All in a day’s dirt
“Make that landing longer,” Dustin says, shading his eyes from atop a hump of dirt about the size of a baby whale. “It looks a little abrupt.”It is 4 p.m., and a dozen boys aged 8 to 19 are laboring in the sun with picks, shovels and rakes to build bike jumps.”They look like the Seven Dwarves,” a woman nearby says.These are the “dirt jumps,” strings of mounds within a dusty oval on the south side of Carbondale. There’s something bracing about a recreation area made simply of dirt, and hosting human-powered activity – continually. Some evenings over 20 kids and adults are pushing mountain bikes up to the start in the trees, shouting, “Dropping!” and ascribing airy arcs.Sam, 16, sails off a double jump newly altered from a former “four-pack.””He popped that,” Paul, also 16, says, pleased. “He made it.”We arrive 45 minutes late, not realizing that the organizer, a father named Brian in a Metallica T-shirt, is already here. This “work party” is last-minute, after Brian heard from a town maintenance worker who could turn over a little more earth. By this point, some of the teenagers are leaning on their shovels, talking, or beginning to “test” the jumps.Roy, 10, wonders why the big boys get to do all the testing. “We’re nearly as good as them,” he says, brow beetled.”You can rail that turn more now,” pronounces Sam, slowing. “You can go into it with a lot more speed.””That was the idea,” says Brian, nodding.Nearby, kids fill up the skateboard park, and every field teems with soccer or baseball.All the regular dirt-jump users, many of whom race on bike teams, are here now except for Brian’s son, Madison, 12, whom he phones.Dane, 6 feet, 5 inches and just home from his first year in college, on partial scholarship for biking, arrived early. “Brian called me at 2:00,” he says, adding somewhat thoughtfully, “He woke me up.”Suddenly Dane shouts and turns to the assembly. “Here he is, our guest of honor! Can everyone please give Madison a big hand? Madison, put your bike down and get to work.”Now most of the teens are riding, though three will later return to work and stay to the end. Nearby, Tyler and Noah, 8, silently fill a wheelbarrow using shovels twice their height.Lucy, 9, the only girl I have ever seen in the dirt jumps, rides steadily around. All the boys cheer: “Yeah, Lucy.””Hey, guys, let Sean shape it,” Brian is saying as an adult former BMX racer builds a jump. “Mad dog,” Brian addresses Madison, “help Teddy fill more dirt. I’m going to get a hose.”Five years ago, when the Carbondale Rec Department dug out the skate park, they offered the excavated dirt and a day with a worker and backhoe.Over time, various locals kicked in – a dump truck load of dirt here, a few hours with a Bobcat there. Last summer the town began lending occasional hours from a maintenance worker, Aaron. The rest is volunteer.Today the crew completes four new jumps, filling in the last of the features within the oval. Features have names: a step down, step up, table top, berms, rhythm section, double table and double berm.Behind the oval is a separate line of four tall jumps. Dustin, 16, launches into a series of impossibly smooth jumps, ending with a “tail whip,” back wheel swinging sideways.Roy, on the same jumps, “cases,” his back wheel landing on the wrong side of an apex.Dustin advises gently, “You were a little nose-heavy.””No, I just suck!” Roy says in pique.”It’s a new bike. You’ll get used to it.”Brian envisions more jumps, with adjoining lines; dual-slalom berms; and a “pump track” to practice manufacturing speed. “We just need more dirt,” he says.Leaving, Dane asks, “When d’you need us again?”Alison Osius can be reached at email@example.com. Got dirt? Contact Brian Bailey at 948-3793.
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