Building On Boundary Trail (An Heirloom Trail)
I remember eating fresh salmon off of a BBQ. We were on the side of the gravel access road up Mt Fromme and Dan Sedlacek of On Top Bike Shop* was behind the grill. He's laughing in spite of the biting cold and pissing rain. Everyone is being a bit silly actually, standing in a mega-globular fall rain event at the top of Pink Starfish trail. We're taking turns watching little gobs of dough float down the mini fryer. I'm soaked through, shivering uncontrollably, and mud-covered.
Suddenly a huge tray of confections is floating through the assembled crowd. Oh, YUM. Delicious baked goods. That's exactly what I need, well that and dry underwear. There's enough for twice our turnout but there aren't any left five minutes after the cover comes off. Boundary-Karen made them? Who's Boundary-Karen? She works on Boundary Trail? Where's Boundary Trail?
*A 'little shop that could' still servicing bikes at the top of Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver.
The weather won't turn around and we reluctantly admit the dig day is done. It's a small turnout but still a few shuttle trips to download everyone in Dan's van. At this point, I'm lamenting my lack of layers and a friend and I take off on foot down Starfish rather than join the lottery for a seat.
At the bottom of Starfish, we find ourselves standing at the top of a platform leading to a steep and skinny ladder roll-in, that is now gone. I learn it's the start of a trail I've never heard of: Upper Boundary. Holy Sh*t! The rock armoured exit is a mile down and looks to be a straight 90° interface with the ladder. I remove my Tilley Hat and hold it over my heart like I'm at a funeral - mine.
From there we hike down the most intense 669m of handmade trail art I've seen; Boundary Trail. High ladders, skinny ladders, superfluous ladders, I mean, only the nastiest rocks and roots don't have ladders over them! It's a slow speed make-your-own-flow adventure for the advanced rider. Certainly not everyone's favourite tomato but at the same time an endangered heirloom strain that's worth preserving for everyone.
Ode To Karen
Each split by hand, thousands of little rungs
Document her days building Boundary
Full flavour, a marvelous signature,
Classically-odd North Shore trail on Mt Fromme.
I'd meet Boundary-Karen a few times before I build up the nerve to even take my bike for a hike down her masterpiece.* Quiet, unassuming, strong. At the time, she's one of the only other people I see predominately riding a hardtail and I'd bump into her and her black .243 occasionally on the west side of the mountain.
The North Shore has always had our share of amazing and dedicated trail builders - thank you folks - and there are maybe too many names past and present to document them all, "you know who you are" being the common refrain. Of the builders I know personally who have committed countless hours of building for the rest of us, Karen is the person I know the least. It's shocking to me how few riders have heard of her given how long, how hard, and how often she's been digging for well over a decade.
I witness her passionate devotion for her trail at a meeting between Fromme trail builders and the District of North Vancouver (DNV). A DNV staffer tells our collective number that her trail is "unsustainable" and the room goes pin-drop-silent. Karen doesn't so much as raise her voice, she simply projects these words powerfully over the hushed assembly: "It's sustainable as long as I'm working on it."
*Karen would humbly point out that she inherited the trail from Andre originally.
And that's the truth. Today, many of Karen's artistic creations are gone (of particular note the first two structures on Upper Boundary) and others are due for immediate repair or replacement. It's a heritage trail at risk of disappearing. Karen has had to step back from the heavy lifting on her trail and, at her request, the local trail association, the nsmbA, is stepping up to support her and ensure the full flavour of her masterpiece is maintained. That's right down to using her signature split-rung style and replacing structures that have previously been removed.
There is room on the North Shore for all kinds of different trails, but I don't believe you can have 'Trails For All, Trails Forever' without continuing to breathe fresh life into the last few unique slivers of the Shore for future generations of riders to experience.
As of tonight, friends of Karen have raised $1350 towards the goal of building Boundary as Boundary and work is already beginning. If you'd like to help donations can be made directly to the trail here.
When Matt Dennison and Seb Kemp combined their talents on the NSMB.com series Hey Neighbour they interviewed Kim at Steed Cycles on Boundary Trail. It's an enjoyable watch that highlights some of the trail's signature features.