Training Benefits of Rat Trapping

FasterSkierOctober 16, 2004

The training benefits of trapping rats have yet to be discovered by the Nordic ski world. However, I believe that this new found means of building muscle, bee venom tolerance, and endurance, while having fun and getting paid will soon become an integral part of every serious ski racer’s training plan.

Woodrats are about the size of white lab rats, but much cuter, with silky gray fur and large black eyes, and constitute the primary food source for every logger’s bane, the Northern Spotted Owl. The reason for trapping them remains a mystery even to me, the individual responsible for said trapping, but I won’t argue with the boss, and it’s a good way to earn money, not to mention whip up a sweat.

First step involves orienteering, weight training and balance. Orienteering, just to find the spot the boss (aka Dickie Bob), circled on the blue line map. To give my work some credibility the spot for woodrat trapping is not random, but is based on telemetry data and historic owl habitat/foraging areas. After parking the truck closest to the woodrat hot spot, it’s time to break out the compass and begin designing a 10X10 grid. This is especially difficult due to the terrain and the incredible abundance of yellow jackets and bald faced hornets this season. The first line of the grid is the A line, starting with A1, followed by the B line and on to J. There are 24 meters (79) feet between each trap, so each pass is 240 meters, or about 1/8 of a mile.

Starting out, I attempt to chose an angle so the A line heads directly up slope. Watching my dog climb up the slope, you’d think it was easy, but humans are two wheel drive animals, and I find myself clawing up the slope, hanging onto overhanging branches. The slope is covered with deadfall, which in turn is coated with prickly Oregon Grape or rose. The second layer consists of bigger logs including fallen sugar pine and Douglas fir, whose diameter is often more than a foot taller than me. About three feet off the ground the twigs and branches of smaller pines, madrone, and oak crop up, making it necessary to crawl and jump at the same time while on uneven footing. Hence the balance aspect of the workout, since climbing 8 foot high logs, dodging branches, and untangling from Oregon Grape must all be accomplished while holding the hip chain- which lets out string thereby measuring the distance between traps, carrying bulky traps, and keeping a straight line based on the compass. The temptation to follow lines of the landscape is hard to resist, leading to one grid where C3 and A1 overlapped. Blame this on my co-worker, Jimbo, who was in charge of the compass at the time.

Due to the angle of the slope, which is forty degrees at some point, the A line takes about twenty minutes if all goes well. If there are two people out there working the grid one gets to be the mule, which adds a weight workout to the ordeal. The mule packs ten to twenty woodrat traps. Each trap weighs more than one pound. The traps are metal, square shaped, and triggered when weight is placed on the metal flap inside the trap. The rectangular traps flatten out when collapsed, making transportation slightly easier. Still, traps enjoy getting caught on any snag, and digging into the mule’s back at every opportunity. When someone asks how my back got all those scars I’ll be proud to say “rat trapping.”

Because the grid setters are usually preoccupied with the compass, jumping snags, and untangling traps, the buzzing of bees is usually not noted until it is too late. That is where the workout transforms into fartlek training. Bees can only fly something like 6 miles an hour, and that’s an all out sprint. This makes the human/bee fartlek drill somewhat even since we are hung up by the string from the hipchain, the terrain, and the snags. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Always there is the revenge of the Bee Bopper if one is brave enough to approach the bees closely enough to use it. The typical fartlek drill goes something like this.

Mule notices dog biting at something in the air (dogs are dumb that way)
Compass boy feels something prick his leg.
Mule sees compass boy swatting at something and drops traps, looking for a way to run
While mule is preoccupied, compass boy sprints past screaming.
Mule follows compass boy, but not before feeling something prick her hand and belly.
Mule and compass boy trip over log, screaming.
Both get up and continue running cross hill.
Bees give up.
Compass boy and mule sit and cry.
Dog shows up, happy.
Compass boy and mule cry some more.
Compass boy takes can of bee bopper and approaches nest. Soaks nest thoroughly.
Bees convulse on the ground in spasms.
Stung areas swell up to two or three times normal size
Mule and compass boy continue to F8

Each fartlek drill last about 5 minutes, two to three minutes of running plus recovery. There are up to 10 fartlek drill each woodrat trap grid workout.

Every ten to 20 traps, trips must be made back to the truck, which include uphill bounding, rock and log climbing, and basic navigation. Then the traps (weights) are lugged back to the subsequent, and as yet unfinished line. After J10 has been completed, which takes at least 5 hours, the work is done for the day, but the fun of rat trapping has just begun.

The next morning’s workout begins at sunrise. The grid is walked, run and climbed and traps are checked for the presence of woodrats, who are lulled into them by the presence of COB (corn, oats and barley). Occasionally there are skunks, usually there are numerous chipmunks, Douglas squirrel, and the occasional flying squirrel (cutest animal out there). My dog eagerly alerts me to the presence of a catch by attempting to eat the trap’s occupant, resulting in sprint/bounding drills to free the unfortunate critter before he succeeds.

If there is a woodrat, my dog is shooed off and the fun begins. The woodrat is placed in a mesh bag, weighed, eartagged, and sexed. Throughout the process the woodrats emits vast quantities of sweet smelling, bright yellow urine. Can’t blame the little guys.

The grid is walked and checked for woodrats for three to five days. After this the fun of removing traps begins. The grid is walked, usually in reverse order. The maximum number of traps I’ve ever been able to handle are 20- and that involved much tripping, trap untangling, and cursing. 10-15 is a safe amount, meaning frequent trips must be made back to the truck, lugging woodrat traps, all uphill of course. After the traps are finally all pulled, and collapsed, they are taken to the new woodrat trapping spot where the process begins again.

Those in search of the optimum woodrat trapping workout can contact me, and for a small fee can accompany me on the search for the elusive woodrat. Woodrat trapping is not for the faint of heart or nose, but the workout effect is enormous.


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