Real Talk with Brock
Every great mountain bike ride starts with a fancy suspension/custom rigid/unobtanium-tubed bike, right? New grippy pedals? Colorful MIPS helmet? Can’t have a wicked good time on dirt, rocks, roots, trees, roosting berms, rallying steeps, nailing tricky switchbacks without those things, right?
All You Need is a Bike and a Trail
Despite the Corpo-Media and marketing departments’ best efforts to convince us otherwise (I have a fancy bike, custom bike, grippy pedals and colorful helmets… don’t judge me) we, in fact, do NOT need those things to have insane amounts of mountain bike fun. All you need is a bike, a helmet (yes… need) and a trail.
Bikes Are Easy, What About Trails?
Bikes and associated bits are easy. Pricey, I’ll give you that, but easy. There are entire stores and websites dedicated to the damn things! Trails though, you don’t just click a banner add or sheepishly nod your head in agreement when the sales associate suggests 35 over 31.8. Sure, they’re there. Every freakin’ time you’ve pulled up to the trail head, it’s there. They didn’t sell out of the views from Beautimus Meadow on Alpine. That hip to stepdown to table to hip to stepup has never been in last year’s colorway. They’ve always been rad. Always left you with a smile. OK, maybe a bruised ego, random scar the boys and girls dig and a great story to share over the latest sarsaparilla, but they’re there and the best part is you didn’t have to whip out your credit union issued debit card and trade some of your hard earned for it! Great trails just happen! Yeah for magic trails!
Sarcasm Meter: HIGH
If your sarcasm meter is pegged, good. Read on. If you’ve started taking notes and are in the middle of comenting below to ask me where these magic trails are, please gather up all of your worldly belongings, sell those belongings, send the money to your local MTB advocacy group and move to Kandahar taking nothing with you but a can of Spam and a titanium spork.
Trail Work Love
If you’re still reading, welcome to reality: great trails don’t just happen. Someone made them and they cost… a lot. A lot of time and money. Making and maintaining great trails, thankfully, isn’t rocket surgery. Of course it’s just about as much art as science, but it’s not a mystic formula requiring selling one’s soul for the precious or allegiance to the dark forces of the Yankees Empire. All it takes is time and money. Lots of one or the other, usually both. Yeah, lots and lots of both. Money and time. Most of us complain about not having enough of either.
Let’s move forward accepting the following as an axiom of life: Trails neither build nor fix themselves. We can likely agree that the federal, state, county and local parks and lands managers have budgets that are just pennies of what they should be to adequately support our outdoor recreation needs let alone our wants. The glory days of the Civilian Conservation Corps are long gone as are the bloated budgets of Park Rangers and parks districts allowing for trail and infrastructure expansion. Also gone are the days when we all played on a level field. A few got greedy and the capital “W” got entrenched. We’re not going whole hog into the “W” topic today, but the funding of today is choked by that travesty of yesterday.
The Makers of Great Trails
A lot goes in to making, hell even fixing a trail these days. Chances are that switchback you nailed was freshened by somebody who’s spending their time away from their desk to dig and make it better. The brush that got cut allowing for a great sightline into the next corner is thanks to the youth crew funded by a grant to put at-risk kids to work. The rocky chute that armors a particularly fun and rowdy fall line section everyone loves to have their pic taken at? Yeah, each rock was placed by a mom and her friends during a volunteer build day hosted by your local MTB club. The big cedar planks on that ladder of your fave stepdown? Milled by a dad and son duo on a chilly and rainy day.
Not every state has it as good as Oregon in the amount of quality trails or involved MTB’ers. Each year Oregon mountain bikers, led by advocacy organizations (call ‘em clubs if you want, but I don’t go clubbing, much), donate tens of thousands of hours to trail expansion and maintenance on publicly accessible trails. Groups like Disciples Of Dirt (full disclosure: I list them first because I am a Disciple Of Dirt so that makes us best), Team Dirt, Central Oregon Trail Alliance, Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards, Salem Area Trail Alliance, Northwest Trails Alliance, Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association and others spend much of our free time digging, lopping, stacking, cutting, cursing and sweating to make a dent in the back log of crap that has to be done to then rail the switchback, send the gap, collapse in the meadow and wonder at the blue color above you.
How Great Mt. Bike Trails Are Built
We have it good here, so why? How? Folks are willing to sit through boring ass meeting after boring ass meeting to reinforce and reiterate what they have been advocating for through about 5,934 emails to land managers and bureaucrats which were to recap the 38 meetings they had been in the quarter before. Folks have put off immediate gratification of riding every waking or free moment to volunteer an afternoon, evening or weekend so a trail can get a new switchback, berm, reroute, rockdrop, jumpline – something. Or somebody sat through a meeting to learn a land manager’s preferred method of holding their tongue so they’re ensured a trail’s slope, texture and rider experience is as agreed upon. Oh yeah, then after all the meetings a bunch of folks met up some Saturday or Sunday – or a bunch of Saturdays and Sundays – and instead of unloading bikes they unloaded hoes, shovels and a few cans of whoop ass.
That’s the short (and marginally sarcastic) version of the question I’m often asked “How do you get trails built or fixed?” Of course there are more specifics. Details about trail design, professional communication (Pro-tip: don’t reference the meetings or emails as “boring ass…” when talking to land managers or bureaucrats), compromise, long-term strategic planning, patience and more – seriously, more – but that’s a story for a different day.
So to recap: How are trails built and maintained today? That dude you stomped up the hill, the one that’s a little soft in the middle, but has manly hands? He spent his free time digging drains and making sweet grade reversals to pop off in order to get water from insidiously and constantly eroding away the resource. The lady who smiled then blew the doors off you and your buddies as you dropped in? Yeah, she spent lots of cold mornings brushing corridors and corners so you’d have great sightlines. The odd looking bookworm looking guy that’s a bit too fastidious for his own good? Well, yeah, he’s an odd cat, but he spent many nights writing the grant to pay for the new parking lot and signage then getting the newsletter out where you noticed the new trail section is open. In short it’s your mechanic, the barista who can’t grasp the concept of “dry cap” but can pack a mean berm, the butcher, your chiropractor’s secretary, your neighbor.
And also, hopefully, you.
Brock says he does few things well, but there’s no doubt he’s a damn fine builder of mountain bike trails, makes wicked good chocolate chip cookies and according to a mug his daughters gave him he’s the “9638th best dad in the county.” Brock likes his trails steep, gnarly and littered with “Is my deductible met?” He lives in the hills outside Cottage Grove and volunteers hundreds of hours each year to the local mt. bike scene through the Disciples Of Dirt mt. bike club.