Crude stick figures turn slowly as a mountain biker swoops by. Eerily reminiscent of the hit scare movie The Blair Witch Project, the hanging ornaments are silent reminders that this mountain bike trail didn't materialize out of thin air it was built by human hands.
And it was backbreaking work. So hard, in fact, that Tapeworm trail maestro Tom Myers doesn't ride much anymore due to a back injury. But the Tapeworm was worth it, he said.
"I really appreciate what a logger does for a living all day," Myers said of his personal mountain bike advocacy project. "It was a challenge and I got a sore back from it, but it wouldn't have happened any other way."
The theory behind the Tapeworm was to build a trail that only mountain bikers would be attracted to. Bikers and walkers, especially walkers with a poodle on a string and groceries in hand, are not a good mix. Myers postulated that walkers who traveled from point A to point B wouldn't be interested in a trail that started and finished at the same point.
The trail won't be advertised in the newspaper or through the local cycling organizations. In order to keep the type of users pure, its exact whereabouts are kept secret. However, this isn't a club. When you become good enough, you'll find it. The trail location gets passed down through "local mountain biker oral history."
"We wanted a cyclist-only trail, not marked by signs, but just where bikers wanted to go.," Myers said. "And it worked. We made it twistier and tighter as we went along, and we liked it that way."
"Cutting trail" is hard work. As a first-timer to trail building, Myers let the project evolve as he went along, designing features to match the landscape in 10-foot sections. At first, he used a chainsaw. But the tool of choice, he soon realized, was an 8-inch steel garden rake.
"You have to forage on, so a hardheaded mountain biker will come along and ride it," he said. "It becomes a trail by forcing people to ride it and beat it down. You can't make 'finished trail' or you won't get miles."
He also learned that working with the natural setting, rather than wiping it out, was the best way to go. By designing with endless turns and bends, it was easy to avoid big obstacles and trees in the trail's path.
The Northwest is home to salal, a particularly hardy groundcover that grows thickly and very slowly. It was the perfect framework plant, because once a foot-wide trail was cut, the salal stayed put.
Tall bushes were woven together and trained to grow into archways; recycled re-bar found on-site was used for support. Myers found that by building the trail close to trees, eventually their roots would be exposed, making a natural technical section.
"Insta-trail," scraped out in lightly covered areas, went relatively fast. Overgrown sections slowed the work to as little as 10 feet per hour.
Myers built "Mr. DNA" first, a 0.4-mile loop, in one month. Next came Tapeworm, which took about four months, at an average of 20 hours per week.
Sometimes Myers had help, but often he was alone with his rake.
"I was obsessed," Myers joked about his intensity for the project. "I was out there in 37-degree pouring rain on late afternoons, still not ready to go home. One day I hired this guy off the street, a day laborer, for $8 an hour. He tried to get me to explain what we were doing over and over; he never did get what was going on."
Where did he find the time? Myers runs a bicycle/motorcycle accessory company (www.cycoactive.com) that gives him flexible hours. The company sells, among other things, map holders for mountain bikes.
One of the first motivating factors for the trail, Myers noted, was that he needed a section of trail to demonstrate his "Bar Map" accessory. So the Tapeworm was mapped out to follow a route without crossing back on itself. And soon Myers realized how fun those crazy loops could be.
Loops, twists and turns. The Tapeworm's signature feature, without doubt, is its extreme compactness, allowing for its location close to a large urban area.
Then there are the added touches that make the Tapeworm a veritable amusement park for bikes. Enter past the "Begin" road signs at the trailhead, or listen for the sound of bicycle-part wind chimes hung high in the trees. Negotiate the Monopoly-inspired "B&O railroad," a winding, wooden-slat track.
Bounce over the octopus head stump, complete with mountain bike treaded roots. Glance up if you dare take leave of the roots and see the bicycle-in-a-tree, spliced around an evergreen to look as if it grew there. Finally, if you dare, exit by way of the full-size playground teeter-totter mounted between two trees.
"We put teeter-totters in at the end of the line (which dumps out right next to the start) to force people to go one way; they work as one-way valves in a way," Myers said. "You can't have a one-way trail stay skinny with 100 guys putting their foot down to let someone pass.
"This is a bicycle trail no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The buzz of the trail is use your skills to ride the trail, not by avoiding obstacles."