trail etiquette

Trail etiquette: Hike nice

We head into the wayback machine again to revisit the timely topic of trail etiquette. The following first appeared here on March 19, 2010, and has appeared occasionally since. It reappears today, with minor revisions. 

A few years back, I was running the bike and bridle trail at Umstead when I came upon a sizable obstacle: a phalanx of hikers bearing backpacks spanned the width of the trail, spilling over onto the shoulders. The trail is quiet generous, a converted fire road that should be capable of handling boatloads of trail users without conflict. Provided those trail users are cognizant of other trail users. Which brings us to today’s topic:

Trail etiquette.

It’s a particularly relevant topic considering highs reaching into the mid to upper 70s accompanied by ample sunshine are bringing legions of hikers into the woods. Warm weather, lots of sunshine, plenty of people on the trail. A few gentle reminders for making sure everyone has a good time out on the trail.

  • Pay attention. Even as runners, mountain bikers and other hikers took evasive action to dodge the aforementioned backpackers, the oblivious party continued to block the trail. I appreciate the group experience, but it’s just as easy to appreciate in blocks of two or three on half the trail. Hike/run/bike for a while with that group, then mix it up. But above all, just pay attention.
  • Be alert. Runners especially like to hit the trail plugged in to music. I’m quick to admit a recent addiction to Pandora; the unpredictable mix provides welcome surprises, especially on a trail I know too well. If you are plugged in, keep the volume low enough so it doesn’t block out the sounds around you. And keep to the side of the trail.
  • Share the trail. I’ve touched on this before, but a quick reminder can’t hurt. When sharing the trail, mountain bikers yield to hikers and equestrians, hikers yield to equestrians. And runners? We’re quick on our feet: Don’t worry about us.
  • Uphill yields to down. If you’re on a steep, narrow trail, the downhill hiker/biker/runner should yield to the person laboring uphill. While this is a general rule, there are times on a mountain bike where both parties know instinctively that the downhiller should have the right-of-way. And frankly, it’s common practice that the uphiller is only to eager to cede passage — and take a rest in the process.
  • “Passing.” This mainly applies to mountain bikers: When you come up behind a slower trail user, announce your intentions to pass. Something simple, such as “Passing on your left” is good. Announce your intentions far enough in advance so that the person has time to react. A “Thank you” after passing a cooperative party is a nice touch. And if they’re plugged in, don’t hear you and continue to take up the middle of the trail, well, be patient, take a breath, remind yourself you’re on the trail on a gorgeous day.
  • Stop to the side of the trail. If you stop to take a drink, check a map, eat some gorp, step off the trail.
  • Don’t block the trailhead. Another annoying thing that happens at Umstead, at the Lake Crabtree neighborhood entrance: When people — runners and cyclists especially — finish their workout, some like to linger on the road and, based on how long they linger, discuss world politics. On my bike, I’ve actually made eye contact with folks blocking the road who STILL fail to move. Grrr. I mean, Grrreat that they’re so engrossed in what they’re doing.
  • Hello! Finally, would it kill you to say a simple, “Hey,” “Hi,” “How are ya?” A little wave, a quick smile, a peace sign. A simple sign of basic humanity goes a long way on the trail.

As it does everywhere in life.

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