A Forest in a Day

10,000 trees or bust

A treeplanter (Caleb Jutzi) hard at work with text behind him in the sky saying, "10,000 or bust." On both the right and left side are more photos of Caleb during the big day.

Listen to this story:

Most people go tree planting to make money, some go as a way of connecting with nature, but no one does it solely for the act of planting trees — at least no one that I’ve met.

For me, tree planting has been a way to put myself through school. I’ve been doing it for four years, and despite saying 2023 would be my last year, I have been sucked in and am returning for the 2024 season. Though tree planting is hard work, life in the bush with good pay is hard for me to turn down.

Treeplanters are paid by the tree, and the price varies from company to company, and block to block. Last summer, the base centage was 16.5 cents per tree. Centage per tree motivates planters to constantly push themselves. It’s up to you how much money you make each day. For experienced planters, a good day is planting 3,000 trees. On 16.5 cents, that would earn you $495.

To the outside world, many people see planters as the good guys, rebuilding Canada’s forests, but that is an oversimplification. Most of our contracts are sanctioned by big corporate logging companies, legally bound to replenish the trees they logged. Our trees will be grown for several decades before they are logged again, starting the process over.

Last summer, when I was planting north of Tumbler Ridge, BC, on a block that had been inaccessible for most of the summer due to wildfires, I decided to push myself to plant 10,065 trees in a day. If I were successful, I would break a company record and join a very small number of BC planters who have broken past that threshold.

You might think money would be the driving force behind that goal — since I would make $1650 in one day of work — but when it comes to planting a personal best (PB), money almost feels irrelevant. Planting a new record is the prize.

June 26, 2023, 18:45 — Trees planted: 8,550

I hear the sound of a truck pulling up, so I start to turn my head, forgetting the sheer pain that comes with every movement. I see Ben and Justina, my crew mates, coming toward me.

“You need to eat,” says Justina as she plops down a massive plate of fettuccine Alfredo at my feet. Tia, the cook, had packed me the takeout supper, and usually, I would be salivating at the prospect. It’s my favourite camp meal, but I know one bite — or even a sip of water — will push me over the edge. 

I am sprawled out over the mud-stained tarp that is protecting the little saplings from the sun. My body screams in pain whenever I move an inch. I tell myself I can lie down for three more minutes.

Why the f*** am I doing this, I ask myself.

I pull out my phone from my dirt-covered pockets, and the time has already passed.

I force myself to stand back up, and with every muscle in my body cramping, I bend over, grab my tree-full bags, swing the straps over my shoulder, and clip in my buckle.

Only 450 trees until I’m at 9,000 trees.

I reach to grab my shovel and stumble back to the land.

June 26, 2023, 3:50 a.m. — Trees planted: 0

An alarm wakes me up. I fell asleep in my planting clothes so I wouldn’t have to get dressed in the cold. I grab my phone, cowboy killers, and caffeine pills, and scramble out of the tent, anxious to start the day.

I put on my rubber boots that have an inch of muddy clay caked to the bottom. Every step feels like I’m walking with plungers on my feet.

When we moved to this camp a torrential downpour turned the clay land into a mud pit. To keep things as dry as possible, creative planters had engineered moats around the tightly packed tents to keep as much of the water away as possible.

My car, a tiny red hatchback, had bottomed out on the muddy ruts too many times to count on our two-hour journey down the logging road. I managed to make it to camp in one piece, even with front-wheel drive, but all at the cost of the car wash I had gotten earlier that day.

The morning air was dewy, and the sun ceased to rise. Together, our ambitious group of four climbed into the truck, eager to push past our personal bests.

Beside me in the truck was my foreman, Levi. He was the reason we were all up so early. In the back are Evie and Jonah, who are both wanting to plant 4,000 trees.

Weeks before when we first heard of this flat creamy land with clay-like soil, only five minutes from camp, Levi would say, “With this kind of land, you’ll have to plant 10,000 trees.”

“Yeah, that’d be great. 8,000 trees would be great too,” I would reply.

Now, here I am, sitting shotgun on the way to the block, watching the dust behind us dissipate into darkness.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe I could do it… Well, maybe it was a bit of that.

10,000 trees or bust, I whisper to myself.

We arrive at the block, and wasting no time hop out of the truck. Evie is the first to break the silence. “Good luck everybody.”

While Levi gives Jonah and Evie a run-down of where they will be working today, I get situated on the ATV and light a cigarette.

“Alright, are you ready?”

“10 thousand or bust,” I say.

As Levi rips the ATV down the muddy road my hands shake, from nervousness or excitement, I don’t know.

The cold air blowing into my face is better than any Red Bull. It perks me right up.

Without waiting for the ATV to come to a complete stop, I throw myself off, exchanging my day-pack for my already full tree bags. I clip them in, grab my shovel, and look at Levi.

“It’s 4:17. Are you sure you don’t want to wait until 4:20,” says Levi.

I laugh. 

“The sooner I start, the sooner I end,” I say.

He starts recording, spewing David Goggins motivational quotes to get me in the mood as I take my first steps into the land and plant my first trees.

4:46 a.m. — Trees planted: 450

I just bagged out. 450 trees down, 9,550 to go. As I speed walk through the land to get back to the cache, I throw out the excess dirt from my bags, making sure there is no sapling hiding at the bottom.

I arrive back to the cache, and the first thing I do is check the time. This last bag-up took me 39 minutes.

I calculate that I need to shave down at least five minutes on my bag-ups if I have a shot of hitting 10,000. It was time for a caffeine pill. 

Placebo or not, they seem to always give me a jolt, keeping me dialled in and focused from one tree to the next. So after one bite of a muffin, a swig of water, and a caffeine pill, I was back out there, counting the time between each of my trees to develop a strong rhythm from the start.


Each treeplanter manages their pieces differently. Some go in straight lines, filling it in like you’re colouring in a square, but for me, a seasoned vet, that’s not how I plant anymore.

I look for every excuse to work a piece of land by sections, bouncing off logs, hills, and swamps.

5:04 a.m. — Trees planted: 700

As I quickly bundy-over, I scan the land, mapping out how I will plant the next section.

Back in the city, ADHD leaves my brain scattered, and I find it hard to focus and complete tasks. However, in the bush, planting trees, I feel like I can think. Area planting allows my brain to work hard — and with no distractions, I can put all my brain power into one task.

When you area plant, you want to do it in the most efficient way possible. If you pinch yourself off and have to dead walk to open land, that is a waste of time, time when trees could be going in the ground. 

So, I map out my entrance and exits, being spatially aware of the distance between planted trees and where I need to go next. 

This summer, the terrain has been tougher than usual — more obstacles and steeper elevation, which also meant more money per tree. At the start of the season, I looked down on this, annoyed at the hand we were dealt. I quickly learned that by changing my style of planting, and hounding down on my no flagging, area planting technique, there was money to be made. It was like solving a massive puzzle. I was constantly finding the most efficient way to close sections of land, and I became addicted to it.

My technique was frustrating for anyone hopping into my land. To outsiders it could look chaotic, like a blurb of a piece, with chunks of planted sections scattered across the land. To outsiders it was hard to see the rhythm, but by planting this way my techniques got faster, and nothing — other than rock solid soil — slowed me down. In the weeks leading up to my “big day” I planted 4,000 trees or more, four days in a row.

I broke a mental barrier. My speed had quickened, and my mentality of “4K land” shifted.

At this point in the season, we barely had a day of creamy land, building the anticipation and preparing me for a day when there was flat, slash-free land, a day built for personal bests. 

As I reach into my bags, I realized there are barely any trees left, and begin planting my way back to the cache.

Now that was quicker, only 32 minutes. All I have to do is keep that up.

I quickly start bagging up, pressing my knees against the mud, but that doesn’t bother me. Today, only one thing matters. The sun has now risen, but still, I am the only person in sight.

7:18 a.m. — Trees planted: 2250

My rhythm is steady, and it is a pace I feel like I can hold. Levi, now back with the rest of the crew, walks up to me as I rush to bag up.

“Walking past the mess tent in the morning all I heard was whispers of your plans to hit 10,000 trees,” he says.

Well, the cat’s out of the bag, I can’t fail now.

Levi quickly dropped off more boxes of trees before rushing to check in with his other planters.

Levi always knows what to say to me, he knows how I function. For me, I am driven by approval. I do not like to fail in front of other people, which is both a strength and a weakness, but today, it’s fueling me.

The logging road has now hardened from the sun, and trucks are able to drive down, dropping planters off at their assigned land. I see trucks full of planters drive past me, watching me plant as I keep up my rhythm.

11:40 a.m. — Trees planted: 4500

My pace has now quickened even more. My last bag-up was 29 minutes. I’ve reached a section of land that takes strategic area planting, keeping my ADHD brain engaged.

I have now officially reached my PB. Even though I have planted 4,000 trees seven times, I’ve never been able to break 4,500 due to the less-than-ideal land we were on.

It’s a weird thought, reaching my PB before noon, even though it already feels like I’ve been here for days.

Felix, my friend from camp, hops into my land, surprising me a bit. He starts taking videos and photos of me planting. I am putting on a show for the camera.

Planting in the first half of my 10,000-tree day. (Filmed by Felix Palmer Steinhäuser.)


“So 10,000 trees hey? How many are you at right now,” says Felix, as he bends down to get the optimal angle while trying to backpedal as fast as I am moving.

“I think I’m at about 4,500 right now,” I said, huffing and puffing, struggling to talk and plant at the same time.

I am closing in on the first section of land, creaming out the front of the piece. My long strides and the high-density plots allow me to take 1.5 steps bouncing back and forth from the birm by the road to the burns. 

Back at the cache now, Felix offers me a drag from his cigarette as I rush to bag-up.

“Well, good luck man, you’re flying out there dude,” says Felix, reaching out for his cigarette before throwing out the peace sign as he walks away.

I head back into the land, searching for that pace I had while I was in front of the camera. 

14:36 — Trees planted: 6300

I have just reached a new ‘work-day’ PB: planting 6,200 trees in 10 hours.

But now, I feel weaker. The temperature is 28ºC and heat is radiating off of the ground. I am losing the battle to drink enough water. My energy is depleting, and my pace has slowed down.


This bag-up is taking too long. I still have over half my trees left in my bags and it’s already been 26 minutes. The second half of a bag always takes less time since you are lighter on your feet. It takes less energy to move from one tree to the next. But still, time is not looking on my side.

I am trying to pick up my pace, putting all my energy into each movement, but my head begins to throb and my body slowly starts to fight each step.

I am finally closing the shnarby section of land full of fallen logs, thorn bushes, and swampy soil that is hindering my pace. I am hoping that once that section is planted, and I refuel on another caffeine pill, that’ll restore my rhythm.

On the land, it is just me and my thoughts. Many planters listen to music on the block, but I like being trapped out in the land with my thoughts. I hyper-fixate on every little movement, dialling in each step to make sure I am moving as efficiently as possible.

I find this helps me stick to a pace and allows me to be more mindful of when I start to slow down so I can quickly adjust.

I’ve tried listening to music while I plant, anything with a high BPM, but all I get out of it is a low-charged phone, a speaker I have to charge back at camp, and no recollection of what songs I listened to.

I look at the time as I lightly jog back to the cache: 40 minutes.


While I take another caffeine pill, I glance up and see a black bear eating berries in the open land where my next bag-up will be.

I’m annoyed, but not surprised by the sighting. I quickly reached into my pocket for a bear banger and shoot it off into the sky.

It echoes through the trees, startling the black bear, and it runs into the tree line. For a brief second, I admire the magnificent beast.

A toxic trait of mine is thinking I could best one of those beasts with a shovel to the nose and a precise jab of the fingers to the eyes. In reality, it would break my spine with one whack to the back.

Shaking my head to stop picturing my one-on-one with a black bear, I throw on my bags, pick up my shovel, and begin planting again. I’m paying close attention to the treeline where the bear disappeared.

Seeing wildlife on the block is always special. From a baby moose licking my face to having a stand-off with two grizzly bears, tree planting always has a way of keeping me on my toes. 

16:48 — Trees planted: 7650

Earlier in the day, I was averaging 450 trees every 32 minutes, but now, my body is slowing down, and the heat exhaustion I started to feel a few hours ago is creeping back. I have to fight to stay up.

As I bend over, I now feel a surge of muscles screaming back at me, telling me to stop.

And why shouldn’t I?

My last bag-up was 40 minutes, and with each one, I’m slowing down. 

Behind me, I hear a truck jam-packed with planters cheering me on as they drive back to camp. Their heads are bobbing up and down from the mangled logging road throwing the truck every which way.

They’re why I shouldn’t stop.

I owe it to them to plant 10,000 trees. 

I owe it to my foreman Levi, who scoped out the land the night before the contract started. As thunder and lightning filled the sky and a torrential downpour left the logging roads a soupy mess, he prepared caches for the next day.

I owe it to my crew, who sacrificed good land so that I could get a chunk of cream at the front of the block.

I also owe it to myself. I didn’t get up at 3:50 a.m. to plant 7,550 trees and call it a day. When I am 40-years-old with tendonitis and a thrown out back, do I want to tell the story where I cut my day short, and went back to camp, or do I tell the story of how I kept on chugging along, persevering through all the hurdles that came my way?

10,000 trees or bust.

18:25 — Trees planted: 8300

My bag-ups are now taking just shy of an hour. With every step I take, every time I bend over, every time I throw my shovel into the ground, my muscles scream in agonizing pain. 

My back muscles seize up as I bend down to plant a tree. My arms seize up when I reach to grab a tree and throw my shovel into the ground. My legs shake with every step.

When I stand up my vision goes blurry. At the last cache break, I could barely even drink water without throwing it back up.

 Heat exhaustion is my biggest enemy right now.

Trees gotta go in the ground.

This last hour has been excruciating. Every tree I plant is a battle, and it keeps getting worse.

I picture myself messaging my close friends and family that I failed to plant 10,000 trees. It’s out of the question.

Trees gotta go in the ground.

My buddy Felix comes into the land to get more footage.

“How’s it going man?”

He means the best, but at this point I am struggling to put the next foot forward. Any extra task feels impossible.

“Oh, I’ve been better,” I mumble.

Planting in the second half of my 10,000-tree day. (Filmed by Felix Palmer Steinhäuser.)

20:05 — Trees planted: 9000

I finally make it to the cache and collapse. I lie uncomfortably along the birm, but do not dare to move. Any movement is painful.

Justina and Ben are now back with me, helping me out. Ben packs my bags for the next bag-up, while Justina looks at me with pity.

“You need to eat or drink something,” said Justina, offering me some water with electrolyte powder in it.

I shake my head, too tired to speak. 

I have been planting for almost 17 hours straight, and I have never been in more pain in my entire life. This is by far the most physically demanding thing I have ever done.

Well, time to get back out on the land.

I go to stand up, losing my balance for a second as everything turns dizzy. I put weight on my shovel, and when my vision clears. Justina is looking at me, and I know exactly what she is saying.

Reluctantly, I reach my hand out for the water, she passes it, and relief washes over her.

I take two swigs, and puke out every last drop of it. Disappointed but not surprised, I realize there is no coming back from the state my body is in.

My body feels so frail, and the nausea from each tree I plant makes me feel worse, and worse, and worse: 447 trees until my next break.

22:30 — Trees planted: 9850

It is now pitch black. The light from Justina’s headlamp guides me. She and Ben are out in the land with me, flagging my trees, herding me to empty land like I am a sheep.


I am almost out of trees, so Ben runs back to grab the extra bundles I need to finish my goal and to break the company record. With 15 trees in every bundle, I will need 16 more bundles to put me at 10,065.

I take a one-minute break and sit on a stump as we stuff the remaining trees into my bags. Only 165 trees left. I am starting to feel more energetic. My body still screams in pain, but my brain knows that I only have a short while to go before I am done, and boy, am I ready to be done.


22:55 — Trees planted: 10,000

Ben, keeping track of the trees left in the bag becomes ecstatic, I have planted 10,000 trees — but the job is not done quite yet.

I keep planting, now with a little more skip in my step. My body is screaming back at me in pain, but I don’t care.


Now with less than 15 trees, I feel light, I feel good. I pound the trees in the ground with my shovel, with pure relief that I have done it.

I throw my shovel in the ground one last time — tree number 10,065 — and take a little more time to plant the perfect tree. 

As I drag my feet to the truck, Levi runs over, congratulating me. I share a cigarette with Ben, recounting the day, relieved that it is done, and proud of myself for doing what I thought was impossible. Even though I know I hit my goal, it feels surreal. Last year I was pushing myself to plant 5,000 trees in a work day. The year before that was 4,000. Now I can say I planted 10,000.

Today I had one plan, one goal, and I gave myself no opportunity to quit. I have never mentally (or physically) pushed myself this hard before. It feels amazing. It feels terrible.

As everyone else packs up the remaining boxes, I get into the truck and sprawl out over the back seats. Everything hits me all at once. The muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea, and weakness. The truck ride back to the camp is bumpy, and with every bump my muscles hit back, but I was too exhausted to move.

I pull out my phone to see my steps, a classic ritual among planters: 53,828 steps and 41.4 km covered.

Caleb Jutzi

Caleb’s passions include photography and videography, and when you combine those two with an overnight hike in the mountains, there is no better combination. Down the road, his goals are to continue photography and videography as a freelance on the side.