“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.
Splash, Sport, and Gidget have been known to vanish into their sizable grazing area like giggling children – a bit to the dismay of our wranglers. But what can we do? They’re buddies. Splash is an Appaloosa. He is a fantastic kids' horse, slow and steady. Sport is also an ideal kids’ horse; he instinctively knows to be mellow with young kids especially. He is a little, white pony – small and spunky. Gidget, too, is a favorite with kids; in fact, there is a whole file in our office of valentines addressed to Gidget from some of her past riders.
Colonel is a Quarter Horse, steady and solid. His chestnut hair has been adding its hue to The Ranch for eight years. He is calm, surefooted, and easygoing. Colonel is perfect to help riders build confidence.
Our aptly named Preacher is majestic and gentle. He is a Percheron Quarter Horse mix and has a bit of a spark beneath his relaxed demeanor. He is so deeply black and big he looks like a piece of night sky. A few years ago, Preacher was the groom’s horse for a horseback wedding.
Juice, a Sorrel Gelding, is a wonderful kid and teen horse because he is well-behaved. He is a sweet boy and a pleasure to ride, especially at a trout or canter. He has polite ground manners too.
We often think of cowboys as riding off into the sunset; maybe it’s because true cowboys burn with a comparable flame. Nathan Brown certainly blazes with light from the soft amber of his eyes down to the sunshine that flashes from his spurs. But Nathan is more solid than a metaphor, and his commitment to being a cowboy is deeper than an image from a movie. If you ask him why he became a cowboy, he can’t answer you – it is, quite simply, what he is. Although he insists that being a cowboy means “a journey of learning,” and he does not claim to have arrived – nah, he’s having too much fun with the gettin’ there. He grew up riding in Eastern New Mexico and pursuing the facets of this lifestyle is his ambition. The benefits of his focus are obvious – he knows how to ride, rope, shoe horses, and brand – he is a craftsman of bits, spurs, buckles, moccasins, gun handles, medicine pouches, holsters, chaps, and more – he sketches landscapes, horses, and portraits – he is, in short, engaged with every aspect imaginable in his pursuit of excellence within this realm. Nathan is also a rodeo bronc rider, has worked on a number of big ranches throughout the West, and travels with his two superb horses – Cosby and Ben.