by Emily Abrahams, TBX Expedition Leader
Trail work is difficult to explain with words because trail work is an experience. It’s the weight of a tool in your hands, the pull of the tool on your muscles as you chip away at the dirt, the mental clarity that comes with focusing your mind so that your body lands the tool in the place that it needs to land. It’s the responsibility of looking out for your own safety as you are trusted with a sharp tool. It’s the union of mind and body as you utilize your mind to solve a structural problem on the trail, and then tap into your physical power to build the solution. Physically seeing something that you built with your own hands and mind is an incredibly powerful experience.
Trail work is also camaraderie; when the work day ends you exhale as you realize how exhausted, sweaty, and dirty you are, and then you smile when you look around at your peers who feel the same way because they shared that experience with you.
Trail work is one of the best teachers that I’ve ever had. It teaches you so many things about yourself as you are challenged to solve problems and overcome challenges presented by the lay of the land, such as large roots to chip away at or a tricky area that requires a structure. Each stroke of the tool is a chance to be an artist and a decision maker. Trail work also teaches you about the Earth- you become intimately familiar with the soil and plant life of a specific area because you will inevitably find yourself covered in it at the end of the day, or searching through it to find material for a structure. You also get to learn about the natural forces that shape an area because you are designing the trail to be able to withstand those forces (mostly the force of water), over the long term.
Many of the TBXers committed to this program without knowing what they were getting themselves into, but what they found was a great experience and a great teacher. They learned a lot about themselves by being physically and mentally challenged, and became an awesome team of people. By the end of the trailbuilding weeks, they were a solid team capable of rising to any challenge, which they did. They led each other, and themselves, to build a beautiful trail that winds through some of the most steep and challenging terrain on the preserve.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson