Turning an Art Gallery Back Into a Trail

Sep 20, 2016
by Euan Forrester  



Three months ago I went out with Martin Newman and Penny Deck and we placed 20 large weatherproofed photographs along Penny Lane and Good Sir Martin on the North Shore of Vancouver, BC, Canada. The photos were culled from 21,262 that I took over 9 months documenting the process of building those trails. They show everything from hiking around in the bush deciding where the line should go to celebrating at the end with champagne. We said that they would be up until September, and last night we took them down.

Before the project went up I was scared. Scared that the Internet would become overrun with haters, or that the photos would be vandalized, or that — worst of all — no one would care. But instead, it’s been fantastic. I’ve never talked to so many people on the trails before. There’s been everything from a quick hello to exchanging contact information to a half-hour sit-down where we got lapped multiple times by the same rider. Then going home afterward and reading more kind and heartfelt comments online have made it even better.

Heat map of Seymour from 2012 2014 before Penny Lane and Good Sir Martin opened.
Heat map of Seymour from 2012 - 2014, before Penny Lane and Good Sir Martin opened.
Heat map of Seymour from 2015 2016. Penny Lane opened in March 2015 and Good Sir Martin opened in July 2015.
Heat map of Seymour from 2015 - 2016. Penny Lane opened in March 2015, and Good Sir Martin opened in July 2015.

This seems like a good opportunity to reflect on the impact that Penny Lane and Good Sir Martin have had on Seymour in the past year. Before they existed, if you wanted to ride up Seymour you had to either take Old Buck or the road. Both start on the eastern side of the mountain and neither is an especially pleasant ride. Now there’s an option starting further west that is very pleasant.

In these heat maps, taken from Trailforks data, brighter red means more rides. Aside from the overall increase in the number of people using the app we can see that Penny Lane and Good Sir Martin have quickly taken their place amongst the most popular trails on Seymour. The whole area with Severed D, John Deer (both of which were adopted by Martin and Penny), and Asian Adonis have become a very popular part of the mountain, with many people doing multiple laps of the new climb. There are also plenty of stalwarts still taking Old Buck, which has been great for spreading people across the mountain.

The trail is frequented by runners and hikers who like it because the shallow angle is easy on their knees and because it s uphill only for bikes when they encounter a bikers it s at a slow speed.

It’s pretty obvious to us that bikers get along well with hikers and runners 99.99999% of the time, but the larger world hears only about the most extreme cases of conflict. When I mention mountain biking and hiking to a friend who does neither, I find it’s pretty likely that they’ll reply with something like “oh, did you hear about the person who was setting traps?” It’s a sad reality that in no way reflects the actual situation on the trails. I spent a lot of time thinking about what to say to the public if we were given the opportunity and, in addition to telling people about the unsung work of trail builders everywhere, I wanted to tell people there’s no conflict because it seemed like a simple thing to say but a rare opportunity to say it.

Pre-interview nerves Penny and I just before appearing on Global BC1 News. We were in a small studio with the anchor in a different room. We could hear her in our earpieces but couldn t see her because we were told to look at the camera. It was extremely intimidating. Clearly the producer noticed because he was in our ears saying Remember to breathe Photo by Martin Newman.
Pre-interview nerves: Penny and I just before appearing on BC1 News. We were in a small studio with the anchor in a different room. It was extremely intimidating. Photo by Martin Newman.

We were very fortunate to have this opportunity on Global News, BC1 News, Our Vancouver on CBC, and in a number of online and written publications. I never got used to it, and before every interview, I was a sweaty, pacing, bundle of nerves.

Excited to see the info posters for the first time It took 6 trips to hike everything in. Until we were ready to put it all up I kept everything hidden off the trail in black garbage bags to make it harder to spot and to protect it from the elements. Photo by Kathryn Toews.
Excited to see the info posters for the first time! It took 6 trips to hike everything in. Until we were ready to put it all up, I kept everything hidden off the trail in black garbage bags to make it harder to spot and to protect it from the elements. Photo by Kathryn Toews.
I was surprised by how quickly the photos would attract pine needles dirt moss sap and bird droppings. Photo by Kathryn Toews.
I was surprised by how quickly the photos would attract pine needles, dirt, moss, sap, and bird droppings. Photo by Kathryn Toews.

I was also pleasantly surprised that our jerry-rigged rope system worked pretty well despite none of us knowing very much about knots.
I was also pleasantly surprised that our jerry-rigged rope system worked pretty well despite none of us knowing very much about knots.

During the build I bought a ladder named Laddie to try and get a different view of the action. It looked bigger in the store. Photo by Penny Deck.
During the build I bought a ladder, named Laddie, to try and get a different view of the action. It looked bigger in the store. Photo by Penny Deck.

It’s fitting that the photos come down now: mid-September marks exactly two years since I first approached Martin and Penny about the project. As I took a recent ride through the photos, I was struck by how intertwined my life has become with this project and these two trails. Whether it’s the photo I took shortly after the death of my friend or the spot where I cuddled with my girlfriend when we snuck up mid-week to take pictures of the project for its debut, these photos, these trails, Martin and Penny, and I have become linked forever.

When I first set off with Martin to hike around in the bush, I never guessed that we’d be back in the same spot almost two years later to hang a sheet of plastic on a tree. Or that we'd be back again to smile nervously for a TV camera. Or that I’d feel so sad to be back once more to take that sheet of plastic down.

Riders pass one of the photos in the installation.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to talk on the trail, who emailed me, or who posted about the project online. Your kindness has made this project a wonderful experience. Thank you.

Riders approach one of the photos in the installation.

Evidence of Trail Fairies was up along Penny Lane and Good Sir Martin on Mount Seymour in Vancouver, BC, Canada between June and September 2016.

You can take a look at the entire project online.


MENTIONS: @euan-forrester / @trailforks / @englishman (Martin) / @mtbmudhoney (Penny)



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33 Comments

  • + 17
 Thank you Euan. Its was a live gallery showing behind the scenes what is involved in creating a trail. Probably thousands of views from riders and hikers who can relate to the effort involved. The pictures worked out great! Huge thanks to Penny and Martin for making such a well thought out trail.
  • + 12
 This may sound odd, but this project made me proud. Proud to be a mountain biker, proud to be a West-coaster, and proud to be Canadian. I told so many people about this trail. Like the guy from Portland, Oregon, I ran into in a Subway wearing a TLD shirt. He HAD to be a biker - so I gave him the low down on many of our great local trails. This one was included. Thank you so much for your work on this project and on all the trail work!
  • + 2
 Wow, that's awesome -- thank you! That's exactly how I feel, and I'm happy it made you feel that way too!
  • + 8
 I said hi to you guys last night as you were taking the photos down. As I continued along, I took a few minutes to reflect in the dark. I thought the gallery was an amazing project and did a great job in showing the spirit of mountain biking on the shore. I'm in awe of the creativity and sweat required to take a section of forest and turn it into a masterpiece for the masses. Kudos to you Euan for documenting this process, and to Penny and Martin for all they have done on Seymour. Folks like you are why people travel from all over the world to ride our trails. Great work, part of me wishes they would become permanent fixtures. -Gord
  • + 3
 It was nice meeting you last night, and thank you! I would have liked to make them permanent too, but they would have eventually degraded and looked ugly: the place I had them done at said they would last outdoors for about 6 months. I'd rather have people remember them as clean and shiny than falling apart and busted.
  • + 2
 @euan-forrester: This project and it's depth deserves to be commemorated. From the documentation, to the skillful hands of Penny and Martin, trail work needs to be on the minds of every rider. With such a need for a good climbing trail on Seymour, this would make a great piece of education to the masses that ride it. Maybe consider working with the NSMB to put up trail mantles like they have on the Sidewinder trail on Burnaby Mountain?
  • + 3
 @vallee: That's an interesting idea -- thanks! I'll take a swing over there to check it out!
  • + 4
 What a beautiful and creative way to communicate the tireless work of builders, land managers, and the laundry list of stakeholders it takes to build a single mile of trail!

I'm from Saint Louis, Missouri (USA). I can't help but think this would be a great way to increase the level of involvement from the growing number of off-road trail users. I certainly am NOT in favor of ripping off such creative ideas off wholesale - but if I can't think of something better, would it be alright if it achieves a similar end-goal as held by the original artists (you yourself, Euan, plus Martin and Penny)?
  • + 3
 Absolutely! I would LOVE it if someone (or someones!) took this idea and ran with it. Feel free to ping me with any questions -- or just ask them here!
  • + 5
 Those switchbacks on that trail are tough. I've read those signs a few times now when I had to catch my breath. Only once have I encountered hikers and they were a group of Asian people on a walking tour.
  • + 4
 Going to miss these on the trails. It was great to recognize the work of the trail crews, and was yet another thing that made our trails unique to those anywhere else in the world.
  • + 6
 BTW, it's an awesome trail. You don't find many climbing trails that are in the woods don't require you to hike-a-bike it.
  • + 4
 Says you... you... in shape... mountain biker.. you (you're that guy that passed me 3 times on GSM).

:P
  • + 2
 This gallery was phenomenal - to read what went on behind the scenes was inspirational. As venue for art I also really enjoyed it and would love to see more of it along the trails, whether mountain bike related or not!
  • + 3
 Isnt it normally the other way round? Runners getting out the way of riders? Or were those boys just stopping for a swatch of her toosh?
  • + 11
 i dunno about anyone else, i just get out of anyone elses way. Its not like im racing, and id rather just be extra certain that no one gets hurt or mad or anything.
  • + 9
 Dunno about Scotland but we're all mostly peetty chill here. I get out of the way of downhillers. I step off for horses, dogs and walkers. That section of the woods is beautiful forest so its not hard to be mellow

Of course when you scream STRAVAAaaaaa everyone clears the way (jk)
  • + 9
 Swatch of her toosh?

1970 called, it wants its misogyny back.
  • + 1
 @scottye: She saw all this toosh swatching coming from a vision she had of the future, and prepared by wrapping a shirt around her waist. Well played.
  • + 1
 Cool Performance! And helpfullSmile
- Where are you?
- Tern left before the picture with those three dudes without girl and then turn right after the picture with all of them.
- Roger that!
  • + 3
 Auction off the photos for the trails. You could go through NSMBA ALL proceeds could go back to the trails!
  • + 3
 I've been thinking about exactly that, yes. I haven't quite figured out what's next, but stay tuned Smile .
  • + 4
 @euan-forrester: yeah! I would bid on the beer photo for sure!
  • + 2
 It was cool to show the gallery to out of town friends. Made them appreciate the ride all the more
  • + 2
 Love this climb thanks Martin and Penny!
  • + 2
 This was a really cool project!
  • + 2
 Amazing work, love it.
  • - 3
 What people don't understand is that it sets a precedent for trail advertising. You don't worry that the next guy will put " Eat at Ydonald's, hungry mountain biker". I appreciate the art aspect of it but I don't go to the forest to see Urban markers. I do recognize that trail builders must be acknowledged and rewarded... in a more subtle and "I can choose how" way.
  • + 1
 Yay! I'm on pb...
  • + 1
 I ran into a walker
  • + 1
 I walked in to a runner :/
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