The Art of Trail Making by Calvin Bates '17


When Dublin School learned we had accidentally double-booked our lower trails for a cross country and mountain biking race, we did what any proud Dubliner would do:   WE BUILT ANOTHER ONE. Sophomore Calvin Bates designed our new mountain biking course with his father, Brad Bates.  Below is a reflection Calvin wrote for English 10. 

   Stonewalls, old signs, cracked dirt roads,  and crumbling silver mines. When I walk through the shaded oak and maple forests of New Hampshire, I see these lost remnants of the past. Often I stumble upon an old foundation of a house, and I imagine the people that struggled to build it, and how this collection of stones preserves their legacy. This small scar on the landscape reminds us that someone was there and placed those stones, hand by hand, with a vision of the future that now lies in the past.

   The greatest thing on earth that lasts longer than man is the earth itself. Man changes the earth with every step he takes. Many of those steps are destructive: land fills, urban sprawl, and light pollution morph into grotesque blemishes on a beautiful planet. Yet, it is at this intersection, where nature and man collide, that our lasting legacy will reside and it is up to us to find a healthy symbiosis. Among the most beautiful outlets for us to communicate with nature is within the calculated structure of a well-made trail.

   Since I was eight, I have been making and creating mountain bike trails of my own: rails leading the mind and the body through the woods, transforming a landscape from a jumble of organic material into a work of art that you can ride. A great trail builder can leave an impression on you through his work; indeed, he can make you a better rider. You have to really know your stuff, for just as art is rooted in math, trail building is rooted in physics and calculations. You take the primitive and disorganized entropy of the wilderness and put everything in its place.

   All of America was once wilderness, so everything in America had a trail leading to it at one point, from the Oregon Trail leading out West to a small trace of a road I found in the woods near my house in New Hampshire. The builders of these trails may not have even had a destination in mind through all the toil of cutting enormous trees and moving behemoth boulders, but they did it anyway.

    In this lies the mystery of man’s relationship with trails. I build trails because it is not just about the destination. The joy of riding a single track is in the riding. Filling the woods with turns, I contemplate not just the journey of my wheels but also the journey of my eyes and my mind. How can I make people slow down before this turn? How do I make people stay on the trail? What do I want people to think about after they finish riding? By putting enough thought into the consciousness of the rider, maybe they too will recognize the beauty of nature’s unique patterns.

    Man may forget, but the world will always remember each trail, imprinted on a lifetime  like the small scar on my thumb from when I used to play in the woods, a knife in my hand and my feet pounding beneath me. The moment is imprinted on me, and though an accident, the scar is a reminder of how I once was. So too will my trail  remind someone else that I was once here– that the moment, the act of  studying the woods, could be imprinted on the land as  yet another beautiful, subtle scar.