The Bakery: Playing Hooky

Words and Photo by Danielle Baker

Riding bikes on a trail day can easily make you a social pariah. I did it on Sunday. As best as I can tell no one has stopped talking to me, no notes wrapped around bricks have been tossed through my window and karma doesn't seem to have enforced immediate retribution, I do however have a deep sense of guilt. It is the kind of guilt that usually only parents or church can inflict, like the time I was suspended from school and my parents opted not to ground me. Instead they simply said they were 'disappointed'. Ouch. They knew that was the worst kind of disciplinary action. I had the same sense of shame the other day when I asked a friend if she wanted to go for a ride on Sunday, she responded with "I'm going to the trail day, aren't you?"

I had actually forgotten all about it.

I still went riding. I felt like a jerk for doing it but I had a good list of solid excuses why I should: I only had an hour to ride, it was the first time I had ridden all week, Strava needed me, the apocalypse was coming, God told me to, I was chasing the last unicorn, I was running away from a Nickleback song, I thought there would be too many people there already, the last time I used a chainsaw we had to go to the hospital, well, you get the point.

Now I am burdened with this guilt and convinced that due to my indiscretion I am destined to become a dung beetle in my next life. I think I may need a catholic priest and a drive-through window to alleviate the guilt. "Attend five trail days and say ten Hail Mary's."

Why all the guilt? When I participated in my first trail day it opened my eyes to the amount of work involved in maintaining our trails. I do believe that if you ride you need to put in the work, maybe you don't need to attend every trail day, but you need to get your hands dirty and build appreciation for the effort that has gone into a trail. It will give you something to think about before you start braiding or skidding. It is also just a very honest way to give back with direct results. Of course you can donate money to your local trail organizations and I am assuming they love it when you do, but until you can claim a section of improved trail, you are only buying karma.

With mountain biking developing a wide span of followers form hardcore to weekend warriors, I wonder how many people were out there riding on Sunday like me. How many people thought that they didn't need to attend or simply didn't even know? Ignorance is bliss. Perhaps our bike shops should be required to educate riders on local trail organizations and how they can help with each new bike purchase.

We could learn something from the kids at the dirt jumps; they seem to know more about community involvement than some of us mountain bikers do. They earn their sessions; spending fixed ratios of time building and maintaining versus jumping. Does it say something about our mountain biking culture that we nicknamed our local trail builder "Digger"? If we were all out doing our part, his dedication might not be such a phenomenon. Instead we would lamely call him something like 'buddy' or 'guy'.

Obviously we won't all make it to all the trail days. In the real world most of us don't have the luxury of being that kid that got the perfect attendance record at school. Seriously, what was the deal with that kid? However if you do go riding on a trail day the guilt may weigh on you and people may judge you. It is actually not unlike the time I forgot about my niece's baptism and when riding instead. Don't do that either. And definitely do not post a photo from your ride on Facebook.

There are people out there working hard to maintain the trails that you are riding on. The fact is that the people who are heavily involved aren't just out there on trails days, they are out there all the time. They are the folks who worship every Sunday, the rest of us are the ones who show up at Christmas and Easter to keep them company.

As guilty as I felt, my friend was right to remind me about the trail day, to shame me in a very passive-aggressive Canadian way. We all have a part to do with educating new riders and lapsed Catholics to get out and work on our trails. Reminding friends about trail days may save their souls.