Weekly Roundup: In Which The Author Seeks A Hoe For His Son Edition

I was born with a profound allergy to community. Don’t want a group, a crowd. Can hardly stand a team, and then only for short periods. The older I get, the worse this tendency becomes. I’d rather clean a toilet than attend a gathering. The latest covid chic trend of having “Zoom gatherings” and “virtual happy hours” confounds me: my first and only thought is why the fuck would I want to sit around and look at other people on a screen when I could be blissfully alone.

There are penalties for feeling this way: personal, financial, possibly criminal. The worst part of it, however, is that my antipathy to groups has caused me to walk away from a lot of great opportunities, great communities, great people. Here’s an example: I’ve been a NASA racer for a decade and a half but I’ve attended exactly one social event: the 2018 banquet where they handed out season championship trophies. I didn’t go because I wanted the trophy; I went because Danger Girl wanted to go. While I was there I saw all these people having a great time but all I could think was: I’m here to race against them, not to be their best friend.

I don’t want my son to feel this way. It’s damaging. Limiting. Yet I can already tell he has the same genetic inclination towards solitude. So we will fight it. We are fighting it. We started, as you might expect, by picking up a hoe.

There’s a bike park about 75 miles from the house, north of Cincinnati near the King’s Island amusement park. A local hospital had some extra space and donated it — ostensibly to improve fitness in this placid rural community. Given how many people I’ve seen get hurt there, I think the purpose might actually be to drum up some trauma business. One flat loop, a cross-country course, two asphalt pump tracks, and an acre or so of dirt jumps. The latter has been in considerable disrepair almost from the moment the facility opened in 2018. Lately, however, it’s been getting better in dribs and drabs, courtesy of a few adult riders (and former riders!) who show up to dig on the trails and fix them.

Digging on trails is a huge part of BMX culture: the phrase “No dig, no ride” is so omnipresent that it’s osmosed into mountain biking as well. Yet I’ve never been part of a “trails crew”. Never ridden in one place, or kept the same acquaintances, long enough to join one. I’d rather hand a skatepark twenty bucks than spend an afternoon digging with new friends. This is an outsider’s attitude.

My son likes the revamped trails and he’d noticed the people working on them while he rode. I took a deep breath and suggested that we drive down the next damp day to shape a jump or two. We brought some old shovels I had sitting in my garage. I expected that we would work for an hour then ride for a couple of hours afterwards.

To my surprise, we arrived in the middle of a spontaneously-assembled group. Three or four old trail-digger types, giving directions and shaping transitions. I walked up and asked where we could help. There was a fellow to whom the others deferred. He gave us a simple assignment: get the silt out of a berm and a jump face so it could be used to shape a feature elsewhere. Naturally, we made a hash out of it, so he came back. Over the course of an hour, he gave us some terse but heartfelt tutorials about how to accomplish basic tasks.

“It’s critical that we get the transition on the novice side jumps correct,” he said, in a rural Ohio accent, heavily tapping sections of dirt into place with vein-wrapped forearms and hands bleeding in two places where they contacted the tool handles. “A bad jump can give a new rider a bad experience and scare them off forever. And when we build a jump, we own that jump.” He was thirty-five years old, a former Marine. I was the only adult there who hadn’t been in the armed forces. They chatted idly about pickup trucks, beer, the quarantine, the PTR 91, which is an American-made clone of the HK G3 service rifle. “Getting 4 MOA at 800,” one fellow chirped, which means he can reliably hit a 32″ circle at 800 yards, nearly half a mile. “Bring on the Boogaloo!” There was a chorus of laughter.

I’d expected them to have no patience with John but all of them took the time to introduce themselves to him and offer some advice. When he absconded with a rake to work on a jump face and was obviously doing more harm than good, someone pointed it out to me and said “Don’t worry — we can fix that in ten minutes and it’s good for him to do the work.” At the two hour mark I told John that he could go ride.

“I don’t want to, it’s not time yet.”

“We’ve only planned on 150 minutes here. You’re at the 120 mark.”

“No way. It’s been half an hour.” My watch told me otherwise and my body confirmed it. I’d hoed six wheelbarrows’ worth of silt out of a jump line, bringing a thick and resilient soreness into my shoulders and back. John went to ride the asphalt pump track for ten minutes, came back, and picked up a shovel. I could see that he liked working alone, so I dragged him back and made him dig and fill with someone else for a bit.

“Alright, everybody, I’ve about had it.” That was our leader for the day, giving us all tacit permission to hang up as well. On his way out, he took me aside and told me what tools we’d need to be genuinely useful. Most work in BMX trailbuilding is done with a hoe and a rake. There’s a particular company, hilariously named “Rogue Hoes”, which makes them in Missouri out of recycled Ag-discs. John had been using a five-and-a-half-inch Rogue field hoe, as had I. Today I ordered a pair for us: the four-inch 40F for him, the smallest one they make in consideration of his etheral weight. For me… Well, I wanted The Boss, which looks like it can take out an unwanted roller in a single swipe. In my normal milieu of autowriters, I’m in the top percentiles of general hoe-swinging ability, take that any way you like — but the truth is that I’m overmatched in this company of swarthy, effortlessly athletic Midwestern servicemen/riders. So I got the 5.5-inch combination hoe/rake. Our local trail crew buys them with the ash handles then sands the grain down before generously and regularly applying oil. I decided on fiberglass, because it’s lazier.

“John, these trails are now partially yours — and partially your responsibility as well,” I told him, after we’d loaded up our mostly-unridden bikes and non-fit-for-purpose shovels.

“About one-tenth of one percent mine,” he snapped back, offended on behalf of his trail crew that I’d assign him any significant value when he’d only shaped three tops and dug a wheelbarrow of dirt.

“Which is one-tenth of one percent more than I’ve ever had,” I replied.

“I’d like to get back down there and dig again soon,” he said. Unsaid was the idea that I needn’t come along. The crew had liked him, but what had they made of me? Just a perpetual outsider, an unvigorous hybrid of city and country with viable roots in neither. And yet I’ll show up again, to dig, and to ride, carving out a brief redoubt against solitude with smoothing rake and swinging hoe.

* * *

For Hagerty, I told a tale of suspicious purchases.

Something I wrote for Mazda a while back, concerning New Mexico, has now been made available online.

17 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: In Which The Author Seeks A Hoe For His Son Edition”

  1. AvatarMrFixit1599

    I have come to realize that growing up an only child, I have been practicing social distancing pretty much all my life.

  2. AvatarJohn C.

    On the CX-30, was there any part of that drive that the unjacked up Mazda 3 couldn’t do just as well? Raising the suspension and more sidewall of the tires might have helped the ride a little.

    By the way, it is my understanding that the 3 this generation shifted to twist beam at the back from a multilink in the older ones. Toyota went the other way with the current Corolla. The now seemingly mostly female staff at C/D stated specifically that the Mazda suspension was still superior to the Corolla. Do you concur?

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      The difference between Mazda3 and Mazda CX-3 is a (very) mild suspension raise and a more upright seating position.

      The difference between the CX-3 and the CX-30 is power (the CX-30 has more) and cargo space (ditto). The CX-30 is larger in every dimension, nicer inside, and can be (not that) easily distinguished from a CX-3 by the visible metal C-pillar compared to the “floating roof” of the CX-3. The CX-3 is only available with a base trim, while the CX-30 can be pimped out another eight grand.

      Now here’s the kicker: Of the three Threes, the Mazda3 sedan is the most expensive. What does that mean? Only that sedans are now niche vehicles.

      • AvatarJohn C.

        The Mazda 3 is properly priced higher, even though the customers must be disappointed with Mexican assembly, as it is most likely to attract a premium clientele. I am glad it survives, even though I have yet to warm to the current 3 styling. It is my understanding that the former Mazda styling fellow is now the Tesla guy. All this trying to continue but facing insurmountable cost pressure sounds so much like the former domestics of 15 years ago. Makes you wonder where we are headed, Burmese designs made in Ethiopia with bankruptcy acquired brand names? Ethiopia has already made inroads in textiles with Calvin Klein and H & M by underpricing Bangladesh. 26 Euros a month but much labor strife.

        One wonders where a fully Japanese volume model Mazda 3 hatch, a fully German Golf, and a fully Lordstown Cruise hatch would cost priced with a worthwhile profit margin? 35k?

      • AvatarJoe

        What is unsaid here is that the cx-3 is based on the Mazda 2, and the cx30 is based on the Mazda 3. However, the cx-3 has a larger engine than the Mazda 2, but is down approximately 40 hp to the cx30, I am considering trading the cx-3 for the larger cx-30, I will have to take one for a ride. Or I will also have to consider the Mazda 3 in an awd guise, but strangely, it is more expensive as Jack stated than the cub version

        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          True but… there isn’t much shared between the Mazda2 and the CX-3 besides wheelbase. And, of course, we think of the current 2 as a Scion/Toyota here.

  3. AvatarFred Lee

    One of my riding buddies slowly worked into the role of trail boss for one of our local networks. This is in the Pacific NW, where our trails are forest singletrack. A couple times per week after work he goes up to the trails and walks them with tools, fixing whatever he sees wrong, cutting fallen trees, etc.. It’s really a passion for him.

    Many of the trail bosses do far, far more trail maintenance then they do trail riding. He describes it as addictive, putting your name on and owning something that so many use. I’ve done a few trail build days. Like you, I always skeedaddle before the inevitable post-build barbecue. My skill lies mostly in pushing heavy wheelbarrows of gravel up and down technical single-track.

    Kudos to your son for enjoying it so much! Around here folks swear by the Macleod, which looks possibly similar to the hoe device you’re describing. I’ve got one to work on my own trail on my acreage. Good for tearing up roots and shaping berms.

  4. Avatarpsmith

    Rogue hoes are great for dirt work, bigger the better honestly and 40″ axe handle all day. The Warwood hazel hoe is underrated if not unheard of outside of southwestern Oregon and the handle is admittedly a bit short for taller folk but I like the press-fit head and it works great if you need to bust through some roots. But there’s nothing like a big hoe with a pounder. Which is to say, the JR Fire Tools Chingadera and Bigfoot also work great in dirt, especially if you weld a flat surface for pounding felling wedges to the back of the head. Mind, all of these will pretty much become serrated in three swings if you’re in rocky soils.

    Speaking of dirt work, there’s a memoir of Parks/Forest Service trail work by that title that’s actually pretty damn good, “muh stronk womyn in the woods” marketing notwithstanding.

  5. AvatarTyler

    One of the areas American style education fails even modestly gifted students. Group projects of any kind. From which you will take away only that your classmates have nothing of value to contribute. And your classmates will take away only that intelligence and diligence are attributes to be strip mined at every opportunity. Then you grow up and meet people who give a damn and you don’t even know how to relate. If the long tail of Chairman Xi’s virus is that kids of all ability levels find out earlier that anything of real value you have to teach yourself, maybe 2020 won’t be in vain.

    • Avatarbenjohnson

      Mon Dieu! I hated group projects – until I recognized the game was to get others to come to my ideas and management without explicitly stating my goals and causing a reactionary barrier. My final test of my ability is to puppeteer a swarm of Japanese salarimen to retake the Kuril Islands in under a week aided only by a Sharp PW-SH1 Japanese-English electronic dictionary and a duffel bag of used panties from Goodwill.

  6. AvatarPaul M.

    Sometimes the best stories are every day life stories we do. Thanks for sharing and one of best pieces you have ever written.

  7. AvatarDirt Roads

    Funny that a company recycles old plow discs for hoes. Back in the 70s the ranch I worked at had several we had made for ditching – excellent for clearing weeds off ditch banks and even yes, digging dirt. Wish I’d’ve thought of starting a company that made those, but then again, I was a teenager and all I wanted to do was work and make money.

  8. Avatarstingray65

    Great piece, but when I saw the picture I was sure it was going to about the futility of planting a victory garden when governors in their great wisdom declare seeds to be a non-essential purchase (while alcohol, weed, and lottery tickets remain government approved through thick and thin). I hope you kept at least 6 feet apart and sanitized the rake handle while doing your dirt grooming.

  9. AvatarScottS

    Thanks for the heads-up on Rogue Hoes. I have a weird affliction of wanting to buy such quality tools yet hope that I never have to use them! My upbringing ensured that I have a comprehensive skill set with this class of tools referred to as “misery tools” my me and my brothers. One can learn a great deal from misery tools and earn some useful callouses in the process.

  10. Avatar-Nate

    The best part is that John will prolly share the skills you’re helping him to gather now…

    Being a loner isn’t all bad IMO .



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