By Lukas Brinkerhoff
Pat the Bunny said, “A punk rock song will never change the world, but I can tell you about a couple that changed me.”
It’s 7:17 AM. The sun has crested casting a golden light that could be compared to the approving gaze of god looking down up on this band of folks working. There’s about 60 of us, give or take a few, no official count was taken. I’m racing up and down the line of people swinging pick axes, Macleods, shovels and rakes. As soon as I get done answering one question, I hear my name from the other side of the line and off I go to try and keep the train from coming off the tracks.
8:30 AM rolls around, our official quitting time. In an hour and a half, we have built what would normally take us 4-5 dig days. Huge rocks were removed, brush cleared, benches built and all of it raked out and finished.
Standing at the end of the trail I had watched be constructed, by people who had never done any type of trail building before (at least very few of them had) in 1.5 hours, I got kind of excited. Ok, let’s be honest I was stoked. You couldn’t wipe the grin off my face regardless of how hard you hit it with a high five. It also made me question what was possible. In such short time, on one occasion we had built just over ¼ mile of trail. What if we did that every weekend? Or even just once a month?
The late Utah Phillips said that toil is what you do when someone else pays you, labor is what you do for yourself. It’s what your life purpose is and while it might take some serious effort, it’s not work because it’s what you are meant to do.
If you’ve ever dug a trench in your front yard, you know that it’s hard work. Most of trail building is pretty much the same thing. Pick axe goes through and begins cutting the bench. The Macleod follows dragging the dirt out widening the tread and creating a rough trail. Then the finishing work begins, smoothing it all out, removing any roots and rocks that may have been left behind. This process can go fast, but more often than not it takes hours to build short sections of trail.
And while this process is almost identical “work” as what is required to dig a trench, it’s actually fun. You couldn’t pay me enough to want to dig a hole in my yard, but put a shovel in my hand and tell me that I can build a trail and it’s a trail that I can then ride a bike on. Well, you won’t have to pay me anything for me to want to be there.
There are few things I find more enjoying than riding a trail for the first time. Each turn is new and there’s an excitement to see what’s around that next bend. Is there a sweet rock feature? Maybe a beautifully constructed roller that looks super sketchy but rolls out perfectly? Or just some smooth, flowy bench cut trail that seems to go for miles and miles and miles. It doesn’t matter what it is, I want to see it. I want to ride it.
The only thing that is more satisfying than cleaning a sketchy section of trail, is building a sketchy section of trail. Take the side of a hill, draw a line and then dig it in. You are no longer a passive participant in the art, you become the protagonist. You get to decide if the line will go left or right, if you go over the rock, around it or if it has to come out. Is there a cholla patch, a tree or some hill you want to ride through? Well, that’s up to you. You are the digger.
“But I guess it comes down to what kind of world you want to live in” – Propogandhi
I want to live in a place that you could hop on your bike and after a short pedal, you could hit some sweet singletrack. That line in the ground would lead you to more lines in the ground that spread out in a myriad of directions. Each way would not only take you to a different chunk of real estate, but to a different type of trail. Want to hit miles of smooth, flowy dirt, go right. Want chunky rocks that will make you wish for more suspension and make you pucker a little bit, go left. That’s the kind of place I want to live.
I have an inkling that most mountain bikers would agree. If there is a universally held desire, it’s the wish for more trails and more time to ride them. The flip side to that is that trails do not build themselves. I’ve wished for trails in certain places for years and never once has one popped up. It isn’t until someone takes the initiative and puts for the effort that the line in the ground we call singletrack and that is so vital to our sport, appears.
And while Gandhi may have said that we need to be the change that we want to see in the world, I haven’t quite figured out how to be a trail. However, watching 60 or so high school kids build a ¼ mile of trail certainly gave me hope for the future. It made me see the possibility of having more people involved. What if every mountain biker gave 3 hours a month to trails? How many miles would we have? How much better maintained would the trails be? Would we then be able to say that there is a plethora of trails? And more importantly, wouldn’t they be the kinds of trails that we want?
Who knows? I certainly don’t. I guess I’ll just keep digging.
Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.