Saturday, August 13, 2011


I've been thinking a lot about trail building lately.  Why do I like it?  Why do I do it?  

I wrote on the PB geezer thread that:
Building is destruction and creation. 
The land took its shape over time. I look at the land, and I create something new in my mind's eye. I then gather tools and I destroy the land as it is. I use the tools to create something that was not there before. I am the destroyer and creator of a part of the universe. It is a very small part, but I bend it to my will, if only for a time. In the end, the land destroys what I have created and makes something new.
One of the more dedicated local builders is Jerome.  He's a good guy, family man and totally driven.  The number of times I've been out on a night ride and seen his SUV parked on the Moose Mountain Road...  He's been working on the same trail for over 10 years.   That is passion, or perhaps obsession.  I've taken a lap on his trail; it scared the shit out of me.  However, it was well-built and very consistent.  Things made sense.

I recently had the opportunity to work with a very experienced builder.  Nathan has been digging for ~15 years, and it shows.  His approach is simple - do the best with what you've got, make changes as needed, things can be fixed.  He is meticulous when he builds, but freely admits to making it up as he goes along.  Still, his building isn't random.  He uses sustainable techniques to reduce impact and focuses on flow.  The result is really nice trail that's fun to ride.

The BC trip was a bit of an eye-opener for me.  I've biked in a few places over the years, but I haven't really looked at the trails as a builder, just as a rider.  This time I took a second look.  Almost every trail I rode was a rake 'n' ride.  Removing organic to get down to mineral?  Not so much.  Ensuring everything drains all the time?  Sorta.  Berms?  Yes. Simple bridges?  Yes.  Bogs?  None.  Flow?  Sometimes.  Rock armouring?  Seldom.  Density?  HIGH.  Beyond the build techniques, the design [or lack thereof] leaned heavily toward high density trail systems.  The closest equivalent systems in the Calgary area would be Canmore Nordic Centre and Fish Creek Park.  That level of trail density is found in Revelstoke, Kamloops, Squamish, Fernie and who knows how many other areas.  K-Country, in contrast, typically has one trail per trailhead.  Trailheads are rarely closer than 5km, and the trails themselves stretch into the back country, often for 10 or 20 km.  The sparse trails require a fair bit of commitment, 'cause if shit goes bad, there's no shortcut out.

Regardless, the experiences I've had this past summer have strongly influenced the way I will build and design in the future.  I will destroy and I will create.  Time to dig.

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