I’ve Already Told You More Than I Know: Bike Trail Survival Guide

What is it about Lincoln’s bike trails in November?

Maybe it’s that we all understand an icy, windy kick to the crotch is coming. And every Lincolnite with tennis shoes hits the trails, determined to squeeze the last drops of joy out of whatever sun we have left.

lincolntrails01Soak up those last rays, people. (Photo, City of Lincoln)

Cyclists get especially frantic. For us, basement season is a four-month promise of cement floors and pull-chain lightbulbs. Forget birdsong and the wind in your helmet. In basement season, it’s the twin, life-sucking whirs of the trainer and the box fan. I can already feel my forearms turning the subterranean color of grubs.

december-2008-014    My soul weeps. (Photo, triduffer.wordpress.com)

So when the fall sun shines, we turn ourselves loose onto the Rock Island or the Billy Wolf or the Bison. And we zip around, sun hungry, as if the trails were ours alone (which is an ironic shift from the “share the road” tune we sing to drivers). That jogger up ahead, that dog walker, that first grader teetering along on a Huffy, may not see us coming. But we know where we’re going. And we’ll be long gone before the pee hits the pants.

“Come on,” goes our flyby logic. “How surprised can you be by a bike on a bike trail?”

kids2_ss530_12_h                           Trust your mad bike handling skills all you want. But be honest. You have no idea where any of these little turnips will dart. (Photo, louisvillecyclery.com)

When we act this way about our trails, we’re staking a claim of ownership where ownership is frankly moot. The national parks are “ours” as well. And you can argue your rights of ownership to a startled grizzly bear if you like. Maybe she’ll ponder your case as she licks clean the tasty little bowl that is your skull.

The best way to avoid a trailside argument with a grizzly bear, my Cub Scout den leader taught me in 1981, is to be a little noisy. If I’m doing my part as a hiker, that bear around the bend hears me coming with plenty of time to shuffle off.

grizzly9      Did you hear that, kids? An idiot. Let’s go. (Photo, motherjones.com)

I know enough momma bears in Lincoln to approach city trails the same way. I have zero interest in buzzing past a boy on the trail only to have my Lycra shredded by his outraged mother.

im-usually-a-kind-loving-person-but-will-turn-into-a-fierce-mama-bear-and-unleash-spiritual-warfare-to-protect-my-kid-now-lets-eat-cupcakes--d53                                                            Is this a fight you want? (Image, someecards.com)

The trails aren’t my racetrack, anyway. I’m mostly on them to reach the gravel roads I love. And there’ll be plenty of time to rip it up when we get there.

In the meantime, to survive those trails, I remind myself to:

  1. Slow down.
  2. Steer wide.
  3. Make a friendly noise.

I hope you will, too.

I don’t say any of this with self-righteousness. I have sinned plenty. I’ve scared people by announcing too loudly or too late. I’ve announced too softly and scared folks who never heard. I’ve misjudged the length of a leash. I’ve passed when I should have waited. I’ve gotten just plain lost in my thoughts. I’ve erred in every direction there is to err.

I’m just saying I’ve never had an altercation on a bike trail that couldn’t have been either avoided or improved by doing those three things.

If this “make a friendly noise” stuff sounds a little kumbyah to you, I don’t mean it to. I’m a big believer in not being a knob, but this isn’t about kindness. Kindness is outside the equation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waited at a stop sign at a four-lane street, only to have an abundantly kind driver come along and spark havoc. He or she (it’s usually a she…) will give up the right-of-way and stop in traffic to wave me across. They’re just being nice. But they’re politely inviting me to get runover in the lane next to them.

“Keep your kindness,” says the cyclist to the driver. “I just want you to be predictable.”

Folks on the trail are right to expect that we be the same thing.



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