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Yeti SB95c
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I've been a volunteer trail worker for many decades including a trail lead in such tough places as the Ventana Wilderness and Alaska. I'm probably 85% an expert with the exception being cribbing. While working on the 4 mile Flow Trail being built by the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz in the Soquel State Demonstration Forest yesterday my knowledge was about 15%.

This is a new vision of an MTB trail. I was thinking the trail would be along the lines of say Third Divide above Downieville but the Flow Trail ain't like that at all. It will have 38 switchbacks with very high banks designed for speed, exaggerated bumps and dips, and plenty of places to catch some air.

At this point it doesn't seem to have the roots, rocks, and ruts of the nearby Braille and Saw Pit trails. The whole trail can be rolled through without leaving the ground.

The Demo Flow Trail will be a 4 mile pump track with gravity.

It is engineered in real time with a new iterative agile trail development method. I never imagined that I would work on one grade reversal for the whole 5 hours of on-site work (not counting hiking in and out). However, sheeting water off the trail wasn't the point. That was just a side benefit.

Every hump, every dip, every switchback, control points in trail builder language, is labor intensive and designed and modified based on riders testing it during trail work. They are carefully spaced, shaped and reshaped for the ride experience. For a roller coaster experience.

My contribution was a hump and about 25 feet of trail fit and finish. Normally I can clear and improve 100 plus feet of trail that is covered in brush. Productivity that I once measured in distance is now measured in the user experience. This is an odd but fascinating pivot.

This is also an amazingly organized effort. I used my van to drive people to the trail on a restricted road and was assigned a numbered parking place. When I arrived at the location I found little logs with little signs and our parking numbers on them. This was something like executive parking places for offices and my first hint that trail work for MTB is changing.

We had signed up for teams on a whiteboard at the staging area in the main parking lot. Along with filling out the usual liability release forms we were supplied coffee, bagels, and breakfast cakes and a table for making our own lunches, all courtesy of MTBR.com!

On the trail we found short sections assigned to each team along with different colored flags and cryptic instructions. I've never seen such visual organization even for dirt construction or landscaping work (been there, done that). With a little experience reading the flags the trail plan talks to the workers.

The soil is soft, moist, and the whole trail is well shaded. There is no heavy brush to cut, little if any poison oak, and no rock piles to hack through. In that respect the trail work is very easy. Instead the skill needed is something like trail artisan. Trail workers have to feel the flow and then build it. It takes more time to learn this than regular trail work. We need a training program and maybe a video.

There was a very nice BBQ with a good variety of beer at the lower helipad starting about 3 PM. Good time hanging out and BS'ing about past glories with a terrific bunch of people.

I'm definitely up for more of this. However, Patty and her motivated team will need a LOT more volunteers to get some experience and return many times so that productivity is improved.

This trail will be famous. Help build it.

Photo: A rider tests the flow during trail work.
Natural environment Tree Recreation Soil Forest


PS: My wife suggested a practice loop somewhere near the access road. We know that many riders are going to bomb the Flow Trail and those who have never rode such a trail will be terrified of the traffic. They need a few hundred feet of similar trail to build confidence and speed.
 

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Hi Jim,

Thanks for joining us on Saturday and the feedback on your experience. You are right in that it is a totally different type of trail and trail building process. We are hoping all the attention to detail pays off with a super fun trail that handles heavy traffic without breaking bumps everywhere, but we can only see how things progress. More volunteer experience is key to increasing productivity, we have a whole lot more trail to build!

The current plan for the trail is that the intensity of the "features" ramps up as your go down the trail. Current plan for Segments 1 & 2 is more traditional trail (still lots of flow but less constructed stuff) based on geology/soil conditions (sandier soil) and more difficult access for getting lots of effective volunteer hours in up closer to the ridge. Hopefully works out for getting people some experience a bit more gradually. Additionally, the trail is pretty mellow if you take it slow, which isn't too difficult with the low average gradient. This is a stark contrast to parts of Braille or Sawpit where going too slow is a good way to go over the bars. We have tried to plan out the features so that only riders that can keep their speed will be going fast enough to have serious consequences for mistakes; which people with the skills to ride the trail fast shouldn't make too often. That is the concept at least.

Email me at [email protected] and I will send you some of our crew leader training materials you may find interesting.

Drew
 
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