Our big race, the Solavaca Cat Claw Classic is now ten days past. The day after the race, the sky opened and dropped 3.2″ of rain on us. If you rode the race, or were here, you know we were already dealing with standing, running, and percolating water over about 10% of the trail. With the help of extreme trail hand Chris Purser, all kinds of tricks and gadgets were built to give the racers a surface to roll on in the worst wet areas. We were laying carpet and throwing down lengths of newly constructed ladders right up and into Saturday night. It helped us make the most of a compromised trail and the racers responded with good times and a hearty thanks at the end. It was a great race.
We appreciate all our MTB friends that came out, enjoyed the weather, rode, camped, volunteered, cheered, and respected the venue.
Now it gets tricky. I have to talk to a few people. Taking care not to whine, I have to tell these few people how they threaten to spoil things for everybody. And I have to let the large majority read what is intended for those few who need a talking to. Hopefully, some of the majority can take notice and perhaps become part of the solution. But it will finally fall on the few to change their ways.
As I walk this rain soaked trail, I notice more than ever before, places where a rider or a few riders, have taken it upon themselves to make changes in the trail – mostly during pre-rides. Breaking limbs, moving rocks, cutting across corners, and generally destroying small sections of sweet single track for their own purpose. It is no secret that building and maintaining a trail is a labor of love. And it is not a democratic process. One person gets to envision what can be done with the land so that it will sustain minimum damage and still provide a good MTB experience. The application of that vision requires some work. Hard labor kind of work. It is what defines the line that you ride when you ride that man’s trail. If you are a volunteer on a public trail, that may be 20 feet of trail. If you are the architect of the whole trail, maybe miles of it is your baby. But either way, you want the rider to ride the line you have made.
Before mountain biking, I used to rock climb. I developed some routes as they are called. But mostly I climbed established routes. You are not in that sport for a day before you learn that it is forbidden to alter an established route. The guy who put the route up, sets the line. All climbers police and enforce this ethic. There is no holding back either. A climber lands on the guilty party’s back like a crazed banshee (verbally of course). You just do not alter somebody else’s route. Even if it is not designed very well. If you don’t like it, don’t climb it.
I have heard other trail builder’s rail about this. It is pretty common in our sport. We need, we all need, to watch for riders who take those liberties with the trails and call them out. Some of the changes these people make might tend to make you happy – a way around a difficult section, a nice little challenge thrown in, something in the way of your flow, or whatever. But it works against you in the long run.
The term Trail Steward has a clue for you. A steward is somebody who takes responsibility for the good of something or somebody. In the case of trail stewards, it is his, and only his, job to set the lines. The trail steward’s reward is that he gets the credit, or the blame, for how it rides. Just ride it.
Let’s protect the trails by developing an ethic like the climber’s have. Don’t do bandit trail alterations and don’t stand by and let anybody else do it either.