the right height or perfect location. But, perfect enough.

With that completed, we ended our Tuesday project day.

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