I usually try to pay my debts, and I had a big one. In August, I biked Bent Creek trails during a storm, an adventure that got me a good story but may have marred the routes some folks work hard to maintain (see "All Wet: A Cyclist (Almost) Outruns the Tempest," (Aug. 12 Xpress).
I could have offered a reflexive defense to the e-mails and comments I received. Instead, I phoned Shaun Moore, trail coordinator for the Pisgah Area Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, and asked if I could pitch in for the group's next trail workday. He didn't hesitate to invite me to the next "Dirty Thursday."
Soon enough, I joined my critics at the Rice Pinnacle trailhead, where the 10 of us piled into the back of a work truck, tool trailer in tow. We headed up to Ingles Field Gap the Bent Creek Experimental Forest.
Once there, we congregated around the rear of the trailer, and the tool-safety talk began: "You're more likely to hurt someone else with a tool than yourself, so just be aware of your surroundings when you're swinging a tool," and "And if anyone tears their knee off, there's no need to alert any of us, just call 911," said Moore.
Jokes aside, my "Dirty Thursday" crewmates were devoted and loyal to the trails I had ridden without thinking about who maintains them. We armed ourselves with shovels, pry bars, hoes, and tarps, and got to work.
Moore pointed out mud holes that had been cut deep by cyclists: Knobby bike tires that could have been mine spin right through vulnerable trails like a rotating power saw. "If you have to ride when it's wet, which we all do sometimes, try to stay on gravel roads," Moore said. While some trails can tolerate bikers in wet conditions, he noted, none of those typically rocky routes are found at Bent Creek.
Upon identifying several tire-shredded low spots — aka big mud puddles on rainy days — the group split up into teams that would focus on three repair strategies: trail armoring, draining and choking.
Armoring a trail is "kind of like making cobblestone road," said Moore. "We just dig a spot where we're going to lay the rock and lay [it] in like a stone mason would. We'll put soil back around the cracks to make [it] stable." Nearby rocks supplied our rought material, including a big rock that had to weigh several hundred pounds. My team had to lever it out of the side of the mountain and into a tarp. It took four of us to drag it along, tearing the tarp in the process. We dug and re-dug into the trail until we had a hole big enough for the little boulder to fit snugly. Then we filled the perimeter gaps with loose dirt, stomped it tight and tromped over the area to test its stability.
Draining a trail is a matter of finding the low spot where the silt debris accumulates, and then cleaning it out. Since trails are usually close to the downward slope, drain channels can be cut using hoes and shovels to lead the water and sediment off the side of the mountain.
And to protect vulnerable and newly repaired places on the trail, a crew re-directs trail users by creating a "choke" made of rocks, transplant trees or logs and such. Moore explained that black locust trees, because of their rot-resistant qualities, make for good chokes. When re-routing material is introduced to a trail, the crew makes great efforts to alert trail users to the change. For example, the crew evaluated a large rock-pile placement to make sure bikers and runners could see it and have time to react — before wrecking or tripping over it.
We worked into the dusk, and the bugs made a meal of me, but almost every biker that passed said "thank you.". I knew I was doing the right thing. When it was time to leave, the crew thanked me for coming. But as I walked away, I thought about how thankful I was for them, the lesson and a special place like Bent Creek.
"Dirty Thursdays" are winding down for the season, but other trail-maintenance workdays are being scheduled throughout the short-day months. The next Bent Creek trail repair outing will be held on Sunday, Sept., 27, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Meet at the Ledford parking area. Wear proper clothing and bring your own refreshments. Tools and direction will be provided. More information about Pisgah Area SORBA,visit www.pisgahareasorba.org.
Jonathan Poston lives near Asheville.
My "Dirty Thursday" crewmates were devoted and loyal to the trails I had ridden without thinking about who maintains them. We armed ourselves with shovels, pry bars, hoes, and tarps, and got to work