Trail Conflict

Lurking around Every Corner
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It was a perfect summer day. Not too hot. The bugs had backed off and the sun was streaming through the mixed maple and birch canopy above. I was pedaling my mountain bike along a narrow trail at a leisurely pace, thoroughly enjoying bike, scenery, sunshine, trail, fresh air, and exercise. Happiness.

A bike goes quietly so I was easily able to hear a gaggle of voices from ahead around a tight bend in the trail, which, being narrow enough to qualify as an "almost-single-track," caused me to brake to a halt to avoid getting up front and very personal with what I took to be approaching hikers. Moving to the side as much as possible, I used the pause to take a long swig from my water bottle just as the walkers came into view.

As their leader approached I grinned and said, "Great day to be out here isn't it!" feeling happy to share the experience with the only people I'd seen all day. The reply was somewhat short of a "hail fellow, well met!" greeting.

Uninvited Expletives
"You @!#$%& mountain bikers think you own the trails don't you? You nearly ran us down!" he snarled as he strode to where I was leaning against the cross bar of my stationary bike.

Somewhat stymied by the expletive, I replied, with a soupcon of apology added for counter-effect, "I heard you coming so I stopped here."

"Yeah?" he replied getting very much in my face, "If you hadn't heard us you'd have thrashed around the bend and run us down! You crazies are all the same! There isn't a trail in the whole friggin' country that's safe anymore!"

He motioned to his companions to follow him, cautioning them to "Stay close to me and make lots of noise. Our hike is ruined now... there's probably more of these &^%$#@ freaks coming!" I was treated to a short parade of "eyes-left" scowling faces and antipersonnel comments as each one passed. The experience left me shaken.

Try for Truth
For a brief moment, I thought about catching up to them (on foot with my hands up) to explain that, on my saner days, I too was an avid hiker... that the plastic bag on my rack contained garbage I'd picked up along the way... that I really did care for the trail, the forest, the wildlife and their divine right to walk through this gorgeous land as they wished. And, by the way, would they please, please excuse the momentary lapse in sanity that caused me to be pedaling this wretched piece of cursed wheeled machinery through such a pristine patch of paradise.

But I didn't.

Maybe it was the shock of the leader's outburst and the too-obvious venom in the group's passing comments that kept me from acting. But then reality struck like the snap of a rubber glove on a proctologist's upraised hand. "Uh-oh," I thought, "those folks have had a bad confrontation with bikers before they ever met me." In their minds, I knew the equation was a simple one: Biker equals ugly, bad craziness.

I could relate because I carry around the same experience-based prejudices against ATVs and personal watercraft. It didn't matter that I'd stopped, that I ride slowly, that I really care about the trail and environment nor that I look senior-citizen-ish and my weapon of choice is adorned with a luggage rack and a kickstand—two things with which no freak rider would ever be caught, even dead.. make that "especially dead."

Article and pictures © John Milne.

John Milne is a "pushing-60" grandfather who bikes, paddles, hikes, fly fishes, skis, snowshoes, and generally messes about in the nearly unlimited wilderness of northern Ontario. When he's not in the bush, he writes about outdoor adventures in newspaper, magazine, and television features. He's also authored books on winter survival, fishing, and GORP's GPS navigation series.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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