“What makes a great mountain bike trail?” It’s the question at the forefront of my thoughts as I watch a team of volunteers sculpting the hillside with axes, picks, and strange-looking rakes. Levi is refining the slope of a curve with timber and soil when he responds, “That’s like asking what love is.”
Love. It is an appropriate metaphor for a day like today because there is certainly passion involved in trail building, biking, and teamwork. Two groups have come out to The Ranch to help develop what is already a considerable network of biking trails: Trails 2000 and DEVO. Trails 2000 has been serving Southwest Colorado for over twenty years. Daryl Crites and Trey Duvall are here leading the effort, and their competency is inspiring. They quickly organize DEVO’s coaches and student riders.
Working at a safe distance from each other, the high-school students chat and laugh as they chip away at the terrain. I move among them taking pictures and asking them how they feel about being here to build trail. There is enthusiasm and a sense of pride: “We ride the trails; it’s our turn to help,” Derrik says. Madeigh echoes similar sentiments, “It’s good to give back because we ride so much.” DEVO’s mission is to create lifelong cyclists, and an attitude of responsibility is a part of that. DEVO has around three-hundred children and adults in their program ranging in age from two to twenty-five. Sarah Tescher, one of DEVO’s founders and the current Director, is working to loosen a tree root when I approach her. Wiping the sweat from her brow, she speaks warmly about the expansion of DEVO from its conception in 2005 to its current size with seventeen programs and forty coaches. She is gratified to offer so many young people the opportunity to join what she sees as “a continuum of biking.” The other coaches share Sarah’s passion for community, health, alternative transportation, exploration, and the simple enjoyment of a great ride. (More at: Durangodevo.com.)
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Lance Roberts handing rocks to students working to support the trail higher up the slope. It’s a thrilling day for him; he usually maintains the biking trails alone or with just a few others. When Roberts talks about the trail system his entire being animates. With incredible attention to detail, he is dedicated to creating a network of trails that all levels of riders find rewarding. Crites shares his vision and passion. When I ask him what he thinks makes a great mountain bike trail, he says, “Each trail is different, and different to everyone. So, a great trail is one that is enjoyable to as wide of a range of skill levels as possible.” It’s all about inclusion with this man; it radiates from him. His joy in being out here is palpable. I ask what motivates his work. He smiles, “We all love trails – more and more opportunity, and it’s fun to see young generations really into it.” His peer from Trails 2000, Duvall, is also inspired by the community aspect – both in terms of contribution and connection. Duvall also adds that protecting ecosystems from damage while still allowing exploration of wild places is at the heart of Trails 2000 designs. (More at: Trails2000.org.)
So – what makes a great mountain bike trail? Kaydee and Emily hesitate, “smooth, packed flow” they agree. Flow – it’s the word that keeps coming up. “It’s like catching a wave,” adds DEVO coach Brianne Marshall. Levi’s response keeps ringing in my ears, “That’s like asking what love is.” I take a breath and look out through the trees to seams of blue sky. Around me, this stretch of mountain is becoming a clear trail and as laughter weaves it way among the activity, I add my own answer to the mix: a great mountain biking trail is made with care, vision, and pleasure.
Smokey, a Gelding, has smooth gaits, especially his trots. He can be a bit of a trickster with the wranglers; he enjoys pulling the radios off their belts and knocking off their hats. He is playful, but sweet and reliable with a compassionate temperament.
The sisters Belle and Button are said to be part unicorn, and Belle’s mane certainly suggests magic. Both are super sweet and gentle.
Sideburns is an excellent cow horse. He is mellow and athletic – meaning he is still responsive even at a fast pace, and he has good endurance. He is a favorite among the wranglers because his long back makes him a velvety ride.
Austin is strong and requires an experienced Western rider (no tight English reigns for this guy). Those that can match him find him to be a super, fun ride; he's surefooted.
Drifter is known for his creamy-smooth gaits. He even has a nice running-walk. Those that ride him compare the experience to gliding on water.
Jenni Darlow exudes strength and grace as she stands in a meadow that sweeps into distant peaks. It is a prime spot to enjoy “the view down the valley” – one of the things that keeps her coming back. This is her tenth season as an employee here at The Ranch, but she has actually been coming here since she was a nine-year-old girl – proud of her white, fringed boots. In fact, it was The Ranch that got her riding and keeps her riding. The “feel of the place,” her relationship with the Roberts’ family and other wranglers, and the connection she has with the horses keep her coming back to this valley. She teaches dance lessons, works with kids, and, of course, wrangles. The rest of the year she teaches math in Durango, so she knows this area. Standing in the meadow in her cowboy hat and pink-checkered shirt, Jenni is at ease; she is clearly home.
With a deep breath, cloud bits sweep into my lungs. In the distance, I hear the silky mumble of wind rumbling down the valley; in a few moments, it tickles my skin and licks my hair. The pine needles and soil beneath me are supportive and soft. I am thinking what it true: I am intimately connected to the environment.
With over a thousand hours of formal training and going on seven years of experience as a body worker, I have spent a considerable amount of time considering healing. To me, one of the most profound ways to heal is to connect to the larger part of who we are – the space around us.
The private and adjoining public land near The Ranch provide countless opportunities for engagement with your body and place – hiking, riding, biking, yoga in a meadow, meditation to the twittering of birds, etc. As you engage with such a welcoming, rich environment you are bound to expand – release – relax.
If you want to dive more directly into this type of exploration, there are numerous tools that can support your quest, among some of the best: books. One such book is Andrea Olsen’s Body and Earth: An Experiential Guide.
Whether you want to consciously benefit from the layered beauty of this place, or simply just be here – which is really enough – this place is restorative.
Let’s say you do want to consciously benefit from a deepened exploration of your body’s relationship to place; I do. Below I share with you an experience I had in conversation with Olsen’s guide – may it inspire you on your own journey, and, if it is right for you, may it lead you to the magic of this landscape.
Merging with the Landscape Activity:
Body and Earth: An Experiential Guide is loaded with all sorts of information, stories, and activities to deepen your understanding of your body and the space that surrounds and fills it. Your exploration can be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or, ideally, a combination of all four.
For the activity I am choosing to share, “Merging with the Landscape,” the directions are simple. Olsen encourages her reader to walk and find a place that invites participation. Then she suggests that the reader blend into the space. After the unification, Olsen recommends reflection and asks: does “release of identity expand awareness of self and other”?
My journal entry:
The breeze purrs through aspen leaves creating a gentle rattle. A woodpecker clacks distantly among the sweeter chorus of other birds. Grasshoppers click in the grass, occasionally flapping into the sky for a moment; like weighted butterflies their yellow wings begin to wane before their ascension is true flight. Shades of sun and shadow – color! – auburn, tan, rich brown, baby blue, white, gray highlights – and countless shades of green. Fallen trees, rocks, pine needles, dirt, loam, moisture, clay…rock…lava. The base of my spine hums.
The longer I sit here the more full my eyes, ears, nose, mind, and heart become with the essence of this place, its welcoming wide. Whatever I become, the landscape will hold. I could scream. I could sigh. I could dance. I could sink deeper into the supple orchestration.
The more I identify with its tempo, the less my mind spins until I feel like the breeze – free and soft.