Field Notes: Clearing a Path

The first time I built a mountain bike trail was up in Minaki, Ontario just north of Kenora. It streaked through dark pine forests, over Canadian Shield rock and through boggy marshlands. There were no rules to building trails then: simply point it and go. If it was rideable it was trail. Heck, it didn’t even need to be rideable.

Words and photo: Colin Field


Ben Reasbeck at Three Stage.

My trail building sensei was a guy named Jordy McBride. An absolute beast of a man who built an insane amount of singletrack in the unforgiving wilds of northern Ontario. Not only did he build an incredible trail system, he also built a bunch of yurts throughout. It’s a rad place.

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Since that summer, no matter where I’ve lived, I’ve put in a bit of trail work every year. Sometimes on private property, sometimes on public land, and sometimes in places where I shouldn’t be building trail. I’ve been paid to do it, praised to do it and chastised for it. But I have never once regretted spending time in the woods; even when the trails have been wiped out by spring thaws, housing developments, or town councils.

That summer we took hundreds of kids mountain biking; through the rain, the slop, the heat, the bugs. We toured them through our new trails and I only remember smiles and laughter. It’s a simple fact that if you take kids into the woods they have fun. And if you do so with bikes, the good times are guaranteed.

“I realized Jordy’s actions were teaching me everything I needed to know.”

Throughout the season I continued working with Jordy, cutting and maintaining trails. We’d hike through the bush with flagging tape, looking for interesting features and fun terrain. Then we’d attack the line with a pair of loppers, a bush saw and when necessary a chainsaw (only for deadfall!). I learned that if you’re covering difficult terrain, the trail building will be difficult. And if you’re cutting through flat, well-spaced pine forests, it will be easy.

I wish Jordy gave me some kind of sage trail building advice, but he didn’t. He wasn’t a loquacious guy. He was more of the “don’t think—do” type. And as we rode through the 6.5 kilometre Jackpine trail, his BOB trailer filled with a chainsaw and jerry can bouncing along behind his back wheel, I realized his actions were teaching me everything I needed to know.

Because you know what? Trail building is easy. And you approach it as you should most things in life; all you need to do is pick a route and clear a trail.