Friday, September 24, 2010

Gravelling a trail

In a week Fiona, Sophie and I are running races in Kaslo at the first annual Sufferfest. Today we decided that our nature walk should be a run along the creekside trail that makes up parts of the kids' race and the 25k trail run I'll be doing. It was a trail we'd never done together, and I had only ever done part of it. It was a lovely memorable outing. We crossed the darling pink covered footbridge. We saw a snake, which Sophie almost stepped on before it bolted. (Can snakes bolt? Or does bolting require legs? Anyway, it was outta there!) We stumbled on a little stone labyrinth in the garden behind a church on the edge of town, which entranced the girls. We found a pitchfork within and through a growing birch tree. Saw a neon orange fungus, and a bright orange and black woolybear caterpillar, and sparkling light-blue pools of glacier-fed water in the creek, huge steep slopes of lush moss, dark passages through quiet old cedar forests devoid of understory.

But the most memorable thing was the gravel. At the trailhead on the south end of the river where we did our turnaround, we found the little lean-to shelter above. The sign reads "Please help. If you are walking the trail towards the bridge, please take one or two bags of gravel with you and empty bags at the designated site." In the shelter are a dozen or so strong bags made from recycled blue jeans, and a couple of metal scoops. And to the side of the shelter, a very large pile of gravel. Obligingly we decided to turn our run into a walk and carry some gravel. We filled a bag each. They get heavy fast! And we didn't know how far we'd have to carry them.

At first the trail was wide and flat. We followed the signs that said "River Trail" and "Gravel" with arrows pointing us helpfully along. Eventually the trail became narrower and steeper, precluding the passage of the ATVs that would have made moving the gravel easy.

As we walked along we noticed a fair bit of gravel underfoot to prevent the trail from getting soggy and messy after rains and to provide traction on the steep slopes. It's clearly maintained by a very dedicated group of volunteers.

Our shoulders started to get tired from the straps of the denim bags, but we carried on. Everyone was sporting fairly new shoes. Fiona has some little Salomon trail shoes that she hasn't used much yet. Sophie has some new Nikes that were the least rigid, built-up youth running shoe I could find urgently last weekend after we realized she'd outgrown her old runners and was planning to run next week's race and join the school's cross-country team. I was in my recently purchased New Balance WT100's. So it was good to be doing a variety of types of walking, climbing, running and carrying to break in our various footwear. We probably carried our gravel for almost a kilometre.

And suddenly we arrived at the Designated Site. There was a tarp and a pile of probably a couple of hundred pounds of gravel. Trailbuilders' work parties are every Saturday morning, so I'm guessing this is the gravel that has been carried in over the past five days. Not peak hiking season by any stretch, especially with all the recent rain, so an impressive pile considering. As expected there was another little lean-too inviting us to leave our denim bags, and asking anyone heading back towards the town-side trailhead to carry any bags they found there back to the Designated Site there.

The entire trail is clearly being gradually gravelled in just this manner. Every week I expect that the small pile of gravel is spread a bit further along the trail and the lean-to and tarp are moved another 25 metres up the trail. An amazing amount has already been done. And it's thanks in part to people like us carrying small bags of gravel. Day after day, kilo after kilo.

As we walked on, having deposited our denim bags as instructed, we admired the progress of the gravelling. It may take another year or two, but I have no doubt that the entire trail will end up gravelled. We thought back to the mountain of gravel at the trailhead and how it is gradually being removed and spread along the trail. The work of hundreds upon hundreds of people, a few at a time, willingly and optimistically, can indeed move mountains.


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