Barry Hagen was 200 metres from the finish line.
After more than 20 kilometres trudging through the forests of Tumbler Ridge, approaching the finish of the Emperor's Challenge off-road race two weeks ago, the 73-year-old Prince George family doctor was making a move on a slower runner coming around a corner, moving from bright sunshine to shade, when he tripped over a small rock and fell.
Rather than shielding his head and face from the impact, Hagen had a bigger concern -- protecting the collar bone he'd broken five weeks earlier in a fall off his road bike -- and his chin and other shoulder took the full impact. Battered and bloody, Hagen picked himself up and finished the race after 2 1/2 hours, winning the 60-and-older age category.
Obviously a race like that so soon after an injury, even for someone half his age, would go against doctor's orders, but Hagen is not your average senior citizen. Fuelled by a daily breakfast of oatmeal, his energy level would put many 40 year olds to shame, and he has no plans to retire anytime soon. The native of Kimberley not only maintains his family practice, he's taking on new duties looking after geriatric patients and works at the medical clinic. If he's not racing, working or going for a run or ride, chances are he's out with his wife building new single-track off-road trails.
On just about any given day when the ground isn't frozen, Barry and wife Thelma can be found working their chainsaw, axes, root-cutters and hoes to open up new virgin trail territory.
"To my mind, visualizing and building trails, it comes from my heart," said Barry.
"These trails evolve as you're building them, just like art. We started getting the idea for single-track about 18 years ago when mountain biking was just becoming a popular sport but there was no place to ride single-track because the only stuff we could ride on was either double-track quad tracks or motorcycle trails, and they are not as much fun."
When he plots a new trail at Otway Nordic Centre or the Pidherny recreation area, Hagen knows the contours of the land well enough he doesn't need a GPS unit. With survey flagging and a can of spray paint in hand, he marks the new route, then begins to cut a two-foot-wide swath. He avoids the big timber and removes only small trees to make the path and will take the time to dig out the stumps. It's not unusual for the Hagens to spend four hours in one afternoon making trails. Their latest effort at Pidherny on an esker above the Nechako River, the Front Porch trail, will connect with an existing trail to make the city's longest and highest stretch of single-track.
"In order to lay out a trail, you have to have the whole concept from start to finish," said Barry. "I always like to have trails that start at a junction so that you have options you can choose, depending on how much time you have after work.
"Although I'm really pleased we do these trails for everybody, one of the most beautiful things that have come out of our trailbuilding is it's now self-propelling."
People like Glen Nicholson, Ed Day, Rocky McKinley and John Huybers have taken it upon themselves to cut new paths or make improvements to existing trails, hauling in gravel to fill holes and lumber to build bridges over wet areas.
The Hagens built the first single-track at Otway, known as Tin Can Alley, in 1994. After they'd finished building Midway, Adam's, and O'Malley's they started naming the trails alphabetically. There's AC/DC, Bad Dog, Curves, Dirtbag, Freeway, Espresso, Gnarly Girls, Home Run and Inside Passage, a trail built last fall which includes a hand-built log table made by Hagen's friend Rudy Kamstra that he and Barry hauled into the woods.
The Hagens named their Pidherny trails after the equipment used to build them. The Tool Circuit includes Chainsaw, Pulaski and Screefer (a chainsaw-like tool patented by city resident Bruce Hawkenson used to cut through rooty ground).
The Pulaski is a combination pickaxe-adze that chops through the underbrush for the initial cut on on the trail. The dirt and plant debris is then scraped the width of the trail off to the side with a McLeod, a hand tool that's like a heavy hoe.
Most of the Hagens' trails don't rank high on the scale of difficulty. Barry says mountain bike riders who might have dismissed the trails as too easy when they were young and unattached are now taking advantage of them as trails they can ride as a family with their wives and kids.
"We put enough challenge into some of the trails that some riders could call them intermediate," said Barry.
The single-track at Otway not only caters to runners and mountain bikers but also snowshoers. Snowshoe rentals and trail fees charged in the winter have given the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club another source of revenue.
The Hagens met three couples from the Lower Mainland who came to Prince George to compete in the 2008 B.C. Summer Games and after racing at Otway decided to stay in the city an additional three days to take advantage of the peace and solitude they found, surrounded by Douglas fir trees, lush ferns, devil's club and salmonberries.
"[The Hagens are] leaving a pretty good legacy, it's kind of impressive," said Kamstra. "People come here and they really like the bike trails. The beauty of it is you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere, going out there is so relaxing."
On Sunday, close to 100 runners and mountain bike enduro riders took advantage of the steep trails in the fourth annual Otway Challenge. Barry had wanted to do the 10-kilomere run, then jump on his bike for the six-hour enduro, but his still-wounded shoulder limited him to just the running race.
Cyclelogic bike shop owner David Lee knows the value of the Hagens' trailbuilding efforts. Although the network of single-track trails they've built at Otway Nordic Centre and the Pidherny areas are one of the city's best-kept recreational secrets, their handiwork is gaining the city recognition among the country's mountain bike and off-road running communities.
Lee travels to the southern U.S. for a month every year, where he rides single-track bike trails at Lake Tahoe, Moab, and Sedona and says the Otway trails might be shorter in length but are of just as good a quality and should be promoted more as a world-class tourist attraction.
"It's truly phenomenal what they do, it's insane to comprehend how much work they put into building those trails for benefit of everyone else," said Lee, who annually rewards the Hagens with gift certificates for the bike shop.
"If you go to Otway, most of it exists because of Barry and Thelma. We have an easy-to-access facility that the entire city gets to enjoy because of the efforts of two individuals. They've sparked a bit of a contagious spirit of trailbuilding in town."