Stills from my first trip to Rapelje filming my short documentary on the 24 Hours of Rapelje, the town’s famous mountain bike race. Special thanks to Sally Orr for giving me tour of the area, and helping me lay the ground-work for the film!
There’s something thrilling about riding a trail that you helped build or maintain. The trail feels smoother and faster. The descents are more fun. The climbs, more ridable. The root-sections, suddenly, less dangerous. And, as you ride over that rock-fortified, erosion-resistant section, you can feel each stone that your hands placed as your tires roll over it. The elation you feel when you ride that trail is pride. It comes from long mornings of hauling wheelbarrows full of gravel and chopping out hidden, tire-eating stumps from the edge of the trail. It comes from wiping gritty sweat out of your eyes with the back of a work glove. It’s pride of a job well done (even if it’s a work in progress.) You begin to take ownership of it. This is my trail.
I’ve been able to experience that thrill several times while riding the “Holy Cross” trail outside of Grand Junction, Colorado, after working with COPMOBA. If you’re in the Grand Junction area, go ride it. It’s the masterpiece of theTabeguache (Lunch Loop) trails system. Every time I ride it, I experience that pride. Now, I get to experience that sense of pride here in Maine.
I volunteered time working on the Winnick Woods trail system in Cape Elizabeth for Greater Portland NEMBA and had a blast. Winnick Woods, already one of the area’s best trail systems, is now better than ever. The trails will be more fun for me to ride, not just because of the improvements we made to them, but because of the effort I put in.
Some ways you can find out about trail work days going on in your area is to search for local trail organizations or look through IMBA’s trail organization database. Keep in mind, also, that a large presence of volunteers doesn’t just make the work of keeping trails up easier, it also shows land managers that mountain bikers care about the trails. Providing free labor to cash-strapped land agencies (public and private) helps ensure a good relationship when it comes time to decide what “multi-use” really means. Mountain biking, like all trail-based activities, has an impact. Make sure you give more than you take by volunteering.
Mountain biking, for me, is a solo event. So I feel some apprehension when I ride into the parking lot to see a dozen cars parked with bikes on top. Normally I blame my work schedule for my lack of riding partners, but that’s only partly true. My thirst for alone-time derails any real attempt at finding people to ride with.
Tonight, however, I’m heading out with the Rage on Portland group, a loose organization of riders who consistently meet up to ride. I do these rides once or twice a year. As I begin talking to the Ragers getting their bikes ready for the trail, I remember why. There is a subdued energy surrounding these people. They love trails. They love riding them. And they love riding them together.
We set out and I drop in mid pack. I represent the center-point in this group of twenty-five–somewhere between the hammers and the cruisers, somewhere between the twenty-ish woman on her ninth ride ever and a sixty-five-year-old man who’d been riding since before I was born.
There is a lot of chatting on the road. Then, we drop into the dense Maine woods. Sound disappears. Our tires roll over dry dirt and pine needles. The occasional rustle of dry leaves breaks the silence. The line of riders weaves like a multi-colored serpent through the forest. It’s like a dance where my personal experience gets swallowed up in the greater experience of the group. The line bunches up as we slow to say hi to a hiker with a border collie and thank her for letting us pass. once past, the line stretches until I can’t see either end.
The banter picks up when we stop at trail junctions to wait for the rest of the group. While I’ve met most of these guys before, I don’t know any of them well enough to engage in the ribbing that goes on. Instead, I take it all in, learning about the people I’m with. Brian spends a lot of time crashing. Mike is riding strong after fracturing his hip in a crash the summer before and Katrina could kick all of our asses on a bike or climbing a rock face. There are riders who just got back from Moab and riders dreaming of making the trip to Kingdom Trails a couple of hours away. Even though I know nothing of their off-the-bike lives, I feel like I know them all. And they seem to know me–the important parts, at least.
Maybe the bike is the only thing that unites us. I doubt it, but it doesn’t seem to matter. We set off again, pedaling into the woods. The only real competition amongst us is with the sun racing toward sunset. I follow the leaders, trying to memorize where the new trails are so when I come out here again, by myself, I can find them. The task is impossible in the labyrinth of trees. It doesn’t matter, I tell myself. I promise myself this is the year I put away my loner tendencies and begin riding with the group.