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Trail > Five Things About Trail Finding

I’ve been out trail finding a lot recently. On Friday I found a lot of new singletrack but as often happens, I ended up riding down some fantastic climbs and sweating up some fantastic descents. I was generally feeling a bit grumpy about it all and it started me thinking about trail finding in general, and how different it was to going out for a ride.

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Trail finding is something I have done a lot of over the past few years. When I moved here I knew that there had to be some great singletrack hidden in the mountains and I set out to find it. And find it I did! It didn’t happen without a lot of effort, but now I have weeks and weeks of trails and even the local guys, who have biked here for decades, will ask me for route advice.  There are a few key ‘trail finding rules’ that I remind myself of when I head out on the search…

Rule 1: Preperation is Key.

We live in a brave new world of internet forums, satellite maps and GPS; if you embrace the technology you can get a great head start on your day of trail discovery. Searching for walking trails on the web is often a good place to start and can deliver some great descents, although the climbs can often be too steep to ride. A combination of good mapping software, on-line route databases and a good paper map is a great first step. Everything should be checked on Google Earth before starting out to see if you can get a picture of what the trails look like.

Before you set off you should ideally have several possible routes loaded into your GPS and labelled correctly.

Rule 2: You Are Not Out to Have a Good Time.

I’ve put this as number 2 but for me it’s the most important rule. You can’t repeat it to yourself enough. YOU ARE NOT OUT TO HAVE A GOOD TIME.  It is easy to get frustrated when you have to push up another great descent  but you have to remember that you have found a great downhill! It’s infinitely better than pushing up a rubbish descent. And don’t be tempted to ride back down that descent! You know where it is, now and you can get on with discovering more trails.

It’s worth noting that it can often be better to find trails on foot.  I acknowledge this but don’t take my own advice because I’m happier with my bike, and I don’t mind shouldering it for how ever long it takes. I do accept the fact that it’s often easier on foot though!

Rule 3: Explore all Avenues.

This is hard to do. You need to explore everything. Even if you already have a great descent or climb you need to explore the trails nearby. Remember, as a guide, you are not searching for trails just for you, you need to be able to tailor a day to your guests, so having as many options as possible is critical. And it often happens that you find a trail nearby that was better than your original! I spend days doing this on the local hills; taking every option I see and exploring it fully. Only once I’ve done this do I feel that I really know an area.

My friend Jonny told me that you can never have too many trails close to your base. I didn’t quite see it then but now, with a bit more experience, I think it’s invaluable advice.

Rule 4: Record Everything.

As soon as you get home, stretch, shower, make yourself a big ColaCao and cut a big slice of cake and start looking at where you have been. Write down the trails you’ve done, (name them even), and what you thought of them. After a few weeks of this you’ll forget where you’ve been, that’s definite! I’ve got lots of trails saved on my computer with names like,”rubbish descent, don’t go here again”.

Rule 5: Bottom Up or Top Down – It’s All Good.

If you see the end of a trail then you have to follow it, it could be the best trails ever. Or it could be rubbish of course. It’s often very hard to find the start of trails whereas the ends are normally more obvious, so working from the bottom up is a great bet. I have found 80% of my descents like this. You will often find that where people build downhill trails they are very careful to keep the start secret but at the end they are full of adrenaline, and burst out of their trail with huge skids, leaving obvious pointers that there is something interesting lying above you.

So I hope that despite rule #2 you have a good time. It’s still being out on your bike, which is far better than the alternative, not being out on your bike!

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