Greg Mazu is the Chief Encouragement Officer of Singletrack Trails, a self-proclaimed nomad and misfit, and an all-around passionate guy. Singletrack Trails is an outdoor recreation developer of trails for hiking, biking, and equestrian use all throughout the United States. Before Singletrack Trails became a national company, it was just Greg and the excitement he felt within the escape of the great outdoors.
Greg teaches us that trails are in fact not magically built by fairies and elves, but through an equally magical experience of transforming the environment in an artistic way. We dive deep into why force engineering land creates an undesirable experience and how taking every tree and rock into account can shape a captivating experience instead. As a trail artist, you don’t impose your ideas onto the land, you take what the land gives you and work through the nooks and turns for a more natural approach. In the end, we apply the metaphor of land to our own lives and ask, how can we take what life gives us to create our own masterpiece?
In this episode, you’ll learn…
- Greg’s upbringing in Southern Indiana, inspired by Greg LeMond, with dreams to race his bike in Europe
- The passion Greg had for road racing in his teens and the thrill of freedom he felt when riding
- Why Greg loaded up the truck and set for a life-changing move to Seattle, Washington by the end of the summer after college
- Discovering a whole new world in Seattle, including mountain biking, a “fake family”, and food beyond pizza and burgers
- Greg’s involvement with the Mountain Bike Advocacy Group in Colorado and the valuable trail-building lessons learned while volunteering
- How mountain bikers became a driving force in perfecting trail design to account for the reckless, less-represented sport of the late 90s and early 2000s
- Surprisingly, trails are not built by magic and they can’t be engineered like highways
- How Greg successfully transformed Singletrack Trails into an official organization after unintentionally realizing he had his own business
- What the “synthesis of connection” is and why it is a core value for Singletrack Trails
- Creating trail is designing an escape from reality. Trail building can be a form of art
- The importance of taking advantage of the situations that you are presented with
- Greg’s innovation during the pandemic, characterized by maintaining the success of Singletrack Trails along with tackling two other businesses, Tools for Trails and Desert Rat Tours
[26:17] It goes back to being a kid. The bike was my escape from reality. My bike—it still is the escape from my reality.
[30:21] Even to this day, most people say, “Oh, I didn’t know that you can make a living doing that.” And at the time, I was even surprised that I could find a way to make a living just building trail. It was amazing to realize that I could do that.
[55:32] We can get into the nitpicking of, “That corner’s too tight, or you should have gone below that rock or above that rock,” you know, it’s art. Everybody has a different representation of what that art is, like a lot of people look at a Jackson Pollock and think he just threw paint on a canvas.
[57:18] Trails are like shoes: you can’t just have one pair.
Greg Mazu 0:02
We were working as a business for 13 years before I realized that I needed to set up a business. So I like even though this is year 16, for Singletrack Trails, it’s really like year three of trying to be organized. And I do a lot of referencing to restaurant the, like the restaurant industry, like we have the front of the house in the back of the house, the front of the house, include me and our biz dev guy and our marketing guy. And we chase the work and do the planning. And in the back of the house are the cooks, the chefs, the artists, the guys in the staff and the gals that get the project on the ground. And so we have the back of the house is dialed however the front of the house is still being created and figuring out how to, oh, we have an HR issue. Do we have something for that and every business chases this all the time, but that’s the hardest thing right now.
Marc Gutman 1:00
Podcasting from Boulder, Colorado, this is the Baby Got Back story Podcast, where we dive into the story behind the story of today’s most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like big backstories and I cannot lie. I am your host, Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman, and on today’s episode of Baby Got Back story. How a kid from Indiana in love with his bicycle, built his dream job, which turned into his dream company, building mountain bike and recreation trails all over the country. Hello, Have you missed us because we missed you. We took a short hiatus, summer schedules, kids getting back to school coming to terms with summer being over the struggle is real. It all got in the way. But I am so stoked for the upcoming slate of shows we have for you. And you are about to listen to our 40th episode. And when I say that it doesn’t sound like a lot. But 40 episodes of Baby got backstory has been the greatest hardest work of my career. I love doing this show and the people I get to talk to I learned so much from every single guest. So thank you for your support. Thank you for listening. And thank you for keeping me going. Today’s show is more than worthy of the 40th episode status. Today I am talking to Greg Mazu. Greg is a self described Nomad and misfit and along with his merry band of nomads and misfits, he has created his dream job designing and building mountain bike and recreational trails all over the United States. I’m sure that sounds like a dream job to a lot of you listening as well. Now if you like and enjoy the show, please take a minute or two to rate and review us over at iTunes. iTunes uses these as part of the algorithm that determines ratings on the apple charts. We like high ratings on the apple charts because those help us to build an audience, which then helps us to continue to produce this awesome, amazing show. During our interview with Greg one thing will be incredibly clear. He loves what he does. He uses terms like trail artists, and clearly articulates his magical blend of work and play. Greg says his title single track trails is chief encouragement officer. And it’s hard not to get encouraged and excited when hearing Greg talk about what he does. From a guy who loved to ride bikes and noodle on trails to a leader in the outdoor recreation industry. All across the country. Greg Mazu has reset the standard of what it means to do what you love. And this is his story.
I’m here with Greg Mazu and he is the founder and chief encouragement Officer of singletrack trails. And Greg, can you just give us a little context what is singletrack trails?
Greg Mazu 4:27
Singletrack trails is a outdoor recreation developer. We build infrastructure, we create infrastructure across the country for natural surface hiking, mountain biking and equestrian use mainly but we do get into motorized, and we do get into bicycle skill parks and other things related to recreating on our natural resources.
Marc Gutman 4:48
And when you were a young child when Greg was eight years old, I mean, is that what you were doing? Were you off building trails.
Greg Mazu 4:56
I was always playing outside. Yes, and probably Like any other eight year old, I was fascinated with equipment. However, building trails was not something probably even on my radar as something that people do until their 20s or until my 20s. And so so we had no, it wasn’t on the radar other than other than playing outside. I grew up in the Midwest and had no clue that trails really existed in the way that they do now.
Marc Gutman 5:24
Yeah, so tell me a little bit about that. Where’d you grow up? And and what was that? Like?
Greg Mazu 5:29
I mainly grew up in southern Indiana. It was as as most people who are from the Midwest, no, it was it was rather warm, it was rather humid. I spent most of my days pedaling my road bike around, got into road racing as a teenager and kind of like my mom. My mom had family in Oregon so so getting out to the Pacific Northwest was always a favorite thing in my life. And and so basically, once once I was able to start forming my own thoughts for what I wanted to do with life, I wanted to get out of the Midwest and out to the out to the west coast kind of as quickly as possible.
Marc Gutman 6:07
Yeah. Did you have a sense of what what that might be? I mean, did you always want to be in the outdoor recreation industry? Are you more like, hey, I want to be a doctor or construction dude or whatever.
Greg Mazu 6:19
I was a teenager in the years of Greg Lamond, and I wanted to I wanted to go to Europe and race my bike. I had no other thoughts other than that. Obviously, that didn’t work out. But uh, um, but no, I really like I’ve never really thought in planned a life goal kind of kind of like that. Like, I want to be a doctor, I want to be a lawyer. When I grow up. I I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up right now. So I’m, I’m just taking I just take what life gives me and kind of kind of make the lemonade.
Marc Gutman 6:58
Yeah, and I love this image of you, idolizing Greg lemon, I kind of have this image of like even the the movie breaking away or something like that. The Italians are coming. The Italians are coming, but especially in Indiana, and all that kind of stuff. Like
Greg Mazu 7:13
I got, I used to be able to tell you every single road that that movie was filmed on back in the day, so
Marc Gutman 7:20
Iconic for sure. And, you know, what was it about road racing that caught your attention? What did you love about it?
Greg Mazu 7:28
It got me out of the house. Like Like, like everything that we see about outdoor recreation now getting out of the house, the freedom, the escape from reality, that that was road racing. To me, it got me out of the house, I I didn’t want to focus on school as much as my parents wanted me to. I didn’t want to they want to mow the lawn. So it got me It got got me my independence. You know, and my parents were pretty willing to let me start as as, as an early teenager, if you will, they started let me go in for an hour long ride and then two hour long rides, and then I would just go out and disappear and come back. Probably a better person for them to manage in the long run. So yeah, so so that’s the road racing was my escape. I was in southern Indiana trails. I mean, what what trails there were weren’t fantastic. The mountain bikes were, you know, fully rigid cannon lever brakes. Not super awesome. So road bikes were were were my escape.
Marc Gutman 8:28
Yeah, and that right there, you mentioned that, you know, it necessarily wasn’t what, you know, your parents wanted for you. You want it, you know, they probably wanted you to study harder and you wanted to ride your bike. What did your parents want for you? Like, what were their hopes?
Greg Mazu 8:43
I think, you know, obviously, doing well in school, I probably, you know, moving moving on and getting what I would describe as as the corporate job and, and, and trying to make it make make big changes in that fashion. Um, you know, my dad worked for for BF Goodrich and Alcoa for most of his adult life. And I don’t know if that was the way I studied exercise science in college and thought that I would, I would get involved with that somehow, some way. And, and, and I think they were okay with that decision. I think they would have preferred me to be a business graduate or something like that. And, yeah, it was something like expectations were kind of like, you need always kind of wanting to do better, but but there wasn’t on the whiteboard of like, this is what Neal Mark, Mark off these boxes in your life kind of thing.
Marc Gutman 9:39
Yeah. And so when you were in high school in southern Indiana, like, what was the path for for most of your friends or most kids in your town? I mean, were they staying and working for the local company? Were they moving on to school? did was that always in your future to move on to higher education?
Greg Mazu 9:56
Yeah, yeah, no, definitely. Um, I might. I I grew up in a, a quote-unquote suburb of a bigger city so so everybody was a little better off. So, so higher education was always on track. I think maybe some people went off to school and then move back to where we grew up. And then some others. Others, like myself kind of escaped across the country to move on to, uh, you know, environments that that spoke more to them personally
Marc Gutman 10:28
Yeah, so tell me about that. So when you leave home and you finish high school, what does that look like? It sounds like he moved out west and give us a like,
Greg Mazu 10:39
Nope, still took me four more years. I went to Indiana University for four years. I moved out, you know how some people move out, go into the dorms and they go home every summer. That was not me. Hi. I basically moved into the dorm and kind of never went home like, the independence of living in a college town was fantastic. So So, between freshmen and sophomore year, I moved into a house with a bunch of bike racing buddies. We spent the summer racing bikes and that was, that was basically you know, the next three years after that, you know, I just stayed in Bloomington, Indiana for four years. And then graduated college and took a month off and in there, well, a month off like I just graduated college, right. So I took a month and drove around the West, in my Honda Civic living out of it ended up in Seattle and saw an old, an old IU friend. And about three weeks later, she called me up and said that they found me a temp job at the company they were working for she and her boyfriend were working for so I loaded up moving truck and moved out to Seattle, Washington by the end of the summer.
Marc Gutman 11:50
Yeah. And what was that job and the name of the company that was waiting for you in Seattle.
Greg Mazu 11:55
I was working with Raleigh and Diamondback bicycles. I was I was kind of like the grunt in the in the product development department assembling bikes for inner bike at the time assembling bikes for photoshoots. Helping out they still had a production line in Kent, Washington. So if there was an issue over there, I would, I would go over and start breaking chains for for the assembly line or, or helping to do whatever needed to help it on the assembly line. So wasn’t the most intriguing job but it got me It got me out of out of the Midwest got me into Seattle, Seattle is is near and dear to my heart now. And I have a lot of fake family, as I like to call them out there. So I really, really kind of grew. That’s when I kind of grew up and realized that there was a world outside of the Midwest.
Marc Gutman 12:45
Yeah, it must have been, you know, well, maybe not, you know, your dream job. It got you into the industry working in and around, you know, bikes, which must have much must have been great, right? That was your dream as someone who was so invested in cycling?
Greg Mazu 12:59
No, it was super good. Probably the last year in college, like bikes, bikes had kind of left my life a little bit, um, I and I was walking around, walking around life a little aimlessly and, and so got back, I got back into riding bikes got into mountain biking, got into realizing that there was more to food than just pizza and burgers, realizing that people spoke other languages, in, in, in our cities. And it was just completely eye-opening to me and I realized that it was awesome.
Marc Gutman 13:38
So then, so what did you study when you’re IU? And when you left? You know, would you think you were going to do at that point, even before you got this job in Seattle,
Greg Mazu 13:47
I was an exercise science major. I thought well, towards the end there. Obviously, they’re kind of pumping people into cardiac rehab kind of stuff and wasn’t really speaking to me, I, you know, as as I tell a lot of people on my staff now I’ve got, I’ve got kids now working for me who are trying to ramp up at a degree or, or they’re somewhere on a gap year or something like that. It’s like no, you will go back to school and you will get a degree. So I kind of like left IU knowing that I had accomplished getting a degree but I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. So I just kind of was on the chase for trying to figure that out and getting into the bike industry with getting back into the bike industry or getting into the bike industry. And then getting back into bikes was a huge help for me. Um, but I was 22, 23 and still slightly. I didn’t have a true north that I was following yet. So so I was bouncing around a little bit still then so
Marc Gutman 14:50
Yeah, and talk to me a little bit about that. So you know, you mentioned this idea of a true north and you’re bouncing around a little bit. So where does this first job lead you to where How does that develop? And where do you go next?
Greg Mazu 15:03
I, that first job just kind of led me to realizing that there was more to life out there. Um, I ended up when I moved out to Seattle, I shared a moving truck with a friend from Indiana and I dropped him off in Colorado. So I spent about nine months in Seattle, and then I got restless. And, and so I started, my intent was to create a life where I could bounce back and forth between Seattle and Colorado. And so I came back to Colorado and hung out, hung out with some friends that I had here in her back up in Seattle for a little bit and then ended up I was going to come to Colorado for I grabbed my stuff, and I was going to come to Colorado and work for six months, doing temp jobs doing whatever kind of came across my way. And then and then go back to Seattle and kind of do the same, like, oh, I’ll come back out and help you guys get the bikes ready for interbike are kind of doing whatever odd jobs I could, you know, been 20 like I said, 22-23 that’s a pretty awesome life to be bouncing back and forth.
Marc Gutman 16:06
Yeah, and so like, what, you know, what I’m hearing is that, you know, the work though, is also like a little bit of an ends to a means like, like, like, what were you doing, you know, in these areas that was lighting you up and making it you know, pretty ideal as you put it,
Greg Mazu 16:22
I won’t lie I was enjoying this life. I was rock climbing, I was kayaking, and I was mountain biking and road riding. You know, that’s, that’s what was was, was motivating me, at the time was to be playing outside and skiing and snowboarding. So that’s what was was my driving force. But when on one of my stints here in Colorado, I ended up meeting a I in a meeting my girlfriend who is still around in my life at this point. So moving back and forth between Seattle and Colorado was kind of that dream disappeared. At that point, she wasn’t super pumped on on that transient lifestyle. So which it turned out to be super good. Um, so I ended up working in Colorado for some some some random jobs for three years, I ended up packing boxes at a at a food supplement distributor for a couple of those years. And just it was not motivating me. And over that time, I got involved with the mountain bike advocacy group and started building trails as a volunteer starting getting more education, about building trails. And then I was able to weasel my way into a job with Colorado State Parks in Fort Collins, Colorado, and became a seasonal trail employee at a state park. So so that’s how I got into what I’m doing. And then after about a year, I realized that they didn’t really pay me as a state employee, they paid me more as a contractor. So I woke up one day and realized that I had a business I never had to make that decision to start leave a job and start my own business because the state of Colorado forced me into that at the time,
Marc Gutman 18:14
Thankfully, for the state of Colorado, but that’s backup. Thank you, you covered a lot of ground and you jumped right you know right into Hey, I’ve got a business, but uh, you know, so you’re, you’re working this job, your pack jobs, one of them’s packing boxes, but but you’re lit up by the outdoors, and you’re lit up by writing. And take me a little bit into this. You mentioned that you joined a trail advocacy group you started volunteering on the trail, like kind of take me back to that, like Do you remember like the first like, why you did it? And then maybe like, what was the first trail you actually like started, you know, digging on or working on or, you know, let’s talk a little bit about that
Greg Mazu 18:56
So that’s a tough one. The first trail that we actually I actually did trail work on that would be that’s in the distance that’s in the distant memory hire. I remember the first one that I worked on it as a professional but but really like what happened is is Barb was in my life. She had moved to Colorado from New England where she had been mountain biking had been in her history back in New England quite a bit and and she had done some some volunteer trail days. And so we both got involved with the with the local group in Fort Collins together. And so she took me to a couple volunteer days. I was like, I don’t want to do that I want to go ride my bike this weekend. And so, but ended up ended up going to those and enjoying it enjoying being outside and wanting to do more and realizing that it helped it helped this passion that I had for mountain biking at the time it helped like I was helping to make make the trails more more to my liking because that’s, you know, a lot of volunteers are out building on trails and they’re their driving force typically is to make sure trails, more to their liking whether whether whether hiking mountain biking or questioning us, they they want to make the trails better for how they use the trails.
Marc Gutman 20:11
Yeah, and that’s where I was going with that. I mean, you know, I think my initial reaction I’m a little embarrassed to say would be like yours. It’s like, Hey, I don’t want to go to like an advocacy group, I want to go and like, ride my bike or hang with my friends. So like, I just like, what is it about advocacy? Even at that level? That’s important, like, What? What caught your attention there? Or, you know, why was it important, you know, to BB for you guys to go and do that?
Greg Mazu 20:36
Well, at the time, um, mountain biking is the redheaded stepchild of outdoor recreation endeavors, if you will, like it’s, it’s the one of the younger ones to the table, we’re trying to use the same trails is hiking and equestrian use. And so through advocacy, mountain biking has been able to gain more access to more trails in the long run.
Marc Gutman 21:02
Yeah. Awesome. That’s really interesting to me that like, you know, I think today, we look around, and especially here in Colorado, but I think of everywhere I was in Michigan for a while this summer, it’s like, mountain biking doesn’t seem to be today. This kind of younger, like less represented sport, it seems very mainstream to me. So to hear you say that. And to take us back there is really interesting. And, and yeah, can you talk a little bit about like, where mountain biking was at the time, you’re kind of getting into that, but I just find that really, really fascinating.
Greg Mazu 21:34
Yeah, and I think that the efforts, the efforts of the late 90s and early 2000s are why mountain biking seems way more mainstream at this point. But at the time, you know, we’re, you know, mountain bikes were coming off of and being fully rigid. And Kenny lever breaks trails were not necessarily built for mountain biking at the time. And so they they were built by hikers and horseback riders, and they saw a summit and they’re like, we want to go to that summit. And so the trails kind of took the direct route up up the hill. And so for a mountain biking at the time, it coming down a hill on canny lever brakes, which, if you remember required pretty much your entire hand your all four fingers to be gripping as tight as possible to kind of, you know, and they were, you know, rim brakes, disc brakes didn’t exist, there were there was barely any suspension at the time. So mountain bikes were known for being reckless and out of control, and didn’t belong on trails. Um, and and in the trails were steep. And so there was a lot of hiking, biking going up the hill to a lot of a lot of, you know, skidding down the hill. And so so it was a struggle It was a struggle for for mountain bikers to keep access to trails in local environments and whatnot.
And over time, disc brakes evolved and, and over time, you know, suspension happened, so it was easier to stay in control. And it’s always kind of fun to hop on a bike that has narrow handlebars, canny lever brakes, and no suspension and go for a ride and just be like, I wish the kids today knew understood what we went through back in the day, right? Like, oh, they have it so good with technology. But, you know, so but mountain hikers and equestrians, to serious stereotype, they would say, all this erosion on trails is caused by mountain bikers.
They’re the newest, the newest kid on the block. And, and mountain bikers knew that that was not true. It was actually the design of the trail for the trail that had not been designed but had been walked in and hiked in and horseback in. And so So, mountain bikers took that opportunity to say, hey, let’s let’s, let’s work on this. Let’s reroute these trails, let’s make it the grade less steep. Let’s make it more the catchphrases is sustainable. I prefer the term durable let’s make it more durable. And and by through that like the the trail became easier to climb so we didn’t have to hike a bike as much and coming down we were able to to increase perceive speeds. So you feel like you’re going faster, but you’re actually more in control. And then it’s like oh, you see a hiker, you’re able to actually stop. And and we’re, you know, we’re able to take out blind corners where his you know, like, it always seems that wherever there’s a blind corner, there’s there’s a high rate of speed for a mountain biker and you come around the corner and there’s a horseback rider and a cliff.
And it’s like you scare them and it’s like they feel like they’re about to fall off the cliff. So we were able to use, you know, trail design in trail maintenance, and trail construction to kind of reshape the industry making trails more, more sustainable and more durable. I’m sure some people will say I’m giving mountain bikers too much credit for for, you know, the change in this industry. But if you look at if you look at the companies that are out there Who are pushing the industry forward, we all came from from the sport of mountain biking so so I feel I feel like it’s a fairly accurate assessment of life.
Marc Gutman 25:10
And I love that glimpse just into the early days and, and what it was like and the challenges and you know, hiking your bike up and then bomb and down and try not to like flip over the handlebars. And so like, it wasn’t easy, you know, and, and I remember the first time I was on a mountain bike, like it just, it was fun. It was cool, but it certainly wasn’t easy and right so what like, what did you love about it? Like, why why mountain biking with everything that you have going on? You have climbing there was some you know, road road biking, all the things we do in Colorado, and I know you didn’t just probably didn’t just abandon that stuff. But like, what was it that really lit you up? about getting on a mountain bike back, especially back then, you know,
Greg Mazu 25:51
I think, you know, one, it’s it’s a bicycle and bicycles have always been the one the one tool that motivates me the most as like, I can live someplace without skiing, but I cannot live someplace without mountain biking. Like, like, you take my bike away. I become a very sad individual. So I think why
Marc Gutman 26:15
Why? What’s so great about a bike?
Greg Mazu 26:17
It goes back to being the kid, the bike was my escape from reality. my bike, the you know, it still is the escape for my reality, I may, you know, there was a there was a period in life where I couldn’t really ride a mountain bike trail without being critical of how it was built or how it was maintained. And and today I may kind of think a little too much about work on it, but still, it’s how I escape reality of the world. Um, and it’s really nice, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s similar to like going snowshoeing in my, in my opinion, like, like, if you if you go for a hike, you have to walk up the hill and you have to walk down the hill. And, and let’s not forget that walking down the hill is actually harder and on the knees on the hips on on the feet, because you’re breaking with with with your feet. And so so it’s just like snowshoeing you walk up the hill Do you have to walk down versus mountain biking is like back countries, you know, splitboarding or skiing where you get to skin up the hill to slide down and so same thing with mountain biking is you get to you get to pedal up the hill and you get to roll down the hill. And that’s that’s just way more fun than having a walk down it so
Marc Gutman 27:31
Thank you for that. And so you know you let’s go back to you know you you’ve kind of fallen into this this job with the state of Colorado and and can you just reset that so you’re What are you doing for them at the time when you realize like, hey, like I’m a contractor and I’ve kind of got a thing going on here.
Greg Mazu 27:53
Well at the time I’m I’m basically just the seasonal trails coordinator for Laurie State Park in here in Fort Collins. And my job is in 97 there was a large thunderstorm that sat over the park and over the town and flooded the park and a lot of the town so So my job is to help complete a trails plan to rebuild some of the trails up there from from from that storm, I think it dropped like 12 or 15 inches of rain in like a 24 hour period. So a lot of the trails had gotten hammered from that and so my job was to work with volunteers work with Youth Corps to go out and work by myself to to kind of maintain trails, reroute trails and implement this trail plan that the previous person had created. And, and it was a six-month job. And so, you know, after the first six months, I got another job. Another temp job here in Fort Collins.
I then went back the following summer, and the position was funded through a grant. And it was that second year that you know, it was like kind of like, well, well, you’re not really a state employee because of you know, we can’t use this grant money to pay you as a state employee. I’m like, Okay, well, I’m not a bit I don’t have insurance for this. And so so we found a way to launder my money through an A nonprofit locally, that first year but it really there was enough money for the next two years for me to be working at Laurie State Park and so it kind of like allowed me to to continue that that second six months season and then at the time the international mountain bicycling association was creating their trail solutions program and they were leveraging people like myself to kind of show up on projects and help get them done. So I was able to start kind of like farming myself out and and then do a little bit of contract.
We’re planning work by a contract for Laurie State Park in the wintertime. It didn’t really like I like to say that I woke up one day and it and it hit me in They kind of did. But it was really like a 12 month process for me to realize that, oh, hey, like I, they’re, they’re paying me as a contractor. It took probably two or three more years for me to realize that I had my own business. But I was I was able to piece together three or four years of just constant trail work. And as an even to this day, most people say, like, Oh, I didn’t know that you can make a living doing that. And it’s just like, at the time, I was even surprised that I could make it, you know, find a way to make to make a living just building trail. And, and, you know, it was amazing to realize that I could do that.
Marc Gutman 30:36
Yeah, and so at this time, is it just you or do you have a you bring on crew? Or what does that look like?
Greg Mazu 30:43
It was me, myself and I. I was, you know, if if I was if I was getting called up to you know, Wyoming state parks called me in to wrap up a small project. If it was trail solutions, I might show up in there other other other vagabonds like myself, who were trying to get into this business, so it might be a team on one of those projects, but but, but really like, from this is 2004 I like to say January one, 2004 is the start of the business. So from this is like 2004 through, say, 2007 the business was was me, myself and I, I was I was out building by, you know, doing projects building by hand. By the end of that I I owned a truck, a trailer and a machine. I had, you know, work in Wyoming and Colorado. And and i was i was i was i was living the dream, if you will.
Marc Gutman 31:41
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I’m sitting here thinking what’s special or what’s difficult about trail design and building it this time and what I mean by that is like why not just like what why aren’t these organizations just you know, using folks they have on the payroll or other community members handing them a shovel and saying get out it like what’s difficult about this or like what’s the challenge?
Greg Mazu 33:05
The challenge is most people feel like also, I’ll put it this way. Most people feel that trails are built by fairies and elves even to this day. And that means that they just magically appear or if in the case of elves there is a union and they do get paid but trails just magically appear it’s like there’s we want there’s the some of the mountain please just go out and and and and you know, cut some brush and just you know rake and ride is kind of what those trails are called because you could you just rake some brush out of the way and you can even ride it you can hike it and you can ride your horse on it.
But they’re like where I struggle is some people say standards or specifications and this is trail building our standard is plus or minus a foot so so I apologize to all the engineers but engineers are not super fantastic at building great trail. And so at the time where it was coming from is my job title at the time was trail artist. And so even today we say we create trail we’re artists we’re a band of of nomads and misfits and we’re and we create trailer artists we take what the land gives us and we can see the UPS downs left’s and rights and and and put that in and if you just go out and build it like a road, you go, you go for 1000 feet and put a turn in and go for 1000 feet, that’s just, it’s unengaging.
You know, driving a superhighway is unengaging is fast and straight and we want to we want to disengage from reality and so you have to take the rocks and the trees and the train that that that the the the topography gives you and you have to artistically create something so that that was the difference then is those of us that we’re kind of seeing trails is art. Seeing trails as as we want to take what the land gives us And build with that not take what we want to input it in force it on the land. So so that was the difference. That’s why it was difficult, if you will.
Marc Gutman 35:08
Yeah. And so I think this is a good time, as I was researching prior to our interview here, on your website, front and center, it says, we believe in this synthesis of connection. What does that mean?
Greg Mazu 35:23
It means that, like, as I like to say, we’re trying to, we’re trying to connect users and advocates to the trails of their dreams, we’re trying to connect land managers to the trails that they want to manage. And I’m trying to connect staff to a dream job, if you will, I’m trying to take nomads and misfits who are passionate about being outside and recreating and providing a good time for others in creating a job that that maybe someday they could afford a mortgage. I’m trying to create that and so so the synthesis of connection is we’re trying to take all these different concepts and we’re trying to merge them together into enjoying and enjoying the natural resources and escaping reality.
Marc Gutman 36:09
And you mentioned this a couple times you talk about nomads and misfits like why did they Why are they the perfect employees? Why? You know, normally nomads and misfits are not the ideal job description for a business so like, Why Why is it Why is that the ideal job description for you in single track trails?
Greg Mazu 36:28
One I’m, I’m a nomad and a misfit I am I am best on the go. And, and putting me putting me in many environments I don’t quite fit in into most in most social circles. So um, but not like in order to make a business I realized early on in order to in order to make a successful business, I was going to have to travel one that spoke to me because I love to travel I want to go other places. And to like there’s only like I’m my girlfriend lives in Fort Collins, I pay my mortgage in Winter Park and the companies are based in Grand Junction. So I’m, I’m constantly on the go. But pick any one of those locations. There’s there’s only so many trails that can be built in a specific location. So So we’ve worked, we worked across the country. And so no matter and a misfit has to be, you know, there are people that are willing to chase chase the work to to enjoy life.
Marc Gutman 37:23
And so let’s go back a little bit. You said you know, I think it’s around 2007 it’s just you up to that point, you’ve got a truck, a tractor, some machinery some tools, like what changes for you in the business around then which takes it into I would say just a more of a growth mode or more of a larger business.
Greg Mazu 37:48
Just to I wouldn’t say growth, he says a larger business what happened was, I was doing so a bit of work for him betrayal solutions, and an over on the west loop in Grand Junction and that in a another statewide nonprofit called bicycle Colorado and the BLM Bureau of Land Management. We’re all working on a plan for some trails based in downtown Grand Junction called the lunch loops. As everybody knows, that are the tabel watch trailhead, and they had plans for at the time was going to be the first official on on BLM land, technically on public land in the country.
Free Ride trail for mountain biking so not just your cross country trail but a trail that has jumps and drops and one could argue that every trail has jumps and drops but at the time in 2007 this was a huge thing. So I invoked bicycle Colorado and the BLM have a what’s more you have a memorandum of understanding to to push this project forward because it’s in Colorado but bicycle Colorado was was going to be the the the organization that pushed it forward and so I knew this and I hounded the executive director at the time Dan grunich like i was i was i he probably saw my emails coming in was just like Ah, this dude again, but I hounded him until until he could not resist anymore that I was I was supposed to be the guy that that was was gonna complete that project and help bicycle Colorado get it done. And Dan finally relented and and brought brought me on board to you know, I was kind of a subcontractor slash employee of bicycle Colorado, and in September of 2007 is is when we started building what is now known as free lunch.
But in order to do that, I needed to bring on a couple other staff members and one of those was a local bike shop mechanic that that did a lot of jump building and a lot of digging and basically I was told by a couple People in meetings over in Grand Junction like if you want this show to be a success, you need to be bring James on board. So I listened, I called up James and said, Hey, would you help build this trail with me? And and he said yes. And it like, like that sounds like the start of a relationship and and it was because 13 years later, he is he is still with the company and and he is our chief project manager, Chief trail artist as well. So, so that was the change in 2007. And his got a big project, how to bring on a staff member. And then the next year, Wyoming state parks had a big project brought on a couple more, more staff members. And we were splitting time between Grand Junction in Wyoming and continued over the next three or four years to keep building projects in those two areas specifically, but also start to chase work in in Utah. We even went as far as as Tennessee in 2013. So so that was that was the start of it all.
Marc Gutman 41:02
Yeah. And at that point, I mean, right before that inflection, that inflection moment, where you vision envisioning where you’re, if you’re you thinking, you know, I need to turn this into a bigger business, I want a bigger business, or was this all was it inertia was it just like, hey, there’s an opportunity, and it snowballs from there.
Greg Mazu 41:19
Inertia I like, probably even through, even through 2013, as as we chased a project that project in Nashville, Tennessee, it’s like I just like, I almost felt like the company was too big, um, like, I just like, I was okay with me, plus a couple people, but, but, um, I hadn’t really come to the realization that if you’re going to, if you were going to build a business you had, you had to, like, create a business. And it was it was, like, like, there was some times where like, like, we were wrapping up a project, and I didn’t know what was going to be next for us. And, and fortunately, I had enough irons in the fire that something came through at the last second, we were able to keep working but but it was it was total inertia, like I had, like, in 2007. If you said this might be getting a little head, but if you said in in 2007, if you said in 10 years, you’re gonna have you know, a staff of 15 people and and you’re going to be doing, you know, seven times the amount of work you’re doing right now, I’ve been like, No, thank you, I just know that I don’t want to do that. I just want to be out in the woods building trail, let alone now I don’t even I don’t even build trail anymore. I just I just run the company. So
Marc Gutman 42:33
Yeah. And that’s that kind of leads me to a question that I’ve been forming over the courses interview, like, how does like and we’ll try to keep this short. But like, how does this work? You know, like, how does it start? Like, how do like how do you even come into a project? What do you do? Like, what is what does this actually look like?
Greg Mazu 42:52
Everything and that’s the great thing. If, if the theme hasn’t been obvious yet, I’m not quite a dog with a squirrel or bright light. But I am almost like that I needed I like doing the same thing over and over is not me. So every project is different with, with how it forms. With how it gets to the finish line, you know, for us, some projects are somebody calls us up and says we have a trail, here’s the flag line, we want you to build it this way. And we can do that some people call us up and say, Hey, we have this property, we have an idea for a trail, could you come in and help? You know, lay it out and create you know, create the design for it. And we can do that. And some projects are a combination of the two. Some projects go out to bid competitively on an art on a RFP. Some projects are sole sourced in some projects are start out with an RFP, and then they enjoy working with us. And then we become sole source. So some projects are privately funded. Some projects are funded with grants and some projects are funded with line items out of municipal budgets. So every every single project is completely different in terms of how and how in terms of how it gets to us and how and how we create it.
Marc Gutman 44:12
And with all that variability, I’m sure there’s a lot of challenges. But what’s the most challenging part of your business now? I mean, what, what’s what’s the tough part thing that we don’t see?
Greg Mazu 44:23
Yeah, the tough part is we were working as a business for 13 years before I realized that I needed to set up a business. So I like even though this is year 16 for single track trails. It’s really like year three of trying to be organized and I do a lot of referencing to restaurant the rest like the restaurant industry, like we have the front of the house in the back of the house, the front of the house include me and our biz dev guy and our marketing guy. And we chase the work and do the planning and in the back of the house are the cooks, the chefs, the artists, that guys in the staff and the gals that get the project on the ground, and so we had the back of the house is dialed, however the front of the house is still being created and figuring out how to, oh, we have an HR issue. Do we have something for that and every business chases this all the time. But that’s the hardest thing right now is getting organized and making sure that the world doesn’t think that we’re like, showing the world that we’re not a junk show, even though we might be a junk show on the back end.
Marc Gutman 45:30
In that vein, other than the idea that trails just magically appear, which I kind of just love that, because I think that everyone probably just assumes that what else do people get wrong about the work you’re doing?
Greg Mazu 45:43
The biggest thing and this happened quite a bit is, especially this time of year, last week. Oh, by the way, it’s snowed. And there was basically a blizzard in Colorado, the earliest ever, right after record heat waves. And so people and this week is beautiful. So so people will will head out. And if they see our trail staff on this beautiful 83 degree day, where we’re finally smoke in the forest, you know, there’s no smoke in the air from the forest fires, and they’ll just be like, you have the best job ever. You’re out here every day. It’s like, Where were you two weeks ago, and it was 105 degrees. And we were breeding smoke, Where were you last week when it was a blizzard. And now this is the great like, so everybody thinks we have the best job because we’re outside, but they always forget that we have to work in harsh environments.
Marc Gutman 46:33
Yeah, one of the things I love about your story, and what I know about you, as well is, you know, from the outside At least it appears that both opportunity and, and and just problems are the mother of invention and progress for your business. And so I know that you have other businesses that have that have come out of single track trails, what are those look like?
Greg Mazu 46:57
Primarily the other. The other, I have two other official businesses right now one being tools for trails, which is an online tool retailer for trail building supplies. And then a couple years ago, my ego acquired an existing business over in Grand Junction, it’s a shuttle guide company called desert rat tours, I had watched some friends run it as a side hustle. And I was like, and I was like, it doesn’t take much work to to drive that business and, and my ego heard that they were selling it and so I acquired it from them. And since then single track trails and tools for trails have been growing.
So it’s kind of the redheaded stepchild of my businesses. But now my side hustles are getting side hustles if you will, in tools for trails, we’re developing a in-house tool brand called back slope tools. So we’re trying to take the tools that that trail builders have been using for you know, 100 plus years, and in trying to modify them into to modern tools and give them a modern take on on, on how we actually use the tools and and make them stackable, so you can put them in a trailer make them lockable in case they’re there in your in the back of your truck and you’re in you’re in downtown Denver and in either run into the hardware store or something like that.
But just also like, so many times volunteer after volunteer events are so many times at the end of a long workday. You sit around on a tailgate with a beer and you’re like, ah would it be great if we had this tool and so we’re finally taking the time to take all those all that beer talk and actually turn it into tools. And make a modern, you know, it’s a on a on a quick side note one of one of our tools or trails. Vendors sent out an email last week like Oh, hey, like we’re like, we, we’ve we’ve updated a tool and they took they took a tool they added for length four inches to the handle length, and it’s just like, oh, that that’s an update. Okay, um, No, thank you. So so so the side hustle has a side hustle there. And we’re also looking at singletrack trails is also looking to get back into more land planning with the landscape architect on staff and we’re looking to get into some, you know, there’s always fabrication needs for every trail project. So we’re looking at maybe create a fab arm as well. So when this when this pandemic hit, I was wondering if the business was going to survive. And I figured that when I wasn’t going to be traveling, I get kind of bored and I was like, hopefully I don’t start another business. And and fortunately for us singletrack trails is going to survive and prosper at this point. And I started three other businesses. So I kind of like succeeded, but also failed at my goals in March.
Marc Gutman 49:49
The good kind of failure. And so, you know, as you were talking what really struck me is it almost and you can correct me because this is just my my interpretation, but the trail building and where you’re at today, it really is really paralleling the journey you described of mountain biking itself, you know, a ways back where we started, it was kind of like, you know, we had the best that we had, but the technology just wasn’t there. And it sounds like now, you know, through tools for trails and, and your other side hustles have side hustles that, you know, you’re working to bring trail building into a more, you know, technologically, current state, you know, the right tool for the right job. I mean, would that would that be accurate?
Greg Mazu 50:35
Yeah. I, the answer is yes. The show I guess the short answer to that is yes, um, I’m just trying to take advantage of situations that I kind of see in front of me, again, like, the intent was not, when, when all of that when all of this started, the intent was not to, to to intentionally modernize the tools and whatnot, it was just like, hey, can can we take the time to produce this tool, and the tool and the tool brand came specifically from tools trails, which has been around for eight years, as as, as a small like, just providing singletrack trails and, and, and trail groups in Colorado with tools it came around with, like, there’s not a lot of margin in the tools that we sell. And so it’s like, having been in the bike industry having been on the periphery of outdoor recreation industry, like how, how can we create a supply chain that gives us better margin so that every time every every group that calls me up once wants 50% off on their tools? and me being the guy like, yes, you’re putting great trail on the ground here, here you go. It’s like, how can we make it so that if I give somebody a discount, I’m not basically paying for their tools as well. So So that’s, that’s where, you know, it just, it just keeps the opportunity to kind of keep coming because, at best, I’m an opportunity just like, I’m just taking advantage of, of what life is giving me.
Marc Gutman 52:03
And so what makes a great tool?
Greg Mazu 52:06
In the historic words of Keith Bontrager in the bike industry, light, cheap and strong pick two, however, we’re trying to do all three, we’re trying to make it we’re trying to make it light. We’re trying to make it strong, and we’re trying to make it affordable.
Marc Gutman 52:19
And so what does singletrack trails look like today?
Greg Mazu 52:22
Today we are a staff of about 47 people. We have Front Range Colorado based staff we have a Grand Junction based staff. We’re looking to expand staff based into Salt Lake City last year, Fall of 2019 I brought on a longtime subcontractor based in Brevard, North Carolina. So we have North Carolina based staff and we were trying to build up these we used to be a regional company that works nationally and now we’re trying to become a national company that works regionally. And so we’re trying to develop in scale through these through these these smaller regional hubs versus versus trying to take color out of staff all over the all over the country.
Marc Gutman 53:05
Yes, anything scary about that?
Greg Mazu 53:09
Uh, no and that’s probably what I should be scared about.
I mean, the great The great thing I get to do like for me personally for a guy that loves to travel it’s like I get to go to Salt Lake and park see on a regular basis I get to hopefully you know go to Boulevard North Carolina and ride his gun and and and the trails and in Knoxville and down into Georgia and and you know, at some point we’ll probably expand into new england and maybe Oregon in California and so so like, like, what was me I like I get to travel to great places and ride great trails and and hang out at great breweries and with great people all over the place. So no, it doesn’t scare me. It makes me it makes me want to pop the clutch and punch the gas. Let’s go. Yeah,
Marc Gutman 53:58
I was gonna ask that. I think you just you answered the question, but I wasn’t gonna you know, we know people do get wrong. You said like, Hey, you got the dream job but it does sound and a lot of respects you have the dream job and and you know, I was gonna ask do you really get to ride you know, the trails that you work on? Do you really get to experience the town’s but I’ll let you kind of answer that over again. But it sounds great.
Greg Mazu 54:20
Yeah, the answer is yes. I have created a dream job and you know what, you know, even even on the crappy days in my staff now they they they they enjoy the crappy days just as much as they enjoy the great days. But no, I get to are there people that are more fit on a bicycle than me because they get to ride more often. Yes. However, I get to go to you know, all these great places and, and ride the great trail with somebody who knows it. Um, I have some other friends that I travel with every spring or fall we’ll go to down to Arizona to the desert and whatnot. And I’ll be like, Oh, you Yeah, I’ve got I’ve got Joe coming out to ride with us today. And they’re like, Who? Like, like, Is there any place in the country that you can go and not be one phone call away from a ride partner? And I was like, No, I don’t think so. And that was like, in that within that it really at that moment, it was just like, yeah, that’s pretty badass.
Marc Gutman 55:20
That is pretty badass. What about a trail drives you crazy? Like, what what do you see that you just just ruffles your feathers?
Greg Mazu 55:28
When they when they force their will on to the terrain? You know, we can we can get into the nitpicking of like, all that corners too tight, or it’s or or you should have gone below that rock or above that rock, you know, every you know, you know, it’s it’s art everybody has a different representation of, of what that art is, like a lot of people look at a Jackson Pollock and think he just threw paint on a canvas. And for me, it’s when you take a you basically take the machine that you have you have a concept for a trail, and the train is not what that what that should be. Take. You know, we have to do this sometimes, but you have to build a green downhill trail across a black ski run like that. Is that the best use of that terrain? Probably not. If you’re working in Iowa, you know, they want a rocky technical train, which is like a rocky technical trail. And it’s just like, well with what rock like, this is Iowa. You guys, you guys sold off all your rocks 100 years ago for better farming. And and so when you when you just kind of, you know, engineer a trail that that’s that’s what bugs me, that’s what bugs me the most you need. You need to take what the earth gives you and you need to to shape your trail because of that.
Marc Gutman 56:47
If you could only ride one trail ever again. Which one would it be? And why? Just one, just one I know. It’s hard. I know. It’s hard. But I want to know, I want to know what you like, you know what your perfect trail looks like?
Greg Mazu 57:02
One trail or one region?
Marc Gutman 57:05
I’ll give you a region.
Greg Mazu 57:06
Grand Junction-Fruita Thank you. That was That was tough. I’m in the read. The reason being I love the desert. And the reason is, bikes are like shoes. trails are like shoes, you can’t just have one pair, right? You need a pair of shoes for every event and so Grand Junction fruta it’s the desert I love the desert. We have rocky technical trails there that we you know, we have built and also others have built there. We have the in between trails, and there’s even some some pumpy jumpy trails. And that’s where I would pick but as I ramble through this, this question like, there’s a trail and Winter Park that we built a few years ago, we call it Howler. And that’s like, I could ride that trail a whole lot.
Marc Gutman 57:52
Nice. Nice. And so as we come to a close here, Greg, question we asked everyone on the show, if you ran into your 20 year old self today, what do you think he’d say?
Greg Mazu 58:03
Hopefully a couple nice things. I mean, I was 20. I was opinionated. And not always the nicest of dudes to other people. So I think I would approve of the life choices that I that I have made. I have I have figured out how to take what has been given to me and and turn it into something that I enjoy. And I think that’s, you know, trying to think back. This is a fantastic question, trying to think back about. I was desperately trying to be a road bike racer at the time, and I would probably be excessively disappointed that that didn’t work out. But hopefully I would be smart enough to realize that I turn life into something pretty awesome.
Marc Gutman 58:49
And that is Greg Mazu. Take what the land gives you. This keeps echoing in my head. And I can’t help but think that’s a metaphor for life as well. Especially as all our lives had been up ended during this pandemic, what our lives in the world look like if we took what it gave us, instead of trying to force engineer against it. Just a thought. Thank you again to Greg Mazu, singletrack trails and tools for trails. Well, that’s the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website www.wildstory.com where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS so you’ll never miss an episode. A lot big stories and I cannot lie, you other storytellers can’t deny.