McLeody with a Chance of Pulaskis: A Trail Work Day Report

Last Saturday, a group of team members joined up with CAMBr to host a joint trail work day at Palos Forest Preserve. Despite the weather, which was cool and cloudy, spirits were high. We convened in the Pulaski Woods parking lot at around 9 am. CAMBr distributed equipment and divided the group into work teams of 8 or 9 people. Some of our teammates hopped into the back of a pickup and headed out to the far reaches of the park. Some others of us, including me, walked down the green trail a bit to work on some singletrack.

I can’t write too much about the section of trail on which we worked, because it’s top secret (well, just not finished yet). Suffice it to say that it’s a sweet little stretch of trail—smooth and flowy with a couple of features to keep things interesting. It had been raining the previous night, so the ground was wet and muddy. The moisture softened the ground, which helped us groom the trails. Several of us swung Pulaskis (axes with flat-headed picks on the other side), clearing roots and setting up the boundaries of the trail. Others came along with McLeods (giant hoes with big, toothy rakes on the other side) to smooth out the trail and work the grade. The idea was to shape the trail so it drained well without contributing to erosion. To do this, the trail had to be cambered to the grade of the ground ( by about 5 degrees in the direction of the downhill). That shape allows water to sheen over the trail while maintaining the fidelity of the trail itself. Brush was cleared on the uphill side of the trail; loose dirt was cleared on the downhill side. The brush would catch crud that the water carried downhill toward the trail. Moving the loose dirt to the downhill side prevented it from washing back onto the trail and causing puddles.

As we moved down the trail, we identified really soft areas and looked for ways to build better drainage into the trail. The pick side of a Pulaski digs a mean little trench for just this purpose. Trail work is really about working the details while keeping the big picture in mind. Facilitating drainage helps the trail dry out quicker. It also prevents puddles and wet spots, which is important because riding through puddles makes the erosion worse. Riding around puddles widens the trail. In a pinch, ride through the puddle, not around it (though it’s better to just ride the trails when it’s dry).

The final section of trail we worked on held the most promise for fun. This top-secret area provides a singletrack bypass for the big grassy hill by the Pulaski parking lot. We spent part of our time digging trail into the grass. That part was a lot less fun than digging drainage trenches, mostly because we had to dig out the roots while leaving as much of the dirt intact as possible while still maintaining that 5-degree camber—lots of precision for a McLeod. The other part of the time was spent getting muddy and digging more drainage for a really soft spot in the trail. Aside from the drainage, we moved some pavers into place to keep the trail intact and provide a safe path over the mushy spots.

We packed up the tools and headed back to the parking lot by around noon. With the trails so wet, we couldn’t do our planned trail ride. Instead, we retired to well-earned lunch and beer. Lunch was sandwiches provided by CAMBr. Beer was a full keg of Gossamer Golden Ale courtesy of Half Acre Brewery. CAMBr provided a bunch of preems to promote trail work. Each work day they raffle off a gift certificate for Thomson bike parts. They also had a full wheel-barrow of fuel stabilizer, so if you need any of that, come to a trail work day and get it for free. Aside from the stem and fuel stabilizer, working two days will get you a call-up at the Palos Meltdown. Five work days will earn you a free race entry. Ten work days will get you a 30 second head start at the race.

OK, so I made that last one up. But trail work days are an important part of giving back to the cycling community. The trails at Palos Preserve are the best in the Chicago area. But, they don’t build or maintain themselves. Get out there and work on the trails with the fine folks at CAMBr. It's a lot of fun and you'll develop a healthy appreciation for the trails themselves (not to mention the people that are out there each week building them). The full list of work days is <a href"">here.</a> When we’re not racing, that’s where you’ll find us. And if you’re lucky, we might have some preems of our own to distribute.