Do trail gnomes really exist?
Holmes and Watson were unavailable, so the Board of Director recently set out to examine a question that has puzzled mountain bikers for years.
Many riders believe that trail gnomes are native to biking systems. They labor undected under cover of darkness with a single goal – to build and maintain single-track for mountain bikers. Sort of like short Saquatches armed with rakes and shovels.
This is especially convenient since it means no one needs to feel guilty about not lending a hand with trail building or maintenance. In fact, doing so would be an insult to the gnomes. And who among us would wish to cause emotional harm to these tiny trail workers?
Mission Gone Awry
I was busy trying to figure out how I could talk Sher into letting me buy a set of Stan’s Wheels. This was soaking up a lot of time since she still had a clear recollection of the Sultan frame I purchased this summer.
So . . . I naively enlisted others to assist with the research. I figured they could pack in some 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.
First, I sent Dave. He didn’t even make it to the gate at the end of Growlers Gulch Road. On the way out, he got behind a woman in a Mercedes on Westside Highway. Not a big deal, right? Except he was in a hurry, she was going 25, and he couldn’t pass. It probably wouldn’t have been a deal-breaker if she hadn’t been wearing a white shirt. Bulbs went off. Flashbacks from 2009 MBO started playing in his head, and Dave went berserk. I spent the afternoon negotiating his release after he was charged with road rage and jailed.
I called Mel. She was booked with a flower gig but she told me Paul was available. He said he’d do it if he could bring McMaster. Fine, I thought, what could go wrong?
What could go wrong was that McMaster had just picked up two pounds of pastrami at Kenny and Zuke’s. To make matters worse, Paul had consumed three bowls of chili for dinner.
Surprise, surprise. They didn’t have any luck. Gnomes have a reputation as nasty creatures, but even a gnome can handle only so much farting of this caliber. On top of that, when they got back I had to listen to McMaster bitch about the unexplained disappearance of a large portion of the pastrami.
Who was left?
Jack and Lipton.
I know. I know. They grew up in Cali together, which evidently drained them of the ability to navigate without bread crumbs. I figured that if they stayed together, they’d be all right. But it didn’t turn out that way.
Just as it was getting dark, they ran into a couple of four-wheelers. Jack went into his Glenn-Beck-with-a-chalkboard mode. By the time he was done and the four-wheelers had left, it was pitch-black and they had no clue where they were.
Jack had a Mitaki compass but it wouldn’t work. “That’s what you get for buying that cheap Japanese shit,” Lipton said. “Thomas tried to warn you.”
Thirty-six hours later I got a call. They were in PeEll and needed a ride home.
Hide-n-Seek with the Little People
It was clear that relying on these losers would not produce answers. Besides, Sher had made it clear that the Stan’s wheels were off the table, so I decided it was time to do some gnome-hunting.
That evening, I packed my camera and two flood lamps, filled my Camelbak with Vortex IPA from Fort George Brewing, and headed for the top of the trail system. I picked a spot along Ace of Spades. It was Dave’s trail, but – as usual – he had failed to clean it and it was littered with limbs. I figured this was just the kind of place where a hard-working gnome might show himself.
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 lamps, jumped onto the trail and yelled, “Pull over now, midget deviants!”
You should have seen the carnage. 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 that this wasn’t the Munchkin crew from Wizard of Oz. Maybe I should have avoided the “midget deviants” comment.
The leader stepped into the light. He was wearing baggy shorts and a Nirvana shirt. “Dude,” he said. “Why you tryin’ to harsh our mellow?”
“Sorry about the light,” I said. “I came up to see if gnomes really existed. I never realized you’d be on bikes.”
“Duh, you dumb shit. Of course, we’re on bikes. Manny just got a new Santa Cruz Tall Boy and we decided to give it a test ride.”
I was thinking that a Tall Boy didn’t seem like a good choice for a gnome, but since I was outnumbered I decided to keep it to myself.
I offered them the Vortex and they quickly lost the attitude.
“It’s cool you’re riding,” I said, “but where are the tools?”
The entire group burst into laughter, grabbing their stomachs and rolling on the ground. Finally, the lead gnome managed to suppress his giggling.
“Are ya shittin’ 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 between Growlers and Stella,” he said. “And we’ve never built or helped maintain a single foot of it!” His buddies roared.
I must have looked puzzled because he shook his head like he pitied me.
“Let me simplify it for you,” he said. “Gnomes don’t do trail work. We poach trail that other riders build and maintain! That’s what gnomes do!”
And with that, the entire group burst into laughter again. They mounted up and headed for Double-Down, leaving the aroma of stale socks and pastrami farts in their wake.
The trip home seemed to take forever. There would be no magazine cover. I hadn’t taken any pictures. I couldn’t prove a thing.
I thought about the irony – Yes, gnomes existed. But they didn’t do trail work.
How was I going to break it to the guys?