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Altered Loam

One of my favourite things about mountain biking in BC is the variety of trails we have. And that’s in huge part thanks to the many trail builders and trail orgs that build & care for the thousands of kilometres of trails we get to bike on.

Every trail builder… no, trail artist, has their own style. Yes, yes… there are standards that we need to follow for authorized trails and best practices to help trails withstand the inexorable changes wrought by weather and trail traffic. But despite the constraints, a builder’s personality and creativity still have many ways to shine through. A builder's style in coaxing a trail from the natural terrain is a key part of a trail's personality. Sometimes it's in the small details: the shape of the split rungs on a ladder bridge or the perfectly aligned rocks in the armouring or the restoration of moss and ferns along the side of the trail. Sometimes it's in the style of the trail. From smooth and fast to slow and janky, backyard loops to alpine epics, and everything in between, variety is a good thing. Where's the joy in everything being the same?

Most trail builders put a lot of time and sweat, and sometimes blood and tears into both the planning and the physical work of creating their trail masterpiece. Here on the North Shore, most trails have a dedicated builder or builders looking after each individual trail. We strive to keep the trails we care for in great shape and preserve the personality of the trail.

trail builders moving a large rock
Big rocks don't move uphill by themselves (photo by Claire)

There’s a bond of respect between builders. An acknowledgement of shared experiences - fingers accidentally smashed between rocks, blistered hands from shoveling and raking and packing dirt, remaining on trail as night falls to pound in the last nail, persevering through rain and hail and sometimes snow. Some build solo, some build with a crew. We help each other out, rallying friends to move big rocks or carry cedar to the site of the next creation.

trail in the forest
Before the braid

Essential to this bond is respecting another builder’s vision for the trails they care for, this is key to preserving trail variety. Respect for the builder's vision means staying on the line the builder intended and not making your own line. It means not smoothing out a janky section but upping your riding skills so that you become smoother. It means not adding a jump where there wasn't one before. It means not adding a second ride-around when there already is one. It means not chainsawing out a log to straight-line a chicane. In general, respecting the trail and the builder means not altering the trail unless you’re working with the builder and doing work they’ve asked you to do. This respect should be a given, from other builders and from all trail users. Respect the environment, respect the trails, respect the builders.

trail in forest with ugly braided line
Log sawn out to cut the corners

Sadly, the prevalence of user-created trail alterations continues to rise. With more folks enjoying the trails, it's not really surprising. So the next time you encounter a bit of trail that's not to your liking, remember that it's someone else's favourite flavour and the builder behind the scenes likely intended it to ride that way (not always, but more on that another day), and let the trail's personality continue to shine in it's own unique way. Respect the builder and do not alter the trail.

trail in forest after restoration work
Braid closed & renaturalized

If you’re keen to help out with maintenance and want to give back, that’s awesome! The NSMBA, TORCA, FVMBA, etc all have public trail days for folks to help out at. Some builders are happy to have folks join them while others prefer to work solo. So before you put your shovel in the ground, get in touch with your local trail association and join them for a trail day. Prefer to work in a smaller group or have a specific trail you want to help on? Find out who the local builders are and ask if they want help. Some have a list of folks that they’ll get in touch with if they’re planning some work. It’ll likely be short notice, the weather might be miserable, but chances are you might get to learn a bit more than you would at a larger trail day. There are also some builders that value solitude above all and are just too grumpy to want company, er, I mean, they prefer to work independently. So if a builder declines your offer of help, simply thank them for the work they do, offer to buy them a beverage of their choice, and check with a different builder to offer your time & labour on trail.

Many many thanks to all that put time in on the trails & behind the scenes.

Penny Deck (Petrichor Trails)



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