Build a pump track in 7 hours?
To put it simply. No. This is not something we do, agree to, or would ever recommend. Pump tracks can take weeks or months of planning and execution. But we did it. Why, you ask? Well that's a great question.
I received a call late one night from my good friend Brent Humphries, famed photographer and Founder of non-profit Project LOOP, saying the folks at ABC's Extreme Makeover tv show needed some assistance building a pump track for a family whose house was destroyed in the Texas fires earlier this year. And they needed that help tomorrow. I said sure, of course I'll help, thinking I'd just be showing up to assist with some final touches.
I made some emergency calls and posts to try and get some help, though knowing help would be scarce since it was a work day. I came up with one other person that could help, my buddy "Digger" Dan Nelson, who is an absolute machine when it comes to digging.
Upon arriving at the Extreme Makeover home site, going through three security checkpoints, signing a waiver, getting my hard hat and volunteer shirt, I was escorted to the work site. The gentleman that greeted me said, "So you're the guy here to design the pump track?" To which I replied, "um, no, I'm here to just assist with the build". Well, come to find out, the pump track had not been laid out or started, there was no dirt sourced for the project, and by the way, the filming of the live reveal happens today at 6pm.....a whopping 7 hours from this moment.
I must admit that thoughts of quietly sneaking off the set entered my mind at the impossibility of such a task. But, that's not how we do things. So, after breathing into a paper bag to stop from hyperventilating (just kidding.....sort of), I started to assess the site after being walked through with the ideas they'd been given by some other bmx'ers. After studying the positive and negative control points, taking measurements, and knowing the time constraints, it became obvious this needed to be a small loop. Also, as part of understanding the requirements, I inquired as to the age and skill set of the boys. They were both 8 years old and beginner riders I was told. Ok, that helped. Also knowing we had access to heavy equipment and a plate compactor helped further soothe my frazzled nerves.
After measuring out the site, and thinking through a rough plan, I broke out the pin flags to mark spots for each roller. Then I set the apex for each berm, used flagging ribbon to layout the perfect arc, and final pin flagged the berms. I really wanted a second set of eyes on my plan, so couldn't wait for Dan to arrive.
Dan showed up shortly after I had gotten everything laid out. I talked him through the layout and why I made the decisions I did. We decided to make a couple of tweaks before starting to execute on the design. Since Dan had experience running heavy equipment, he volunteered to pick up and run loads of dirt and drop them on site. But, where to get the dirt? Turns out a lot of extra dirt had been spread across the property, and we were allowed to use this as our source.
Dan dropped loads of dirt (lots and lots of loads!), and I started moving, positioning, and rough shaping each of the features. To say we were working in overdrive was an understatement. Luckily a couple of architecture students took pity on us, or thought playing in the dirt looked more fun than their current tasks, and jumped in to help us. To be honest, I was not sure if this would be more help or hindrance, as shaping and packing rollers and berms requires a bit of a learning curve. I was pleasantly surprised that the girls jumped right in and started getting the hang of it pretty quickly. At which point another guy who was a mountain biker jumped in to help as well. My thoughts of "there is no way we can do this in time" changed to "well, at least we'll have something on the ground that MIGHT resemble something other than piles of dirt."
The soil we had was not ideal, to say the least. It had way too much sand content, making it extremely difficult to compact. Even after roughly 50 passes around the pump track with a plate compactor, conditions were still not ideal. Rideable, but not perfect. I don't like 'not perfect' but sometimes you just have no choice when you don't have the right materials.
With the odds stacked against us from the very beginning, it was almost surreal to stand back at 5pm, 1 hour ahead of our deadline, and be watching people ripping loops on a fully functioning pump track. We were really glad to see our buddy Vernon Sexton show up in time to help put some of the final finishing touches on the pump track. Vern is a master shaper and super rider, so having his eyes and hands to help was also a blessing.
The results were not perfect, and the berms could have used some more tweaking, but we all felt a great sense of pride and achievement in what we were able to accomplish, especially knowing these 2 boys would get to experience the site of a pump track in their back yard as part of the reveal. This is a true testament to what we can do when we all pitch in, set our egos aside, and decide to work together for something bigger than our own personal desires.
I want to express a special thanks to all the local Austin diggers who have taught me so much over the years. And to all those who helped on this build. It was truly a pleasure and an honor to be a small part of such a special day in this family's life.