The topic of multiple types of users on trails is always a controversial topic. On a recent trip across the county I brought my mountain bike in hopes of riding my way from Moab, Utah across the South East up to New England. I came across a trail system in Tennessee, about 30 miles outside of Nashville. This trail network was really ‘progressive’ by most trail organizations’ standards. It was progressive because it had separate trail systems for hikers and bikers. I assume that they were hoping to mitigate against user conflict. It was pouring rain so I was forced to leave my bike and grab the ol’ runners. Since I am a mountain biker and avid trail runner I have had a bit of experience seeking out fun trails and after years of R&D I can confidently say that some of the most fun trails that I have ever run on were singletrack mountain bike trails. I am wondering if I am going to get in trouble for saying that now ;0)
Hiking in Colorado
I saw the sign that said “Bikers Only!” I thought, “That’s AWESOME!” but because of prior knowledge I really, really, REALLY wanted to ignore it and run the mountain bike trails. I could totally justify it, I wasn’t going to wear headphones so I could hear the mountain bikers coming before they saw me. I felt that because I was aware, I wouldn’t be a trail hazard! I could tell every mountain biker that I saw (if I saw anyone at all) that I was also a mountain biker so I knew how to manage myself accordingly on the trail. Though I felt I could reason my way through it, deep down I knew that even though I consider myself a mountain biker, I didn’t belong on those trails. Weird to say, but I knew that it had the potential to cause a conflict with another person and so I had to run on the hiking trails.
Gravel Grinding in Australia
Sometimes in a single day, I am both a hiker, a runner and a mountain biker. Sometimes I am all three of those things on all the same trails. It felt really bad for me to feel excluded because I was a ‘hiker.’ Some might disregard my frustration for being excluded and say something along the lines of “You should just be happy that you have hiking trails over there somewhere.” Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s something wrong with my personality 😉 The truth is, I already forget the name of that campground and I probably won’t ever seek it out again. This does not come from me trying to be punitive, but instead is a natural reaction from feeling treated differently. I immediately thought of places like National Parks that allow hikers but don’t allow bikers. Don’t they know that hikers can be bikers and bikers can be hikers? .
Horses along the trail in Hurricane, Utah
The lowest common denominator is that we are lovers of nature and adventurers seeking outdoor experiences. In this blog I am not suggestion that we manage one way or the other, though I have an idea. Since I used the term LCD, let’s attempt to level the playing field. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we started closing trails to hikers and made them mountain bike only? I know they are doing this in some places, Mammoth Bike Park does this. They don’t allow hikers/runners on mountain bike trails from 9am-6pm. I’m not interested in being a pain in the butt I just think it would be fascinating to see how hikers would feel if this kind of trail management became the majority rule. Again, I’m not looking for a mountain biker pity party, but it is true that mountain bikers are excluded WAY MORE OFTEN than hikers are.
Dirt Biking in Colorado
I wonder if showing this kind of separation might be able to show a need to educate ALL trail users, mountain bikers, hikers, motorized and equestrians included, to have equal views towards multiple types of users on trails. It pretty much comes down to etiquette, which I like to break down even further. Trail etiquette has been somewhat manipulated as the number of trail users and user types has grown. Some embrace it as a governing sort of “law.” These folks aren’t always my favorite to share the trail with. Not because they are bad people but because they focus on principle over people. I will explain this by using an example that most can probably relate to. Envision you are riding a mesa-top trail and suddenly you approach a wash, you see the trail drops down a very loose rocky section before it washes out. Let’s say you start down this trail and you notice another biker pushing his/her bike up the hill or maybe it’s a hiker walking up the trail. Technically speaking, you should yield to uphill traffic but the truth is, it is safer for them to step aside rather than you lock up your brakes and tires trying to avoid them. Some people would say, YIELD! YIELD! YIELD! I would say that if all parties yielded we would have some pretty odd trail dynamics. Instead we should honor that both trail users are equal in their ‘right’ to have a great time on the trail and work together to ensure the safety of all involved. This is the other kind of trail etiquette, it is less about the laws that govern the trails and instead is about a mutual respect of other people. I like to say that in potentially confrontational scenarios we get a chance to decide whether we will make friends or enemies with other trail users. It’s up to us.
Off-roading, Potato Salad, Moab, Utah
This leads me to one last point that ties directly to trail user interaction. This thought came from a personal experience when I was out running on a lunch break. I was jogging along and came head on with a fellow mountain biker. A person I know and was excited to say hello to. She had a different agenda, in no time at all she brushed me off and rode past saying only something along the lines of “she was trying to ride pretty hard that day!” I was shocked! I thought, “Wow! If you treat your friends that way, I can only imagine how you treat strangers!” I’m sure that person could justify that move by referencing their training for some event or maybe they were trying to beat some Strava time. Honestly though, many of us don’t care too much about that persons training, it has no value to us especially when we see it as a deterrent from a personal interaction. Regardless of their motives, they didn’t notice their effect in the world. Some of us float about not realizing how we effect other people or our effect on the places we go and the planet we live on. ”
Escape Adventures Truck heading into the Canyonlands
Sometimes we ride/walk into nature in hopes of stepping out of our realities. I get it, trust me, I seek nature interventions on a daily basis but when I walk out into an abyss of sorts, awareness is the first tool I pack! So before you start up the next trail, first become aware of your surroundings. Notice the other people. Notice the landscape. Notice yourself and how you act in these places. It’s also known as being present, it’s all those spiritual lessons wrapped up in one single action verb. We all need the practice but there is no better time to start than right now! We will meet you out on the trails, on purpose, and we look forward to it happening over and over again!