Bouncing around a familiar corner in the local trails the other day I came across a young woman who was rearranging deadfall.
The ancient trail was laid out several decades ago, and follows the edge of steep bank through densely spaced redwoods. It offers a view of a big spring, a fair way below, and I once spotted a trout in there. It is a cool place to stop, and it’s a nice bit of trail if you don’t.
There is one spot where the trail takes a lazy curve to the left and drops over a little blind step created by a couple of roots, and lately people have been beelining straight ahead to avoid the tricky bit (and miss the view of the spring). Once a short cut is established, it is hard to shut it down.
We may kick a few things into new routes we spot to try to obscure them, but people are persistent.
The woman I met was very persistent. Somebody had completely blocked the original line, industriously laying branches in the trail and across it to send riders via the new straight line.
My new friend reckoned she was clearing the easy line because otherwise she might miss it. She feigned ignorance about how the trail blockages had got there. I moved them out of way and offered a few choice words about the character of whomever had placed them, and she didn’t say much. She even sort of helped undo the modifications I am pretty sure she had just finished making when I happened along. There were no witnesses and I could be completely wrong about what was going on, so I didn’t remonstrate with her directly. I did point her at a womens’ riding group and a skills clinic.
Going on my merry way I expended the next pile of calories while thinking about how mainstream our sport has become, but also how being a newcomer is not so different to when it all started.
She was out there in that enviable stage of figuring out the basics of what she can do on a mountain bike. She was also route-finding in her local patch, getting started on the mental map she will use for what I hope is a long career as a mountain biker. She will get better at riding, and also more familiar with her choice of trails.
Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she may not realise yet that trails don’t create themselves. She may even have thought she was doing a public service, wondering why all the dumbclucks before her took a problematic line when there could be a perfectly good straight one.
Lets hope her development as a rider outpaces her ability to find new trails to simplify.
Later in the same ride, and much more annoying, I spotted a brand new sign on a brand new trail. The trail is Tumeke ("too much"), and is designated Grade 4. Some bright spark had scratched a 5 next to the 4, which had an X scratched across it. Presumably this is a person who is up for a Grade 4, but not a 5. The thing is, the trails don't build themselves, and the signs don't erect themselves.
In this town, and most other places, trails come about as the result of a lot of work by volunteers working in their own time, on their own dime. People plan, negotiate permissions, contract workers, work, maintain, trim, drain, etc etc so that a trail system is the result. Signage, if it's there, is an expensive and surprisingly complicated element of the whole picture.
We can't imagine the thought process of somebody smart enough to choose mountain biking as an activity, but dumb enough to think damaging a sign is the correct response to their own limitations as a rider. We are not bagging riders who can't ride the most extreme trails, we are in that category ourselves. But FFS, if anybody you know starts modifying trails or defacing signs, sort them out will ya?