The Spokin’ Word: Treading the high seas

The final 2017 installment of our MTB column The Spokin' Word by Bryce Borlick runs up the Jolly Roger to salute the swashbuckling ways of pirate trail builders.

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The final 2017 installment of the summer MTB series The Spokin' Word presents a shanty in honour of trail building buccaneers. Photo: Bryce Borlick/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

The Spokin’ Word, by Bryce Borlick

Illustration: Benji Andringa

Scoundrels, scallywags, rogues, and pirates! Some say these are the characters you‘ll find in the woods! This is the last Spokin’ Word for the season and I’m going to take this opportunity to not only address the taboo subject of unauthorized trail building but to celebrate the efforts of these independent trail builders. Why? Because the sport of mountain biking wouldn’t be where it is today without these people. They’re cornerstones of this sport, and their ongoing contributions, however covert, continue to shape the future of mountain biking. Straight up.

It wasn’t long ago that mountain biking was the red-headed stepchild of the outdoor world — chastised and rebuffed by land managers and other trail users alike. Trail access disappeared like a disabled parking spot in front of The Modern. Still, some people saw great potential in their machines and they headed deeper into the forests, beyond the regulation and conflict, to create trails that were creative and challenging and immensely fun. They built it, and people came — a lot of people, in fact. This is when mountain biking grew pubes and drank its first beer. It’s also when biking turned the corner and land management plans started to evolve toward the inclusive and cooperative system that we now take for granted. Not bad for a buncha rapscallions!

The final 2017 installment of the summer MTB series The Spokin’ Word presents a shanty in honour of trail building buccaneers. Photo: Bryce Borlick/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

Since those times, we’ve come a long way and today British Columbia offers the best mountain biking in the world, period. And along the way, savvy entrepreneurs have figured out that there are hundreds of millions of dollars to be made. But despite the fact that we have amazing legally-built trails and extensive lift-accessed bike parks, it’s often something else that sells the sport. It’s those damn dirt delinquents again going deeper into the forest to create trails that are even more creative and challenging and fun. The Coastal Crew, Jordie Lunn, Riley MacIntosh — just a few high-profile examples from the virtual legion of independent builders. They create features and images that captivate the imagination and fan the flames of a passion that burns brightly in mountain bikers worldwide. For many, it’s those free and wild images that sell the whole kit and caboodle.

In no way am I minimizing the role of authorized trail building and the immense efforts of volunteer organizations across B.C. If you call yourself a mountain biker, you owe them a debt of gratitude. Nor am I suggesting that anyone break the law. I’m saying that the untethered vision of independent builders offers a unique and invaluable glimpse of what could be. So dirty knaves, wherever you are, deep in the forest hoping that no one ever writes a column about you, I salute you. Keep up yarr good work!

This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of the print Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

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Bryce Borlick
Bryce Borlick is a world traveler, outdoor enthusiast, and urban refugee whom you’re most likely to find wandering the mountains in search of nothing in particular. With an unruly interest in sustainability and permaculture, he may be the only person in Revelstoke dreaming of one day doing burnouts in an electric F-250 towing a tiny house.