Sunday, October 7, 2012

I love the smell of freshly minted benchcut in the morning

Posting as been sparse lately. An increase in work hours is mostly responsible. When it comes to riding or blogging about riding, riding wins out every time. It doesn't help that a couple big content producers didn't happen for me either.

A few days before the Vermont 50 MTB race, I came down with a cold. I hadn't been sick in about two years, so this one hit me pretty hard. I had a chest cough by Saturday morning, and the thought of lining up for a race potentially in cold rain at 6am the next morning sounded like a good way to end up with a protracted illness. I decided to bag the race and save some coin in the process. In hind sight, it was probably the right thing to do. I was pretty much over the cold by Monday.

This past weekend, I had high hopes of competing in the Ironcross race in Pennsylvania. The forecast looked pretty bleak. Committing a whole weekend with 14hrs driving to to race 4hrs in rain just doesn't appeal all that much to me anymore. I confess. I am a sunny day racer. At least you can still wait until the last minute to register for Ironcross and cherry pick nice weekends. The VT50 fills up in an hour in May.

Bailing on Ironcross did open another great opportunity for me. NEMBA had a big trail work day planned at Bear Brook State Park on Saturday and Sunday. A multi-year agreement has been reached between NEMBA and park management on trail maintenance and new trail construction. Over the 15 years I've lived in New Hampshire, I've ridden at Bear Brook countless times. It was a great place to ride 15 years ago, and has improved dramatically since NEMBA stepped up stewardship efforts there. Trail work days at Bear Brook over the last couple years always seemed to have coincided with races or other obligations, so finally, this was a chance to give back.

Upwards of 30 volunteers gathered in the mountain biker parking lot at 8am on Saturday for pre-work instruction. Two brand new trails were being constructed, which will be named Little Bear and Big Bear. A trail named Little Bear already exists. It basically connects the upper Hayes Field parking area with the lower Biker/Skier parking area. It follows fall line much of the way down and is eroded beyond repair. The two new trails will replace the steep section of the current Little Bear trail. The new Little Bear is designed as a climbing route but will likely be a bidirectional trail. The new Big Bear trail is designed for downhill traffic. Don't think Highland Mountain Park here. The vertical drop is only 150ft or so, and it is not all down. The flow is designed to work better in the down direction and more speed can be carried on it.

We split up into four teams, two on Little Bear, two on Big Bear. Pete DeSantis and others had previously flagged both trails and did several walk-throughs to tweak the lines a bit. Crews would start at top and bottom of each trail and work towards the middle.

Doing this for five hours will make your back hurt

Section of benching I cut on Little Bear

The upper portions were basically "rake and ride." The terrain was mostly flat and open. However, further down a lot of benching was required, and the vegetation was much more dense. This meant a lot of roots. I worked a rogue hoe. Being my first time cutting new trail, I've never used a rogue hoe before. It has the weight of an ax, and a thick, sharpened blade that can chop roots up to about 1.5" in diameter. I spent most of my time benching contour trail on Little Bear.

Had I not been doing regular sit-ups and push-ups, I would have been in real trouble right away. It takes a lot of abs to work a rogue hoe. Also, I still had calluses from long riding days in Colorado. I would surely have developed blisters right away had the rugged imprint of Junction Creek trail not still been in my hands.

A sweeping turn on Big Bear

We finished Little Bear before noon and went over to help the other two crews on the longer Big Bear trail. It is amazing how quickly things move when you have close to 25+ people working on a trail. Both trails were roughed in by 1pm, a total of about 1.5 miles of new singletrack!

Portion of the crew after working (several hadn't made it back down yet)

After some lunch, a bunch of us kitted up and hit the freshly minted trail. Up Little Bear, down Big Bear. It adds a whole new perspective riding a trail you helped build. A little more work was planned on Sunday, cambering turns and touching up a few spots, but the trails were already eminently rideable.  Our big riding group split up after bombing down Bear Brook trail. In the group were Ben and Matt on rigid 29er singlespeds, and they were schooling the rest of us. Matt's bike is an interesting beast, with a fat bike front end and 29er back end.

Sampling the goods. Riding up Little Bear.

Segments identify new Little Bear and Big Bear trails.

Looping back to the parking area, the others called it good while I headed to Hemlock Trail. The skies were threatening, so I hoped I could make it to the campground before rain moved in. I did, barely, but then it poured buckets on the paved campground road back to the car. At least the bike stayed clean. Back at the car, it dawned on me that I had nothing dry to put on. My trail work clothes were saturated with sweat and dirt. It was a yucky drive home.

The day proved thoroughly satisfying. Later that evening, I was barely functional. Nothing in my body escaped pain and stiffness. I also had a ravenous hunger. Swinging a rogue hoe for five hours straight will do that, I suppose. As one of the women in the crew commented, "that was the closest I've come to working in a chain gang!" NEMBA has permission to build a nested trail system over the next couple years. Along with a nice campground and other amenities, this will easily elevate Bear Brook to a destination riding area.


Anonymous said...

nice work! looking forward to trying them out.

Brian B said...

good for you. i too just did my first real trail's rewarding on many levels.