Mountain Bike Trailer Park is a regular column written by Uncle Dan that appears monthly on the Dirt Rag Interwebs. He dabbles in a variety of topics including racing, training, trails he loves and not taking himself too seriously, all with a big dash of humor. If you missed his previous columns, check them out here. He also writes a personal blog, which can be found here.
I’ve got better things to do. I could be doing that yardwork I’ve been putting off for the last three years. I could be watching football. I could be spending time with my family (but who wants to do that anyway?). I could be riding my bike.
I mean, between work, and kids, and training, and board membership on COMBO, and writing this here column, I don’t have much free time. Or any free time. In fact, I’m doing so many things that I’m not doing any of them very well.
So, what the hell am I doing out here at 7:30 on a chilly Saturday morning in the woods, wearing dirty jeans, work gloves, and carrying a backpack full of tools? I mean, I enjoy trail work, but it’s so far down the list of things I have to do.
Steven Jefferson, the lead on this project, is probably thinking the same thing. Except he’s put waaaaaaay more hours into this particular project than me. I’m just showing up occasionally. But he’s here every weekend and some weeknights. And when he’s not at the trail, he’s arranging for deliveries of dirt for the pump track, or getting approval for features from the park, or calling someone about a permit.
When I greet him today, he looks tired. He is tired. He forces himself through a pleasantries with me and the other volunteers who have shown up today. He’s grateful that we’re here, but it’s clear he wants to get some work done today and then go home. He has better things to do.
We’re working on the final stages of rebuilding what used to be COMBO’s “beginner trail.” It’s a less-than-two-mile trail in flat, low-lying park land and it sits across the street from a six-mile “intermediate trail.” The beginner loop had permanent mud holes, downed trees and a microwave in a ravine. There was some fossilized evidence of former life there, in the form of decrepit and decaying 15-year old “skills features,” many of which were rotting in place, while others had been broken and their component parts strewn about like zebra bones after a hyena kill.
But Steven saw potential there. His vision was a revamped trail and a new skills park. Steven’s concept of “Gnomewood” was a beginner-friendly trail that was dotted with gnomes and magic mushrooms, like pimples on a 15-year old.
After more than two years, and only a couple weeks until the grand opening, a lot of work has been done. Steven felled more than 40 full-grown ash trees that, stricken by the emerald ash borer, were dead and in danger of falling. He had milled the ash lumber onsite to use for building trail features.
Two of the three lines for the pump track were complete, all of the gravel and dirt hauled in load-by-load, by hand, in wheel barrows.
The kiosk was up, with custom artwork, the banked turns and boardwalks were in place, the three-level drops were built, the land was graded, and drainage trenches had been laid.
Today, three crews were working on different projects. My crew would be moving some large sections of tree trunk about half a mile down the trail, power sanding them, then staining them for use in a new feature. The hum of a generator, the rasp of shovels in dirt, and the creaking of wheelbarrow wheels provided our background music.
Again, my thoughts returned to the question, “What the hell am I doing here?” My soft, office-worker hands were getting blistered. My cotton shirt was filthy and soaked with sweat. I had dirt in my eye.
Volunteering is a thankless job. You give up your time and money for no recognition or personal reward. And, with trail work, seldom do people say “Wow, great job,” instead, you often hear “You know what you should do . . .” or “This feature would have been better if . . . .” Such statements are usually made by people who are out riding by as you’re doing trail work.
And today, as we’re working, a mountain biker that I know named Fred rode up. Fred loves the project and wants to help. So, Fred asks the number one question: “When will you be working out here next weekend?” Trail workers get this question all the time. It’s normally preceded by the statement “Yeah, I couldn’t make it this weekend because of [Billy’s soccer game/broken dishwasher/hangnail/etc.], but next weekend I can definitely be out here and bring along four more people!”
We let him know the time. He says “Yeah, I’ll try and make it.” I thank him, but I have learned not to count on it. Because next weekend there will be a soccer game/hangnail/etc. too. Truth is, people have better things to do.
Next Friday night, Fred will text. “Exactly what time do you plan to be out at the trail tomorrow?” We already said, but Steven texts back the detailed times anyway, imagining all the work that we can get done with Fred and his crew. Saturday comes and goes; no Fred, none of Fred’s buddies. But Kate shows up unannounced–“Hey, I can help for an hour or two, do you have any work for me?” Sure do.
By Sunday afternoon, the team has made great progress. Exhausted, and getting back in the car, Steven checks his phone. There’s a text message from Fred; “Hey Steven – our dishwasher died – exactly what time will you be working out at Gnomewood next weekend?” Steven texts back the time. He hopes Fred will make it, but knows that people have better things to do.
Two weeks later, and it’s grand opening day. We have music, food, gnome hats, craft projects and a climbing wall.
Over 250 people show up, most of them are under 13 years old.
Steven is in a daze. He’s put in so much work to make this happen, he can’t really even take in the event. He dons a gnome hat, thanks our sponsors, REI and Ed Diem Trucking, and circulates into the crowd. As he walks around the event, dodging kids on bikes, Fred, Kate, and everyone else wants to shake his hand, pat him on the back, and ask about the next phase of building. It won’t be for a week or so that the realization of the day soaks in for Steven.
Me, I’m soaking it up right then and there. The trail is alive with happy kids from 9:00 am until well after I leave at 4:00 pm.
Seems a side effect of a gnome infestation is a pox of children.
I float around, at times playing the MC, at times supervising an obstacle for safety, at times manning the grill. In the weeks that follow, the trail stays busy. Kids on striders or bikes with kickstands and baskets. Kids with crooked helmets. Kids trailing parents.
Sometimes I sit and watch, my heart full. I resolve to come back next week when we start working on the third pump track line. I’ve got nothing better to do.
Be brave, and do some trail work.