Guest editorial: Be a kid for a while on trail
To the recent discussion on trail etiquette, recall the Law of the Jungle. When moving about, the smaller, quicker, more maneuverable, yield to the larger, stronger, more lethal. Without written rules, we all follow this law instinctively.
Unfortunately, some of our written rules, although promulgated in good faith, make no sense. May I suggest that our current yield hierarchy is one of these written rules. Consider that the current hierarchy likely grew out of an overreaction that occurred during the 90’s when mountain biking began to gain traction. Hikers who had long enjoyed private serenity had to consider the possibility of the occasional biker approaching at 3 or 4 times the speed they were walking. A few of these bikers (let’s use the optimistic 90-10 split) were idiots who disrespected other trail users. Understandably, the hikers were furious and, holding the majority at the time, reacted by stuffing mountain bikers down at the bottom of the yield hierarchy. As a mountain biker and a hiker, I believe this was a mistake.
As a hiker, I would never stand my ground in the face of an oncoming biker. Not only is it contrary to our jungle wiring, it’s asinine. Clearly, when we consider all the more common trail users, hikers have by far the most maneuverability, while occupying the smallest footprint. On a sudden encounter a hiker can, in a single step, slip off trial between a couple of shrubs. In fact, this is exactly what virtually every hiker I encounter when mountain biking instinctively, and politely, does. The thinking being that as a hiker, I want to be cordial and immediately yield because it is much easier for me to do so. It’s just common sense. Is it still common sense? Based on my 40 miles a week on the bike, I say yes, and estimate that perhaps only 1 in 200 hikers will invoke the rule as currently written and purposely obstruct the trail. When this happens, I simply give them their moment of power and control, closing the encounter with something like “have a good one”. This tiny fraction of hikers are the bookends to the idiots alluded to above.
You can be sure that a rule that makes no sense will not be followed. And it’s a two-way street out there…everyone should operate as if there’s another trail user just around the next bend. In this spirit, may I suggest we tweak the yield hierarchy to follow the maneuverability-footprint logic, so that hikers yield to all other trail users. That is:
Hikers-yield to bikers-yield to skiers-yield to equestrians. And of course, all humans yield to all wildlife.
By design, our trails invite surprise encounters. This gets the juices flowing, and brings us a bit more in tune with our jungle mojo. That is, it’s fun. Who knows the most about fun? The children. Watch a couple of 7-year-olds meet on the trail. Their brains not yet twisted by our cultural house of cards, there is no conflict and no animosity. They just flow past each other like a butterfly and the wind.
In short, allow your angst to seep away on the trail, and be a kid for a while.
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