The Trails Are For All of Us

Laguna Beach, Ca
State College, Pa.

So I was rocking down the trail the other day with a bunch of my pals in a tight line on our mountain bikes. As we rounded a corner, I was the last guy and I heard behind me,” You’re Welcome!!” Feeling like we had committed a transgression, I stopped, turned around and saw a woman hiker who obviously was not happy. I knew the guys would wait for me up ahead so I turned back to address the lady and say that we were sorry for not thanking her for moving off the trail to let us by. I explained that I did not see her as surely I would have thanked her per my custom with hikers and runners on the trail. I also told her I have a bell where if I see someone hiking or running or riding for that matter, I use it to give them a courteous notice that I was coming. This conversation with the disgruntled hiker was not cutting it as she said, ” Why do I have to always move for you guys?” I replied once again that I was sorry and apologized for the rest of our group. But it got me thinking. The trails are for all of us and we need to be courteous to all who use the trails, no matter what. Sure we were flying and everyone in our MTB group was working hard to keep the pace of the line. But, obviously this was not received well.

Fast forward, the other day, I was riding by myself in our local North Park trails, and came upon a woman and her family and three dogs. Two nicely behaved golden retrievers and a smaller dog who was quite young. I rang my bell, was courteous and thanked her for moving the dogs as I sped by but I could tell she was uncomfortable moving the dogs and trying to keep them off the trail to let me by.

Hiking in North Park- Pittsburgh , Pa

I did one more lap around and came upon them again and this time, I got off my bike, moved off the trail and said to them, ” Now it is your turn to pass” with a big smile on my face. She appreciated that and it kind of broke the ice a little bit and she explained that she had some difficulty with a mountain biker the other day. Seems like a guy came roaring by them and startled their little dog, who I found out was a rescue dog. The rider never said sorry or thank you for moving, just roared past her. The lady explained that after that event, the little dog was terrified of mountain bikes and asked if she could walk her past my bike to show her that all mountain bikers are not scary and rude. We exchanged further pleasantries and I went on my way feeling that perhaps I had diffused some hard feelings and maybe I helped show the lady and her family that all MTB riders are not the same. I told her in passing that we try to educate newer riders on the courtesies of the trail, but some people- just like on the the trails of life , are only thinking of themselves. More education is needed.

My family likes to hike too.

My wife and I are avid hikers too and I can certainly see the conflicts that take place from a hiker/runner perspective on the trails. I notice when riding sometimes that trail runners and hikers sometime take a more aggressive attitude when we are passing them on mountain bikes. But I get it. They probably have had similar experiences as my friend with the dogs. I see the disgruntled looks on their faces and my immediate reaction is ” Hey- I pay my taxes too!!!” But then I think, be courteous, ring your bell. Smile and thank them for moving. I always think that the best way to improve perception is to be polite, courteous, and respect others on the trails.

The other users that need a lot of respect are the horses and their riders. Our group makes a habit of getting off our bikes, standing well to the side of the trail, and greeting them in a friendly manner. Most of the equestrian types are nice and very thankful that we move. Horses are easily spooked and I am sure they have had their moments of nervousness with a group of mountain bike riders.

The last thing I am going to comment about here is trail work. If you are going to claim certain rights on trails and use them frequently, it might not be a bad idea to give a little sweat equity to http://www.trailpittsburgh.org if you live in the local area. There are opportunities for cyclists, runners, hikers, and equestrians to work together on trail projects. Not only does that improve our trail systems but it gives all of us users a chance to work together and talk about some things that maybe need resolved. If you are open enough to listen to concerns with other user groups, you will be more educated as to their issues and work to resolve them – one trail day session at a time.

Our group of courteous riders visiting Wild Wonderful West Virginia

These trail improvement organizations are everywhere and no matter where you live, you can get involved and maybe learn a little bit about other user groups. In my mind, trail use is a little bit of a microcosm of life in general. Interaction with people where courtesy wins the day. Shouldn’t that be the way we all behave as we move through life ? We all use the trails to get away from the stresses of daily life and to get some exercise in a great environment. The trails are for all of us. Thanks for reading.

A River Runs Through It.

My son Jack brought home his new golden retriever puppy “River” back to see us this past week. She is an active, friendly, but rambunctious little gal to say the least, and it was an unusual experience for me- a non- dog person. You see, I have always had this thing with dogs. I kid my friends and say dogs like me- I taste like chicken. I have been bitten more times than most people and I believe it is because they sense something about me. I can be at a party of 50 people and the dog of the house always comes up to me and sniffs me in a personal area. My wife laughs because she has had experience with dogs as a pet. I have not. My experiences have been less than positive.

Years ago, when I was a kid, I used to make my way home from the back neighborhood and try to sneak through the Forrest’s yard without their boxer, Buster, hearing me. It always failed because I heard the harried breath of a running dog behind me and I took off like a shot yelling for my mom to open the screen door to the kitchen. I dove into the kitchen and Buster always banged his head off the screen door. A harrowing experience for young Patrick -every day, every month.

Moving forward- riding road bikes through the country was always a challenge. From a huge St. Bernard that would come inquisitively into the road and knock me off my bike just for kicks, to the Doberman who would head me off at the pass going up a steep hill by the farm where he resided. Every ride it seemed he would go higher and higher to cut off the angle until one day, he was waiting for me and all I could do was to make a run for it back down the hill- sprinting like wild man. I had to find another route or risk carnage.

More recently I was bitten by a Rottweiler on a winter run on a golf course. The owner wrestled the dog to the ground and basically said nothing and moved on. I was in shock as he drew blood on my well clothed left arm. More recently, I came upon a friend in the woods on a mountain bike ride. I moved close to him and asked him to take a picture of all of us riding and his little dog of some kind firmly and decidedly locked on to my right ankle growling and cutting flesh. I looked at the owner who said, ” Oh Pat- he won’t hurt you. Where are you guys riding?” Say whaaaaaat???????

So when my son came with River who you see above as a puppy, I was not sure how it would go. Last week River had grown and is now about 5 months old. I was encouraged by my friends who said that golden retrievers were friendly and River is that. She is almost too friendly and she does indeed run through everything like the movie title. Having a puppy in the house is kind of like running after a toddler. They get into everything and my son is much more laid back in his response than Janet and me. Janet bought her a harness which she seems to like and walked her quite a bit while she was visiting. I was left outside with her a couple of times while Jack and Janet had to do some chore and I engaged in kind of a dog charades when trying to get her to do her business. My neighbors laughed when they saw me engaging in showing her how to lift her leg and uttering a “psssssssssssss” phrase to encourage her. River looked at me as if to say, ” what are you doing, human?” I was confounded and soon the rightful caregivers came to my rescue. Dog charades= a dismal failure.

I have always been amazed at some dogs though. Like Chuck Greenlee’s old dog who would go on mountain bike rides with us. I always said she was a good rider in that she ran up the hills ahead of us and stayed back on the descents knowing somehow that she could not keep up going downhill. Amazingly good partner on rides.

As the week went by and we had our experiences with the little girl River, believe it or not, I became a little attached to her. My friend Hutch in Vermont says ,” Pat- a dog is the best friend you will ever have.” I was amazed at the loyalty and the attachment to me even though River didn’t know me that well. Something attracted her to me and it was not the tasty smell of my leg. As they pulled out of the driveway to head back to Michigan, she looked at me quizzically like” Aren’t you coming?” No River, I am not coming and it was nice to spend time with you but still of the mindset that I am really not a dog person. But she had softened me a bit and River and Jack have taught me a few things about dogs that I never would have known. Thanks for reading and remember- dog charades don’t work.