Rolling up to the trails, the excitement was palpable. The most recent lockdown had been the most brutal of the lot. Each of us shut in our own separate rooms, windows blacked out and only the fading memories of riding to accompany us. So faded were the memories now that I wondered if I even knew what I would be doing when I finally get back on my bike.
We had been told the world would be different after this, the non stop rolling news laying out fact after fact about what had changed. But none of us had expected this. No news story had covered our special places, the places where earth and rock was moved to create a flowing line down a hillside. The places where endless hours of work with little reward was done for the pure love of riding a bike.
Unloading the bike, I pedalled off for the first blast of freedom in a long time. Cresting the rise to the top of the hill, I stopped, unable to comprehend what I was seeing. The trails were gone. At first I didn’t believe it, thinking maybe it’s just me forgetting where the entrance to each one was. But as I continued to ride along the top of the hill, I couldn’t deny it. There were trees I recognised as trail starts from the hazy memories of sunny days and dusty corners. At a junction between access roads, there should have been a snaking line dropping into the trees and winding it’s way down the steepest and darkest section of the wood. I blundered blindly into where this trail should have been, still in denial, thinking maybe its just the entrance that has been covered.
The deeper I got, the worse it was, tree branches whipping me in the face, sticks getting twisted into my spokes. I reached a point where my favourite section should have been. Normally, emerging from the tight trees, I should have been lifting the front wheel over some roots and straight into three fast flowy corners before being spat out into a long rough straight holding on for dear life. There was nothing. No berms, no glossy roots waiting to swipe your front wheel, no gaps to clear. Just lifeless trees and pine needles covering the ground. In desperation, I started to manically clear where the line should have been. It was hopeless. One gust of wind and everything was back where it had been before. The trails were gone.
I carried on, fighting my way through the dense wood to the usual pedal up. The trees were no longer obstacles to be avoided, they were pressing in on me, trapping me in a place that used to be associated with such freedom. Emerging onto a fire road, I stopped, looking around in despair for any sign that this once had been a place of joy for some many people. There were no tyre marks, no echoing whoops of joy and no trails.
Unsure what to do, head spinning with this new reality, all it made sense to do was to pedal up. Rounding a corner on the track, there was a sight that filled me with relief. Riders. It wasn’t just me. But as I got closer, something wasn’t right. There was no talking, no laughing, no heavy breathing. Just monotonous pedalling, an obligation more than anything else.
I had one last bit of hope left. Towards to top of the hill, there should be a short section of trail out in the open. A few perfectly crafted corners that could be ridden over and over again, until the sun goes down or you can no longer push back up. Maybe they had avoided whatever had covered everything else. This last bit of hope fuelled my pedal. Passing the riders on the pedal up, their eyes fixed on the track in front of them, unwavering as I passed and said hello. Reaching the last steep section before these corners, I sprinted, convinced that something must be there. There was nothing. No kids trying to roost one another, no ridiculous gaps being tried and no trails. Collapsed over my handlebars, the riders who I had passed reached me and carried on. They kept pedalling, no words uttered and no comprehension of what was missing. Without trails, the soul of mountain biking is gone.
Shell shocked, I rolled back to the cars. I said nothing to the others gathered in the car park. I packed up my bike robotically and drove of on autopilot. This is the new reality.
No one wants the trails to no longer exist. Make sure you support your local trail building group.