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Safety with Others on the Trail; How to share the trail with hikers and bicyclists

Safety with Others on the Trail; How to share the trail with hikers and bicyclists

As published in the March – April 2012, issue of BCHW’s The Trailhead News

THNmar2012Riding season is upon us! Spring in Washington is of course heralded by the annual BCHW rendezvous, the Methow Valley Chapter’s Spring Ride, and an increase in interactions with other trail users. Most often these encounters are quite nice (I’ve seen tears of joy in the eyes of Pacific Crest Trail through hikers when a cold soda has been retrieved from the depths of saddle bags), unfortunately sometimes they are not at all pleasant, enjoyable, or safe.

We’ve all seen, or had a horse, have an “incident” upon meeting a fisherman with their waving poles or a spandex clad bicyclist silently and swiftly swooping up to us. Hopefully our experiences with these occurrences have been merely annoying and have not moved into life threatening territory as some have. Heck as back country riders we have so many other things to worry about besides fearing that a helmeted biker, looking a lot like Darth Vader, will be the cause of our demise.

As backcountry horsemen, and women, we know that a horse is more apt to rush uphill if startled and that our mounts recognize the sound of a human voice as non-threatening. However, what about the rest of the trail users that we share the back country with?

We’ve been blessed with having a close connection with livestock. Most hikers and bicyclists haven’t had the benefit of the rich lives that we lead. Not only does the average trail walker, or roller in the case of bicycles, not have a clue about how to safely interact with equestrians, they are intimidated by us. There is a reason urban riots are controlled by mounted police units. People mounted on large animals are imposing and can be very scary especially to those who are more comfortable in an urban jungle of pavement and concrete versus on a trail.

Once we accept the fact that we can be scary to others we can start to understand why they won’t start a conversation or perhaps are a bit stand offish with us at first. Right or wrong it falls upon us as riders and packers to break the ice so to speak and help ease the uncertainty that some have around horses and mules.

Now I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t speak mountain biker and don’t know enough about those infernal machines to help point them in the right direction around my horse. In fact bikes on the trail scare me.  Fortunately, one of our very own BCHW’ers, Everett Lewis, from the Traildusters chapter has taken it upon himself to help keep the rest of us safe.  Mr. Lewis took on this task after his wife had a nasty tumble off her horse when a bicyclist thought he was doing the right thing by being very quite as he passed Karen. Luckily she walked away, shaken but not stirred.

I’m terribly grateful that Everett took the time and energy to create and produce a video that does an admirable job of teaching us, and the other folks that we share the trails with, how to make our interactions more pleasant or at least safer. You can see Everett’s creation below and here.

Rather than repeat what we all know should happen when we come across another trail user (Stop – Talk – Move Down) I’m suggesting that we should follow Everett’s lead and become ambassadors to these other user groups. I pledge as the Director of the Tahoma chapter to attend one bike club meeting this year. If just one bicyclist listens then maybe it will be your life that is saved.