Wide fire roads and ranch roads from the days before foothill subdivisions attract trail bikers to the Southern California wilderness margins. Some will dare the narrow single tracks and in some cases local parks authorities allow this. Just witness the Cactus Hill, Sleepy Hollow and Sage Scrub trails in Whiting. Walking should not entail taking your life into your hands, but keen use of all the senses especially sound and sight will keep you bones unbroken and your vitals unsquashed. Most bikers show respect for walkers. There are those, however, who forget themselves as they feel the adrenaline rush of speed and forget that paths in the chaparral are not rides at Disneyland or Knotts Berry Farm.
I was hit by a trail biker on a double-track. I wrote about it in my other blog, Pax Nortona, last December:
A shout and the scream of brakes told me that he was coming in an uncontrolled sloping fall down the trail. I stepped up to the raised dirt siding to avoid him. Alas, he had the same idea. His handlebars punched my lower back. He fell sideways. I took two steps forward and bit down so hard that I cracked a temporary crown. There was no animosity between us afterwards. The day was hot and salved my spine. I walked off the pain and the surprise.
War between those who move through the chaparral on the rubber of their boots and those who do it on the rubber of their tires need not be inevitable. I step to the side when I hear or see a biker coming on me. If I cannot see them yet, I shout out so they know that I am around the bend. In return, I ask but a few things:
- Let me know that you are coming. Some bikers have a bell that they ring as they go around blind corners or approach a hiker from behind. I once heard a biker teasing another for doing this. I made sure that the biker with bell heard my appreciation. If you don’t have a bell, shout. I am not deaf.
- If you are traveling in a swarm, let the hiker know how many more people are coming. (Hikers should do the same for mountain bikers.)
- Don’t listen to your tunes while you are biking. You will need to hear people like me shouting to you that we are here. Or possibly a cry for help. You should be bothered to stop for people in trouble.
- Observe the local speed limit. The difference in momentum between a biker going at 10 miles per hour and one going 20 is huge, a bump instead of a broken bone or worse. If you don’t know what it is, don’t go faster than 15 mph on downhills.
- Don’t run over snakes. They eat the rats. Hell, don’t run over anything especially not me.
- Wave when I wave to you. Nothing broadens the rift between hiker and biker like indifference.
- Stay off the narrowest trails. I don’t enjoy being shoved over a cliff or into a patch of poison oak just so you can get your thrill. In many parks, these are posted. Obey the signs. Otherwise, use common sense. If a walker yells at you to watch out, you are probably riding in a dangerous place or otherwise being a fool.
- Wear a helmet! I’d rather be helping you bandage some scratches than calling in paramedics to resuscitate you. If you wonder why this is important, just watch some clips of Gary Busey after his motorcycle accident.
To both walker and biker: share the trail.