Don’t Be That Guy/Gal

As I walk along this morning, my eyes are greeted with the scars and open wounds of deep muddy footprints, rutted tire tracks and dog paw prints all along the trails.

I find myself gingerly working my way along my local trail this morning mumbling angrily to myself as the birds flitter about in the trees.  I shouldn’t be upset right now.  It is a beautifully crisp morning, a light breeze pushes against my face from the north, and one can almost hear the plants stretching and growing from the prime Spring conditions.  All of this is bolstered by the heavy thunderstorms and rain that inundated us through the weekend.  But, that’s the problem… rain.

I have a love/hate relationship with rain.  When I lived in Southern California we prayed for rain. It was a way to wash away the grime of our vast population, bring out the brilliant colors of flowers and plants from the stale brown that permeates most of the days, and refreshed the barren dirt with super hero grip and malleable conditions (build quickly, the wet will only last for 24 hrs).  With the type of dirt that SoCal had and the infrequency of rain, there were only a handful of days, or sometimes just hours, where you couldn’t be pushing the pedals along your favorite trail.

But, here in the Midwest that relationship with rain can be more strained. The Midwest suffers from 3 challenges when it comes to rain; frequency, quantity, and humidity. The old adage, “If you don’t like the weather just wait 15 minutes,” is pretty much gospel here. It rains at least once most every week, and often all week long. It takes constant monitoring of the weather report to efficiently plan the days you can find an opening to ride.

I wish it was as easy as finding a day that was not raining. But, it gets more complicated. Due to the humidity the ground doesn’t just dry out when it stops raining. It could take days, if not weeks, of non-rainy humid days to get solid soil again. Pile on top of that the fact that most storms here are not the soft pitter patter of the Pacific Northwest, but are more akin with that of Noah’s biblical flood story. I find myself monitoring the number of rain free days, and doing some mathematical calculations to determine if the trails will hold up. The equation looks something like;

= (Quantity of Rain + Number of Days Rainning) / (Humidity x Number of Non-Rainning Days x Windspeed x Wind Velocity x Temperature)

All that brings me back to my morning’s embittered stroll. As I walk along this morning, my eyes are greeted with the scars and open wounds of deep muddy footprints, rutted tire tracks and dog paw prints all along the trails. Trails require a lot of work and planning to build correctly and sustainably, and require additional work to maintain. Further, the condition of a trail is often what is evaluated by cities and counties to determine whether to leave it open for public use and to add new trails. It is our job as trail users to exercise proper etiquette.

By no means is this just a mountain biking problem. Walkers, hikers, dog owners, and equestrian riders have all been guilty of abusing trails. I subscribe to this simple rule: If I will leave a rut or footprint I don’t ride it or ride around it when appropriate. Secondly, if I do damage a trail, I stop and fix what I’ve damaged. If it is not possible to fix at that time, go back when weather allows you to return the trail to all its glory. We are the keepers of the trails. There are no magic trail fairies or trolls to come behind and clean up our messes. They are ours to keep open and ridable. So kids, remember to donate a bit of your time, energy, man/woman power, and/or money to your local trail advocacy group to sustain and grow the trails we all love so much.

Cheers, Seth

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