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Ode to a Trailbuilder


by Kirsty Brown
posted March 3, 2004

He's at it again. I can tell by the spark in his eyes a new project is underway. I spy on him as he prepares his tools--chain saw, pruners, and handsaw--they are all arranged carefully in his backpack. "Where ya headed?" I ask. "Oh, I'm just going for a walk in the woods," he says. My suspicions are confirmed...the trailbuilding bug has struck again.

I'm not surprised, it happens every year around this time. As the snow melts and patches of fresh dirt emerge, new possibilities begin to reveal themselves. In its infancy, his new trail is unnamed and is a mixture of ideas and thoughts. Over the winter, he's studied maps and scoped out ridgelines. Now that spring has returned, his plan is set into motion, his new route is flagged and his vision is about to become a reality.

Those of us who enjoy riding don't often recognize the physical labor that goes into building a new trail. As we push our pedals over fresh cut singletrack, rarely do we take a moment to notice the amount of work that is involved in its creation. Nailing in a slat bridge or preparing a side hill can take hours...these hours can transform themselves into days, or even months, of hard work. Initially, I was resentful of his lengthy trips off to the woods--mostly because of the whining I was subject to afterward. Complaints like, "My back is sore!" or "My arms are tired!" fell on deaf ears. "Self-induced pain" I would think smugly to myself.

But now there is awakening within me. I've begun to realize that there is an art to building mountain bike trails. It takes creativity to link together pieces of the natural world. Rocks, roots and ridgelines all must come together in a masterpiece of flowing singletrack. This task becomes his spring meditation. The simple reward for his effort will come in the rolling of knobby tires over fresh dirt. He will smile with satisfaction when he hears the hoots and hollers of his buddies riding his trail for the first time.

As he pulls on his hiking boots and fills up his water bottle, I realize how much joy his art has brought me. "When will you be home?" I ask. "In a couple of hours," he replies. The roar of his truck engine signals his departure. I am left on my own to ponder my new realization. I think that somehow his efforts should be rewarded. Maybe tonight I will surprise him with a few back rubs in recognition of a job well done.