I can see my breath in the brisk morning air as I stop to turn the GPS unit on. It beeps as it comes to life and begins to find satellites above me in first light of a summer morning. The dirt and pine needles crunch beneath my feet as I walk up the trail and into an endless sea of dark trees, grassy hillsides and rocky ridgelines.
The goal for this day is to evaluate the possibility of a future trail. For now it’s just an early morning, leaving home before dawn to meet local mountain bike advocates who will provide their invaluable knowledge as we traverse vast amounts of mountain terrain. They know the landscape, I’m just here to record it.
As we walk through the woods, we call on our collective knowledge and expertise of trailbuilding to guide us across the hillside, the GPS tracking the progress as we ‘plan’ for the most sustainable route. When necessary, I stop to plug a waypoint and take some notes. I’m just collecting as much information as possible to build a map that can be used later to help make decisions about the prospect of a new route. Like other aspects of mountain bike advocacy, this too is not glamorous. It’s tedious and tiresome, yet extremely important work. Mapping is a crucial step that informs the greater decision making process.
At the end of the day the tracks and points that we collected are transferred to my computer and displayed in my GIS and mapping software. As I coordinate notes with the GPS files, I create layers and overlay them with others already on the map.
Together, it all paints a picture; revealing what is possible and what still needs further exploration.
The field work will continue, the map will become more detailed, and finally, will serve as the center of discussion to decide if the possibility of a new trail will become reality.
In addition to helping mountain bikers find great places to ride, the mapping program will also help support efforts to advocate for trails around the country.