Trail Gnomes – Fact or Fiction?
by Jim LeMonds
Many riders believe trail gnomes are native to biking systems. Armed with rakes and shovels, these lovable dwarf-like creatures labor undetected under cover of darkness with a single goal – to build and maintain single-track for mountain bikers.
If true, this is especially convenient since it means no rider needs to feel guilty about not lending a hand with trail building or maintenance.
I’d heard the talk for years and decided it was time to uncover the truth. I contacted a few members of Growlers Gulch Racing, and we set up a plan. We would pack in gear, hide along trails with the most damage, and wait for the gnomes to appear. A few photographs and we’d have a story that would put us on the cover of Mountain Bike Magazine.
Hide-n-Seek with the Little People
Six weeks later and no one had seen a thing. Everyone was ready to write off the gnomes as myth, but I decided to give it one more try. At dark one evening, I packed my camera, strapped on my BluRay lights, filled my Camelbak with Sasquatch Moby Dick Double IPA, and stuffed a growler of Ace of Spades from HUB in my backpack. I headed for the top of the trail system and picked a spot along the Golden Spike, a remote line that connects the Growlers and Stella systems. I figured this was just the kind of place where a hard-working gnome might show himself.
I began nursing the Ace of Spades and dreaming of days before arthritis. At 2 a.m., I heard them coming. And they were hauling ass.
That’s because they weren’t carrying tools, and they weren’t walking. They were riding.
Busting the Myth
I snapped on both BluRays, jumped onto the trail and yelled, “Pull over now, midget deviants!”
A dozen gnomes went ass-over-handlebars. And when they got up, they weren’t happy.
They shook off the pain and edged in my direction. It was apparent this wasn’t the Munchkin crew from Wizard of Oz. Maybe I should have avoided the “midget deviants” comment.
The leader stepped into the beam of light cast by my BluRays. He was wearing baggy shorts and a Nirvana shirt. “Dude,” he said. “Why you tryin’ to harsh our mellow?”
“Sorry about the lights,” I said. “I came out to see if gnomes really existed. I never realized you’d be on bikes.”
“Duh, moron, of course, we’re on bikes. Manny just got the new Turner Burner and we decided to give it a test drive.”
“It’s cool you’re riding,” I said, “but where are the tools?”
The entire group burst into laughter. Finally, the lead gnome managed to suppress his giggling.
“Are ya kiddin’ me, dude? You don’t know it’s all a con?”
“Even a nimrod like you probably knows there are more than 75 miles of premium single-track in this area,” he said. “And we’ve never worked on a single foot of it!”
I must have looked puzzled because he shook his head like he pitied me.
“Let me simplify it for you,” he said. “We ride single-track that other people build and maintain, and we don’t lift a finger to help.”
As the crew climbed onto their bikes and headed for the trail we call Stairway to Heaven, it finally hit me – the gnomes were just taller versions of a breed I’d seen many times – trail poacherus moronicus.
They ride every trail system but are always too busy racing, training, or making excuses to get around to working on any of them. They hit new single-track each weekend, thus ensuring they are not tied to any home trail system where they might be expected to step up and contribute.
My brother says trail poachers should be welcomed into the mountain biking community like a stubborn case of chlamydia. After my run-in with the gnomes I was thinking that this would be a fitting form of short-man’s disease.
The ride home seemed to take forever. I’d succeeded in learning the truth, but it was an unpleasant discovery – there were no trail gnomes, there would be no magazine cover, there was no something-for-nothing.