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One Man’s Trash: Cleaning Our Public Lands

Picking up trash has unfortunately become the reality for many outdoorsmen and women recreating on our public lands. Using #trashtag raises awareness.

Social Media for Good and Evil

When you post to social media, and your friends “like” your post, you get a little dopamine hit. The dopamine along with some biochemistry tickles the reward center of your brain saying “oh yeah, I like that”. It’s as addictive as a compliment. That hit rewards behavior, both good and bad when you’re generating likes, retweets, and upvotes. You can also use social media for terrible things, like body shaming, gas lighting, and spreading false narratives.

So color me surprised when in 2019 Byron Román encouraged bored teens to a new social media challenge. Cleaning up trash. That post went viral. Byron’s original post now sits at 341,000 shares on Facebook, but it took on a life of it’s own under #trashtag, said aloud as Hashtag Trashtag. It’s actually been one of the more productive things to come of social media recently. Regardless, this type of viral infection in humanity is a good one.

Trash Day

2020 has been a wild ride so far looking back from August. When all of our worlds seemed to be put on pause in late March we all wondered how long it was last. March turned to April, April to May, and May to turkey season. Our work had to social distance and reduce staff, which meant I was able to spend more time in the mountains. I turkey hunted as many days as I could and I had several close encounters. Turning cyberscouting and online rumor into real ground truth was awesome, and having more time to do it was even better. Unfortunately, during each day’s walk out I seemed to find more and more trash at dispersed camp sites and along the trail in.

One site adjacent to a place I’d hunted over the course of the last few days was completely trashed. When I originally found the trash at the camp site I was so mad. Who would do something like this? You like to try and picture the type of person who’d be so careless as to leave a cooler full of trash, but then you realize it was likely done on purpose. There were water bottles filled with dip spit, Oreo containers, Swisher Sweet wrappers, plastic bags. It’s as if someone had thought to clean up the trash, but decided it wasn’t worth taking it home. Better to stink up the forest than the car on the ride home.

Trash left on public lands.

I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, these nameless, faceless campers likely weren’t all like this. Perhaps the US Forest Service had staged a cleanup and hadn’t picked everything up yet? Walking in on the closed Forest Service Road there were many, many sites that had been treated exactly like this one. This was the only one where there was a semblance of cleanup that had occurred.

Trash left on public lands.

When the seasonal road finally opened for the year I was able to drive my truck in to the spot and tuck in for one last turkey hunt. After I’d mentally marked where the trash was, I figured after my hunt was done I’d clean up the site. I threw all the trash in the bed and closed the tonneau cover.

Trash to Treasure

After I got back home and griped to my wife about the trash I saw, her first question to me was “Well did you pick it up?”. Her mom was an ecology teacher, so all of the things we might have gotten in our elementary and high school programming once per quarter was daily life for her growing up. I told her that I had, and had already disposed of it in our trash, less a broken Rubbermaid cooler. At this point my wife didn’t ask any more questions. There was sort of an implied “So you’re going to keep the trash cooler?” I was.

The cooler was cheap, with a pop on molded lid and insulated with foam around the body sandwiched with plastic. The sort of knockoff of Coleman’s iconic red and white cooler you see everywhere for $25. Despite it being cheap, it was better than what I had for a project, which was nothing.

I wanted something for my efforts, and at this point I didn’t have a turkey despite many days in the woods and a ton of encounters. I’d been wanting a vessel for longer sous vide cooks for a long time, and this had just sort of fallen into my lap, for free. I’d already Lysol’d and dumped boiling water into the gross cooler, and it was now significantly less gross.

Trash to treasure, a hole saw and a little bit of spray foam turned this into a free sous vide vessel.

I needed to hit the top with a hole saw, and then fill the gaps with some spray foam, and I was ready to roll. I have a retractable power cord mounted next to my garage opener for working on my truck, so running my sous vide rig would be a snap without worrying about a leaky cooler.

Prince Charles in the Trash Hot Tub

Once the cooler was acceptably clean I figured it was high time for the reward. Time to cook in it. On it’s maiden voyage I decided to throw in a chuck roast for the long sit. I was running low on wild game primals, I thought it would be fitting to use the cooler brought out from public lands to cook some deer or elk shanks this season, but I wanted a test case first.

The chuck roast about to go into the trash sous vide cooker.
Salt, pepper, butter, a little sage.

For my sous vide chuck roast I applied kosher salt and pepper to the outside, put 4 tablespoons of butter in the vacuum pack bag with 6 leaves of sage. In hindsight a little thyme would have been nice too. From there, give it a nice vacuum seal and fill the cooler. For a cut like a chuck roast you’re going to want a nice long soak at low temperatures. For beef rare is between 130-135F, we ran our cooker at 133F for 36 hours. This helps render the fat and break down collagen into that unctuous beefy deliciousness.

With evaporation you’ll need to keep some water nearby to keep the cooler full. In total the cooler needed about an extra 1 gallon for every 12 hours it ran. This kept it from triggering the low water alarm on my Anova. After 36 hours, heat your oven up as high as it’ll go. Open a window and throw on your hood vent for ventilation. It’s about to get smokey. My oven goes to 600, I used 550. Pour some oil with a high smoke point and a couple pats of butter in, and sear your chuck for 1 minute on each side. That’ll get a nice crust formed. Let the chuck rest for a little bit, 10 minutes or so, and slice into it against the grain.

Not bad for meat boiled in a trashed cooler.
Chuck roast that eats like prime rib.

This almost made up for the rage I felt when I first found the cooler. It sat from the end of May until nearly August in my garage, taunting me that during camping season there were some people still littering in those camp sites. Oh, and me? Yeah, I got that dopamine hit from social media.

What Can You Do?

It is said that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to stand around and do nothing. So what do you do?

You can start by keeping #trashtag going on social media. Post up pictures of your wild lands with trash, and then it cleaned by yourself and your friends. Most importantly actually do it. I now carry a two trash bags in my game pouch. One for bloodied up critters, and one for trash.

If you want to get more organized, hit up your local chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers or Trout Unlimited. Both groups have organized stream and public land cleanups in the past, and likely will into the future. These are our lands, let’s make them better than we found them.

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Tags: , Last modified: August 30, 2020
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