Fall: Dark Evening Rides, Colorful Trail Days

As the Sun sets earlier in the fall, my after work rides get a bit darker.

I love night riding, especially when I’m in quiet, low traffic areas where I can ride without a headlight. There’s just something about being out with nothing but moonlight (Or less sometimes!) lighting the path. It’s liberating.

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At the same time, there’s something about riding singletrack at night, with nothing but a headlight. What you see is so limited. It’s a big world around you, and you can only see what’s in your beam, and nothing outside it. Scary, but exciting!

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With the changing leaves, the trail days get colorful. It’s magical being out in the woods working on the trails, with the trees changing colors and dropping their leaves. Fall really is one of my favorite times to be out there.

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Brand new trail with a view!
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It’s hard work building new trail. Sorry, big mahogany bush…
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I did save a couple big pieces of it to make something out of, so it’s not wasted.

Winter’s coming though… The Peaks have some snow on them!

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Campout and Sunset Trail Day

What is normal?

nor·mal

ˈnôrməl/

adjective

  1. conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

When normal people go camping off their bike, they take all their lightweight gear, compress it into an impossibly small space, strap it to a lightweight bike, and ride, all the while trying not to complain about how the weight changes the handling of the bike. It’s called “bikepacking.”

I go a different route. I throw all my camping stuff at a Big Dummy, and ride. It doesn’t change the handling, nothing’s super compressed, and it’s got plenty of room for extra stuff like trail building gear, extra water, marmots, and tree stumps. Sure, the bike is heavy to begin with, but you don’t really notice the extra weight. (at first…)

This past Saturday, the 19th, there was a trail day up on Sunset, up on Mt. Elden. I try to ride a bicycle to as many trail days as I can, but I also enjoy sleeping in on the weekends. So, as a compromise, I end up trying to camp out the night before nearby the work site. It’s a great arrangement. I get to sleep outside in the hammock, sleep in, take my time waking up and having breakfast,  and then go build trail. Everyone wins!

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Let’s go!

So, I loaded up Stitch with all the fixings of a trail day campout: My usual complement of camping gear, an LPG stove because I can’t use my wood stove due to fire restrictions, boots, a hardhat, a soft hat, my trail day backpack with rock hammers and chisels and a saw, and extra water. We rode up the Arizona Trail to Schultz Pass, and from there we went up the backside of Sunset trail to Sunset Peak, where I found a great pair of trees well off the main trail. I hung the hammock, cooked dinner, and watched the stars come out in the hammock, as the coyotes and elk and wind made the music of the night.

Click to embiggen.

The next morning…

I woke up to the Sun in my eyes. This was as planned, as I purposefully hung my hammock so that the Sun would hit me in the face as it rose. It’s a big bright warm gentle alarm clock.

An hour later, I was packed up and bombing down Sunset. The meeting point was at the bottom of Red Onion, a tight, techy social trail with logjams, narrow gaps, and tight turns, and I was a little curious if Stitch would fit. He did, but only just. That silver bar on the left side of the bike? That’s my wide loader, and it’s bent now. Aside from that, we made it down Red Onion without incident.

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People arrived, breezes were shot, and trail was worked. The section of Sunset trail we were working on was heavily eroded, due to poor layout. We couldn’t really re-align the trail here, so we put in some huge drains in the worst erosion spots, and improved drainage further up the hill. The Flagstaff Hotshots crew was there working, which helped immensely, many thanks to them.

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Some rockwork I helped out with. The only picture of actual trail work I took.

After the trail work, and the consumption of much post-work pizza, (Mmmm Fratelli’s…) I had a choice to make. I could take the easy way and ride down Lookout Road to get home, or I could essentially retrace my steps and ride back up Red Onion, up Sunset over all our freshly done work, and down the steep other side, adding a few miles and a lot of steep climbing to my ride.

I can’t do anything easy, so up I went. My phone was on point with motivation, as it played My Silver Lining, by First Aid Kit, one of the lyrics being “I won’t take the easy road.” For how heavy Stitch is, between bike and cargo, he climbs pretty well. I did my part to pack in the fresh dirt. Then, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I made the climb up the side of Observatory Mesa to take the Loop Trail home, rather than ride through town.

I loved every minute of it.

Ultimately, this was another good shakedown ride for Stitch and I. I have a better idea of how the bike handles technical singletrack with a load, I should leave the wideloader at home, and I think I’ll trim the front fender some, as I popped some zip ties as it hung up on a drop. I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed the ride as much on a shorter, lighter, more normal bike with the same load.

The experiment continues.

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I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I’ve made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won’t take the easy road

My Silver Lining, First Aid Kit

It Ain’t Gonna Build Itself!

Currently, it is weathering outside, and I am loving it.

When I say “weathering,” I mean the weather is doing anything but shining sun or starlight or moonlight. So, it could be cloudy, rainy, snowy, drizzly, or foggy. Pigs could even be flying around and it would fit my definition, so long as they were flocking thickly enough to blot out the Sun.

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Or flying deer? Oh deer…

Yeah, I’m a weird one… I look forward to the “inclement” weather, and get mildly depressed when the clouds pass by and the Sun comes back out. But water is life, and the storms are its herald.

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Come on rain!

Anyways. Have you ever wondered how trails get built? A lot of times, by volunteers, donating their time, blood, sweat, and profanity to build a winding noodle of packed dirt through the great outdoors, giving you a path to take to be closer to nature. A lot of work goes into the trails we use, rock retaining walls, drains to keep water from pooling, building on contour to keep erosion minimal, considerations for anticipated users… and all this after extensive studies, analysis, and paperwork. Most people just see the dirt on top, few see the time and effort.

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What you see: Dirt on top. Underneath, a few tons of rockwork to keep the dirt in place.

And then there’s the maintenance. Trails have two main enemies: Water, and users. A well planned and constructed trail will last years with minimal maintenance to clear drains and break down berms. A poorly laid out trail might last a season before it erodes into a trench.

A lot of the trails around Flagstaff need help. Either through poor layout and execution, or just plain use and neglect. New trails are also in the works. We have volunteer trail day events, where anyone can come out and help work on the trails, and it is a great way for the community to get involved, and see what goes into the trail system. But, it’s not enough.

Enter the Volunteer Trail Crew, a.k.a. The Flagstaff Trail Faeries. An autonomous group working to repair current system trails, and build new ones, with approval from the Forest Service. Right now it’s sort of a pilot program to work out the bugs, but so far, things seem smooth. We’ve had a few work days already, on Secret and Sunset, fixing erosion issues, re-building turns, pulling stumps, and closing cheater lines.

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Rock armoring a technical turn and drop, bypassing a section of trail that was eroding out after not even one season.

I’ve been doing trail days for something like ten years now, and I’m excited to be part of a program to work on the trails on a bit higher level than before.

So, next time you’re out on the trails, and you see a group of folks working on it, give them a high five and a thank you! Especially if they’re wearing a bright green Trail Faeries shirt!

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Rider laying tracks on freshly completed construction.

Flagstaff Trail Faeries (Public Facebook Page)

Flagstaff Trail Faeries (Flagstaff Biking Org page)

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That mountain, from another mountain. The view from Hobbit’s Forest, Mt. Elden.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.
~ John Muir