Words and Photos by Danielle Baker
I attended a trail day on Sunday. I was somewhat selfishly motivated as I was convinced that if I didn't go to one sooner or later karma would reap its revenge in the form of a stick in my wheel or rock to the face. A few weeks ago I pulled a douche move and went riding on a trail day; my indiscretion has weighed on me ever since. It was time to alleviate this guilty conscience of mine; forgive me father for I have sinned it has been 237 days since my last trail work.
I arrived early to our meeting spot in the morning; I was the second person there. In contrast to my attendance-out-of-guilt, the other guy was keen. He told me about his trail building course and pursuit of an education in forestry while I tried to hide my hangover. Two teenagers were dropped off across the street by their mom; she made eye contact with me from her vehicle and gave me the 'you're now responsible for them' nod. I actually looked behind me to see if there was an adult around. What person in their right mind would leave their kids in my care? Slowly, the rest of the crew rolled in and we eventually packed into vehicles and headed up the mountain. We parked at the top of the trail and hiked down, loaded up with tools and buckets; hi ho hi ho hi ho.
Irish Pete was our leader for the day, he gestured and described the shape of the re-route we would be working on and every time he mentioned putting gold on the trail I felt like I should hide my Lucky Charms. During the safety talk I was unceremoniously informed that I would not be given a chainsaw to use, or any power tools for that matter. I kicked the dirt and muttered, "this sucks" under my breath.
Of my own accord, and due to my demonstrated lack of coordination, I avoided everything sharp and anything that required swinging. I volunteered for rock collection and spent the next five hours widening the gap of my already positive ape index; carrying buckets of stones from around the forest back to our section of trail. Finding rocks became my solitary purpose in life. Nothing else mattered.
Each time I came back with a load the section of trail had progressed, like a delayed stop motion animation. The abstract dirt evolved into the shape of a trail, dug down and then built up with rocks and dirt. Trail day is a lot like watching an episode of the “Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross, you get to put the trail where you want it and add in happy little ferns and rocks. "Maybe in our world there lives a happy little tree over there."
At one point while taking a break, a crew of riders came through and we had that awkward interaction like when you run into an ex with your new boyfriend. They wore the expressions of kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar. We exchanged hellos and they complimented us excessively on the work being done. Everyone knew the guilt they were feeling but no one made an effort to alleviate it. Riding on a trail day may be a grey area of bad judgment, but riding through a trail day without stopping to shovel some dirt will get you more dirty looks than wearing a Justin Beiber shirt over the age of 12. As I stood there with my pile of rocks in my glass house and with my two hours or trail work for the year under my belt, I felt justified in judging them.
I went out on Sunday out of a sense of duty, not unlike attending family dinners, but in the end I realized how much I valued the experience. I could have stayed home in bed, nursing my hangover and watching the day go by through the window. Or I could collect rocks. It required the same amount of brainpower. While, like most things to me, the idea of actually building a trail, choosing the direction and flow seem like major adult decisions that I am not qualified to make, being directed on a simple task and hanging out in the forest for hours without my cell phone was dreamy.
Working with a crew reminded of how great it is to be involved with your community and get shit done. I didn't know anyone, but we had bikes in common. We got along, helped each other and, in fewer than five hours, created a team that accomplished a major amount of work. Companies pay thousands of dollars to facilitate this kind of team building and here it was happening in the forest with volunteered hours.
Trail work is slow and trail maintenance doesn't provide you with much to claim for your ego. It's a fairly selfless act that allows you to claim placement on a few rocks that made everyone's ride smoother or a ditch that took out a nasty puddle. These are things that an average rider won't consciously notice, but you will know. You were there.
Bob Ross says "Any time ya learn, ya gain!" On Sunday I learned that while I may regret riding instead of going to a trail day, I will never regret going to a trail day instead of riding. Most importantly I'm not a douche anymore. . . at least not when it comes to trail work.