I worked on building my single-track trail one segment at a time. Thinking back, I recall at least ten distinct areas, each separated by some geographic feature, like a dirt road, open fields and meadows, streams, or just a place where I was forced to exit the trail onto the paved perimeter road before diving back into the cover of the trees and undergrowth.
Only just over ½ mile square, I meandered the trail around the area's perimeter, always seeking to double and S-curve back where possible to make full use of all interesting terrain assets. I needed to try and keep the path hidden by thick foliage so that no casual observer would be able to spot me from the street or from the huge rectangular clearing that took up much of the central area.
When I first started the trail, the middle region consisted of 5 or 6 acres of uncut wild grass with a seldom-used gravel road encircling and bisecting it; but by mid ’92, the authorities started using the field to air out contaminated soil. For months, that aerating dirt totally stunk up the place until the pollutants in it slowly evaporated out. First, they formed dirt berms to prevent out-leaching, then they spread out huge thick sheets of black plastic, and finally they covered the plastic with that smelly dirt excavated from construction sites around the base. (By the way, some of the most polluted areas of the country are located on military bases.) In a way, having that odious process going on “right under my nose” was a blessing, since for a time it kept people out of my hair and away from my trail.
In my last post I write how I continually solved new problems as I continued through various types of topography. At the risk of being tedious, I’ll cover some of the other engineering tribulations that presented themselves for solution. For instance, as soon as I finished the 70 feet of "wandering dike" through the willow swamp, I ran right into a huge patch of thorn vines. I had no choice but to go directly through the middle of it. To the right was open field and around to the left was more dank swamp. The open field was out of the question because it was in sight of the people working on the soil purification project. So, there was only one thing to do—burrow straight through the briar patch.
A good thing about that time of year (November-December) is that the vegetation was less dense than it would have been during Arkansas’ long hot humid growing season. Just the same, the thorn vines of “The Natural State” are as bad as in any tropical rain forest, maybe worse. The thorns can rip human skin like a razor blade and the vines grow thick and tough. I built the trail right up to the edge of the mass of impenetrable vines and just stared at it thinking it was going to be one heck of a job.
The first day tackling the massive thorn patch, I came equipped with a pair of thick leather work gloves and an old hand-pruner I normally used to trim my rose bushes. One snip at a time, I began to carve away at the thick mass of razory growth by removing two or three feet of vine per snip. I’d cut a piece and toss it carefully to the side. After an hour I realized that I would in effect be constructing a tunnel lined with perilously sharp thorns looking to slice up the unwary rider. It was going to be “exciting” to ride through. I realized that I couldn’t afford to leave even one stray piece of vine on the ground or I would surely be dealing with one flat after another.
Surprisingly, it took just over a week to tunnel through the 50-foot mass of thorn vines, and that was working about an hour or two per day. When I emerged at the other end of the patch, I had nipped out a passageway that I could ride fairly easily through by keeping my head down and elbows in. At its highest and widest it was just over six feet high and four feet across.
Months later, during the summer, when the trail was long completed, I had to continuously work to keep that tunnel of thorny foliage free and clear of new growth. The vines never stopped trying to sprout back into the middle of the passage; but instead of cutting them back, what I did was redirect the new vines back into the tunnel wall.
A remarkable thing happened one day when I pulled my bike over to do some maintenance on the vine patch passage. I always skulked around first to reconnoiter the area before going to work on any part of my trail. I’d freeze my body for at least a minute, and then, slowly turning, I'd scan a full 360 degrees.
On that day, I walked out to the edge of a meadow not far from the north entrance going into the thorns. My eyes spotted a place in the 4-foot high grass that had been disturbed by something or someone bigger than a dog. Visually, I followed the trail of displaced grass to a spot that seemed even more depressed. Slowly and as quietly as possible, I made my way to the tamped down area.
There, only a few hours old, rested a pair of dappled fawns, resting in the spot where they had been born. There was still some slightly bloody remnants of their birthing on the grass beneath them. I decided my trail could wait till another time and I left them to their momma; I’m sure she was waiting anxiously for me to go away.
My time in those woods, either working on or riding my single-track, was continually punctuated with wonderful nature moments like that. Its no wonder that I was out there almost every chance I could.
As I said up top, sorry if this series is starting to get a bit tedious, but that two-year period from November ’91 until August ’93, when I developed, maintained and rode that delightful trail is the source of a lot of really cool memories that I feel a need to capture here. So, bear with me, coz there’s more to come…