Trail etiquette tips from an old burnout

This story was originally published by Beta.

During a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, the term behavioral evolution came up. We talked about trail etiquette and how it looks like it doesn’t really exist anymore these days. People, by and large, become assholes on the trail.

As the old saying goes, opinions are like assholes; everyone has one. Well, this asshole here thinks the shit actually gets weird on the trails. Covid-19 has caused an explosion of new users EVERYWHERE, the e-bike has arrived at full speed, mapping technology has turned the tamest of suburbs into brave explorers, and other technologies have turned many of us into self-indulgent fools.

Given the increasing recreational use of public land, it can be assumed that more people than ever are competing for access to this finite resource. There are more hikers, more riders, more trail runners, more dog walkers, more trail running and dogwalking, and off-road stroller-pushing hyper-eager parents – more people. Period. Being overcrowded is something Americans have never done very well (shout “Don’t fen me in” on the gramophone and fondly remembering the Range Wars of yore). We have claims like a birthright. We’re bad at sharing. And it seems that instead of learning to share (using the dreaded word “compromise”), we are much better at driving away other user groups and engaging in cultural turf wars. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve ourselves.

(Photo: Anthony Smith)

To that end, even if it almost certainly falls on deaf ears, or ears that wear earplugs, or ears that can’t hear because an idiot is running their portable speaker too loud, I have a short list of trail etiquette- Recommendations for these confusing times. These are mostly related to mountain biking, but the general message applies to all of us. Not that I expect anyone to listen. See above. Why am I bothering to join this almost certainly unsuccessful attempt at social education? Good question. I am an optimist. An asshole, but an optimist. Who died and hired me? Nobody. But I’m just sitting here slapping the glowing screen and waiting for my dropper post to bleed on its own, so putting together a list seems to be as good as using my time as any other. I have the time to kill and the ax to sharpen. Here are some tips on how not to be an asshole on the trail:

Rule 1: don’t be an asshole

Assholes are genderless, just like opinions. So everyone can be one. Don’t be. It’s that simple. Or it should be that simple. The easiest way to avoid being an asshole on the trail is to not be an asshole on the trail. In an ideal world, this shouldn’t be spelled any further, but it’s not an ideal world, is it? Not one hell of a long shot.

Oh, a word of warning. It could be something obscene.

Rule 2: Give in to increasing traffic

Except in a bike park, the age-old custom of giving climbers the right of way still deserves honor. Climbing is hard. Descending, not so much. Strava does not change anything about that. Even e-bikes do not change that. Even a million little idiots who are shuttled back and forth by their parent enablers do nothing to change that. “I didn’t mean to mess up my flow” is not an acceptable excuse. Stop for people coming up the path. Actually stop, move aside, and wait for them to pass. At least make the effort. Many uphill climbers will hear you coming and will be stopped when you reach them. When this happens, slow down, thank them profusely, and tell them if anyone else in your group is behind you. If you just blow by, you’re an asshole.

Trail etiquette(Photo: Anthony Smith)

Rule 3: say hello

Yes that’s right. Say hello. To all. It is not that hard. Just wave, nod or say hello. Do you know who usually doesn’t say hello back? Pinché Mountain bikers. Everyone else, even hikers who don’t like me in their sacred space, can create some kind of greeting. Mountain bikers tend to be too damn cool to say hello. If you say hello, good for you. If not, you know who and what you are.

Rule 4: You are not your Strava statistic

Racing is great. I encourage anyone who has ever hung a leg over a bike at some point to tread the line and understand the transcendent pain and beauty that can arise from entering this arena. Strava is not just racing. Also, humans shouldn’t treat Strava segments with the same unleashed tunnel vision that they can get on a closed course. Strava is a tool. It can make you a better athlete, a better racer. But Strava doesn’t race. Treat public trails like personal racetracks? Assholes do that.

Rule 5: Don’t be an asshole

Maybe someone will hear if I repeat it enough times.

Trail etiquette(Photo: Anthony Smith)

Rule 6: Keep Singletrack Single

First coined as a phrase on the 18 streets north of Fruita, Colorado, it applies everywhere. Don’t make cheat lines to bypass mud holes or jumps or things that scare you. Do not blow out corners. Don’t go around hairpin bends. Do not create a braided river bed from path entrances and exits. Just. Stay. On. The. Damn it. Path. You’re welcome.

Rule 7: Don’t blast the spot

This is probably the most pointless request not to be an asshole, but it has to be said. If you are shown secret goods anywhere, shut down the equipment and keep this secret a secret. This is controversial and strange because when we talk about public land we are talking about unsanctioned avenues and with that comes all sorts of legal, political and social burdens. But “social trails” existed long before the advent of mountain bikes and were often eventually incorporated into larger trail plans, so it is naive to assume that they will not be built further down. When you are comfortable with it, leave it that way. No straw. No Instagram posts and map locations. No photos. Resist the urge to participate in the ongoing social media experiment on cultural narcissism. Don’t be an asshole.

Rule 8: Your music sucks

And that shitty little bluetooth speaker you pump it through makes it even more. I don’t want to hear it. Nobody else either. The only people who would assume everyone else would be excited to hear their rolling personal jukebox would be sociopaths or narcissists. Sociopaths and narcissists are also known as assholes. They’re everywhere these days. Try not to add to the stack.

Rule 9: Just because you’re riding an e-bike …

That doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole. People who don’t ride e-bikes really don’t appreciate being thrown from behind and then overtaken on narrow single trails. It’s amazing. Also, people who don’t ride e-bikes may not have a lot of air to chat with you about how great your new e-bike is while riding them up a hill. Riding an e-bike is all well and good. But there is not much room for self-righteousness. Mountain bikers already have a surplus of that. A little humility and respect go a long way.

Trail etiquette(Photo: Anthony Smith)

Rule 10: “Charlie, try to be cool …”

Nobody gets my movie references so this line is not worth explaining, but it comes from a gem of a movie called Something Wild with Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels in the lead roles, well worth seeing. The phrase used to be our code to tell people to try to be a bit discreet when undressing in the parking lot when changing from Lycra to civilian clothes. The Parking Lot Superman Act is a lot less common these days, but the feeling still holds true. We may think what we’re doing is cool, contagious fun. The rest of the world may not see it that way. Try to keep this in mind when gathering in large groups at starting points (should there ever be another).

Charlie, try to stay cool. Don’t be an asshole.

This story was originally published by Beta.

Main photo: Anthony Smith

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