Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Express Staff Writer

We got trails, lots of 'em. Flat trails and vertical trails. Nearby trails and over-the-hill trails. Such a visual word, trails—don't you picture the particularly stellar trail on the particularly stellar day when you switched off the Internet and turned on an earthy one instead? Choose 10 words that best define our niche and trails is there—ahead of McMansions, too.

We're blessed with trails at our backyards. My backyard flows to River Run, and my favorite of the two there is the one cut almost 10 years ago that meanders in gentle switchbacks through the trees bordering the run. The ski run is direct and faster, but in this summer of uncommon heat, likely the new norm, the shaded switchbacks win.

In the beginning the trail was raw and the footing was rocky and a lot of "whoa" sized roots gave a cyclist pause. And at first the switchbacks were tight, not the go-for-it NASCAR widths they've become. I've become a regular user of the trail, and I regularly greet fellow regulars. Last week I didn't resist an urge to stop and talk to a pair of fellow advanced beings I hadn't seen before. They're from back East—Chicago? Milwaukee?—and had left Yellowstone a couple of days ago to work their way west and along the way to sample pieces that attract them.

I've been thinking about a special day on the trail—June 14. That morning when Percolator Pearl, my companionably aging Jack Russell, and I were just starting up the trail, my eyes got wide. Astonished, I was. The trail had just been groomed—bridle path groomed—all the way, and the rake marks were still crisp enough to hold the imprint of deer and smaller creatures I couldn't identify, though I did rule out beaver. When I stepped aside to let two cyclists pass, it was big grins all around.

Much has changed since that morning. An at-first minor misuse is becoming ever more grave. It's a total disregard for our trail, not on the part of most users but in numbers enough to affect us all. What is happening is a spreading plague of short-cuts that burrow ... furrow ... from the trail at every switchback. A month ago these destructive short-cuts were close to the switchback corners, but now at every switchback there are three ... four ... even five of them, each triggering small slides across the trail that affect bike traction and safety, but worse is the uprooting of the sparse undergrowth that strives for a hold in extremely dry and fragile soil. If you're on the trail, reach upside and grab a fistful, and what you'll get is a trickling handful of dirt as fine as twice-sifted flour. Betty Crocker could do a cake.

I ponder: Are they clueless, these Covert A's? And if the first word that comes to mind isn't "Agents" it wasn't mine either. These CIA—Changing It All—Coverts now carom down the very heart of the trail, and the scars they leave will be there for years, if not forever. I don't think these Coverts come from outer Mongolia—I think only locals know the terrain well enough to turn it into a slalom course. But good heaves, what kind of local? Surely, no one we know and love.

Last week I talked with a friend who'd helped cut the trail, a labor-intensive project by a hearty young crew, and he told me about a bear that made a den in the cliffs below Vulture Point, the overlook deck about mid-way. Not surprisingly, the bear moved out when we moved in, but while it was there it tread lightly and left no scars.

It'd be nice if the Coverts would get out of our backyard and go find a scree slope to bound. There are plenty around—an almost backyard dandy you can see on the left as you approach Trail Creek summit. It takes only a short climb to get to the top, and while the scree isn't perfect it isn't ankle-breaking either and even giant, airborne bounds won't leave any more trace than a bear.

What's happening on the River Run trail has some collateral damage as well—to me. All that wicked stuff makes me think unholy thoughts, thoughts like catching a Covert in action, and reaching for my pocket paint-gun and holding it high and taking good aim and spraying him head-to-toe with forever stain. I don't think it'd be a felony—a misdemeanor, maybe.

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