I recently did a backpack trip from home to the Sierra Foothills, which I’ll post about soon, but first wanted to provide some thoughts about my experience on the American River Parkway.
I went upriver on Tuesday, which was the first nice weather day after several days of rain. There were an incredible number of people out on the parkway, more than I’ve experienced on nice weather weekend days. It was crowded! This is understandable, as I want to be outside and moving as well, but it was really hard to maintain physical distancing. I mostly stuck to the parallel Pioneer Express Trail, not to the paved ‘bike’ trail, except in some sections where the dirt trail does not exist and the paved trail is the only option. In some places, particularly further east, the Pioneer Express Trail is well signed and obvious, but in other places it is not, and I have a hard time figuring it out. This is not new, I’ve hiked this section many times before, but never managed to follow exactly the same route more than once.
On the dirt trail, I did run into other hikers, but it was easy for one of us or the other to step off the trail and give space to pass. What was not easy is the mountain bikers riding on the trail. Almost the entire trail is closed to bicycles, and clearly posted as closed, except in a few places where people, presumably mountain bikers, have peeled off the ‘no bikes’ stickers or covered them with other stickers. These mountain bikers, who are here illegally, nevertheless expect hikers to step off the trail and let them pass. I grew increasingly angry with them. When I asked them why they were riding on closed trails, they ignored me. I noticed a number of fathers out with their children, teaching their children that it is OK to ride on closed trails.
Walking along, fuming, I came up with an analogy that might influence a few mountain bikers to consider their behavior:
Imagine your favorite mountain biking trail, and everything you love about it. Now imagine that it has been invaded by dirt bikers, tearing up the trail, disturbing the peace and quiet, and expecting you to get out of their way. How would you feel? Well, that is the way hikers feel when you invade trails closed to bikes. People walking have few enough peaceful places in the world to walk, especially close to cities. Mountain bikers are being bullies by taking away these places from walkers.
The second issue is that almost all the walkers I saw on the ‘bike’ trail (officially the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail) were either in family groups or single. But about half the cyclists were in groups of people not families and not living together. I have criticized other people for shaming groups of people when they don’t really know whether that group is a family, or lives with each other, and therefore don’t need to maintain physical distance (whatever transmission might occur has already occurred), so let me say why I think these are groups of friends and not otherwise. I listened to the conversations they were having. In most cases it quickly becomes obvious whether they are family or living together, and for at least half, they were friends. The most common conversations were about work. I don’t know why they think it is OK to be clustering, when everyone else, including solo bicyclists, is doing their part in physical distancing. It particularly grates when cyclists ride by (often exceeding the speed limit), maintaining distance from each other but not from the other bicyclists and from the people walking on the shoulder of the pavement, the dirt verge. Dropping into single file when passing just does not occur to them.
Now, onto the rest of the Pioneer Express Trail that I walked, above the end of the parkway at Beals Point. On Wednesday afternoon, there were mountain bikers all over the closed trails. There are some short sections where bikes are not prohibited, in order to connect pieces of open trail where there are no other routes, but on the whole, the trail is closed to bikes. All of these people expected me to move off the trail, and when I would not, just pushed on past me. I saw one group of 12 mountain bikers, all riding in very close proximity, whooping and hollering, not on the closed trail, but nevertheless being clueless.
Thankfully Wednesday and Thursday morning were very cloudy and cool, which keeps most mountain bikers inside, and I did not see anyone riding on the closed trails that they had been riding on earlier. I did see some hikers, and we respectfully moved out of the way for each other.
The more I interact with mountain bikers, the more my opinion of them drops.