Trailbuilder Steve Kasacek took his career out of the cube and into the woods

By Melonee Hurt

Steve Kasacek’s handiwork stretches from the woods of Maine to the remote hills of Arkansas.

Most days his workspace is five miles deep in the woods somewhere. His home address consists of a storage unit and a mailbox. He has been known to sleep in his car or next to it, regularly works 70-hour weeks and so far this year has put more than 15,000 miles on his car for work.

photo courtesy Steve Kasacek

He’s rarely in one place for more than a week at a time while managing at least a dozen projects at once, and says he absolutely loves his job.

Kasacek is proof that you can make a living out of a passion for mountain biking.

Working as a project manager for the International Mountain Biking Association’s Trail Solutions for more than three years, Kasacek takes great pride in preserving this country’s natural resources and says one of his favorite perks of the job is that he can find someone to ride with or a couch to crash on in almost every state on the eastern seaboard.

“To me that’s really special.”

Although his love for mountain biking is great, it was actually his high-paying, engineering job that drove him into the woods.

photo courtesy Steve Kasacek

“I took an engineering job that was focused on stream restoration,” he said. “After about nine months, I decided it was hard to be in a cubicle. I’m like a freaking puppy dog. I can’t sit still. The job became mundane and I wasn’t challenged. My mind always wandered to being outside on a bike.”

His Career Path

Growing up on his parents’ land in New England, Kasacek was always outdoorsy. He enrolled in an after-school mountain biking program with a bunch of his friends and remembers it as being more just kicking around on dirt roads than the developed skills trails we have today. Nonetheless, a seed was planted.

That evolved into getting around campus at Penn State on an old Gary Fisher.  While attending school there once he got a car he began hauling his bike out into the woods to find gravel roads and the occasional single-track trail.

photo courtesy Steve Kasacek

“After college, I traveled out west,” Kasacek said. “I had never explored the country at all, so I loaded my stuff and spent four or five months on the road. I worked odd jobs for room-and-board. I brought my bike with me and rode it all over Durango, Boise, Bend, Oregon, Colorado — all these places. I lived out of my car and slept next to my car. That fueled my love for traveling. The freedom of the road.”

Into the Woods

If you can call Kasacek’s job “typical,” he says a typical workday for him is either in the field or not in the field.

“If I am in the field, I wake up early, find some coffee and get into the woods early,” he says. Because he does planning and design, there is a mountain of background information gathering that has to occur beforehand. He talks with land managers and clients, he pulls GIS and elevation data, develops base maps he can geo-reference while in the woods.

“If there happens to be a coffee shop or brewery nearby, depending on the time of day it is, that’s where I do my work outside the field,” he said. “I spend all day stomping around in the woods, poke holes in the game plan and readjust. I take a lot of pictures and notes and I end up hiking about 10 miles a day.”

During his first six months on the job, Kasacek says he was home for about a week-and-a-half.

“Yeah, so I got rid of that place and now I have a mailbox and a storage unit in Charlotte. I only have an address because the government makes you have an address. I am never in one place for very long, so I’m in and out of hotels a lot. I’m by myself a lot. In between jobs, if I have to drive far, I’ll just sleep in my car real quick. I’m pretty good at stealth camping.”

Ditch the Cube

If the nomadic lifestyle of a trail builder sounds appealing, Kasacek says there are numerous opportunities in his line of work. He assures that the trailbuilding industry is growing and becoming more professional in a lot of ways.

“There are some great opportunities out there,” he says. “For folks who want to get into it, start by learning the basics. Volunteer with local advocacy groups or clubs. One of the ways I do a good job is by always being open and interested in learning new ways from other people.”

Although trailbuilding doesn’t necessarily make people rich, according to Kasacek, he left his cubicle in the engineering world because money wasn’t the most important thing to him.

“I’d say one of the biggest reasons I’ve stuck with this job is the freedom. With IMBA, they pretty much gave me enough rope to hang myself. I’ve been willing to take chances and take responsibility. I have an amazing girlfriend who recognized I was in a shitty mood when I worked in a cubicle and now, I am a much happier person.”