Highland Profiles is a series that aims to highlight West Virginia’s exemplary outdoor adventurers, business owners, and community innovators. If you’ve got someone in mind worthy of a profile, drop me a line: email@example.com.
Boaters say there ain’t no river without the rain. But for those who fly through the woods at breakneck speeds on two wheels, a different adage comes to mind: there ain’t no ride without the trails. While rain is largely a self-sustaining an act of the water cycle, trails don’t build themselves. Fortunately, the world has folks like trail builder and Canaan Valley resident Zach Adams to masterfully craft modern creations for the mountain biking masses.
A local racing legend from the mid 2000’s, Zach went on to become an MTB event organizer and now owns and operates his trail building company, Appalachian Dirt. There are two things that guide Zach’s life: wheels. From his middle school years to recent years, mountain bike has been his raison d’etre, and Zach’s acute sense of bike/life balance shows no sign of changing direction. I caught up with Zach to chat about racing, his transition to trail building, and to find out what’s really better: building trails or riding them. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you end up in West Virginia?
I came out in 2012 for the Canaan MTB Festival, and spent about a year visiting and spending time around here, then I moved down the next year to pursue a trail job with Heart of the Highlands and I never left. Now it’s home.
How did you get into mountain biking?
It was back in 2003 that I got interested. I grew up in Carlisle, PA. I was in middle school at the time, and we had a little bike club. I joined the local racing club, and boy it’s been a whirlwind ever since. That first race was in the spring of 2004. It was a shitshow, I loved it. I raced a lot right from the start, I dove into the race seasons and kept it up throughout. I went a lot of places and raced a lot of races, and it’s not necessarily the wins that you remember the most.
What drew you to racing?
That was the local culture of the area and the team I started on. We had good trails, but for the most part, there wasn’t a huge trail riding group. A lot of it revolved around racing, so that’s naturally what I got into. My early influences were race promoters as well, so racing was what I knew, and it was natural and a lot of fun. You look at how communities are based and driven, and the racing scene is just a large, extended community.
When did you transition to trail building?
When I moved to Canaan, it was for a trail job with Heart of the Highlands. If that job had never come up, I may have never gotten into it, but it turned out that everything I had done before was perfect prep for it. It quickly turned into a business beyond the position I had done with them. It was kind of like how racing came on, it exploded from the start and it just felt right.
What’s the most rewarding part of trail building?
Creation. You get to build something every day, something that wasn’t there before. It’s something that makes people smile. It’s a lot like doing events, and that’s what drew me to events as well. I think its why I still do events.
What’s better – designing a new trail or riding it for the first time?
I think it’s both the process and the whole. A lot of times you don’t get to do all of that in a short-term scope. By the time I get to go out and ride a trail I’ve built, it’s been sitting in the works for a year. I think it’s all of it together. You can’t just have one of the parts. If you go design a trail out in the woods and nobody ever sees it, that’s kind of pointless. If you only go ride trails, you’re missing out on part of the picture. It’s design and build and riding and getting other people to ride, too.
What makes mountain biking in the Canaan Valley area so great?
Two things. First, it’s the type of forest and ecosystem that we have here, it’s a lot like out west or Alaska in its nature and the wetlands. It’s just a little bit cooler than everywhere else. It’s really special, this whole isolated pocket up here in the mountains. Two, it’s a true mountain town. You get trail access to 400+ miles of trail right out of town. It’s a lot of backcountry riding. It’s technical, rocky, rooty, muddy, all of that goodness. That’s where my heart is with riding rough, technical backcountry.
What’s the story behind your winter event, the Mountain State Fat Bike Champs race? What are you goals with the race?
The race is the centerpiece of advocacy push for fat biking in the West Virginia highlands. It’s the culmination of a season of trying to pump up fat biking with group rides, educational events, the racing opportunity, and trying to get access to groomed trails. The proceeds from each year go to some kind of local advocacy project. The first year was to raise funds for Dale’s Trail in the Thomas City Park Trails, and the next two editions are for obtaining a groomer.
What do you see for the future of the mountain biking scene in Canaan?
I see investment in trails as a primary driver for tourism. Everyone talks about tourism and recreation, but they’re relying on these opportunities that have been in place for ages here. We’re a little bit behind the ball as far as development goes. I see a larger, more organized effort for investment in trail infrastructure here. We need variety, that’s the reason we put so much effort into easier, green-level trail experience added in the Thomas City Park Trails because we don’t have a lot of that around. We have what a lot of other places don’t have, which is that first reason why I moved here, that beautiful, natural, special place. You can’t fake that.
Zach Adams is owner and operator of trail building outfit Appalachian Dirt and runs the annual Michaux MTB School up in PA. You can find him moving rocks and slinging dirt this summer as he builds fresh MTB trails in Deep Creek Lake State Park, MD.