Trail Riding Adventures - 08.09.99

During the past couple summers, I've been what one might call a trail regular. Although the city that I live in isn't that exciting in some respects, it happens to quite possibly have one of the best trail systems in all of the nation. Not only do bike/rollerblade/jogging/walking paths criss-cross all over the town, but there are tons of places to go outside the city limits as well (including one trail that runs for nearly 40 miles and makes its way through several different towns).

On average during the warm parts of the year (and sometimes even not so warm), I estimate that I spend at least 3 or 4 nights out a week doing something (either biking or rollerblading) on them, and in that time, I've come to memorize almost every little feature of a vast majority of them. Not only that, but I've seen some mighty interesting things going on, as well as have some pretty strange things happen to me. I don't know quite even where to begin with everything, so I'm just going to start off with the weird and go from there.

Perhaps one of the grossest things that I've ever seen on the trail was just a few months ago when someone had actually ran over a squirrel with their bicycle. Instead of cleaning it up (I must have been one of the very next people to pass by it), they left it laying in a puddle of its own blood in the middle of the double-wide sidewalk. It was nasty, and I had to kick it off to the side of the path lest someone else have to see it. The stranger thing is that an incident nearly the same had almost taken place with me the previous summer.

Last summer, while biking along a path that runs parallel to a runoff ditch (a non-stinky one, mind you), a ground squirrel jumped out on the path and darted back and forth several times right in front of me. In itself, this wasn't very strange, as I'd had squirrels, rabbits, and other small burrowing creatures run out in front of me before. The thing about this incident, though, was that the little rodent looked particularly confused as I zoomed up on him. Only a split second before I was upon him, I swerved as quickly as possible and tried to hop my bike in time, but the little fellow seemed stuck in place and I grimaced as I felt my back tire hit him.

At that point I would have been looking back on a squished squirrel if I hadn't had the notion to hop my bike. Instead, when I turned around I saw the little creature flying several feet into the air upside down. Somehow the tread on my bike tire had snagged him a bit and flung him upwards. After somehow gaining his bearings in midair, he splatted down onto his stomach, looked a bit confused once more, then finally ran off into the undergrowth, probably scared out his wits. The whole incident gave me a start as well, but at least I hadn't killed him.

Another strange incident took place last summer, just after I had purchased my new bicycle. I'd been out pricing bikes for several weeks on end before finally narrowing down my decision, but I looked at almost every production bike in existence, including ones that were way out of my price range. I ended up getting one that I thought was pretty decent, but always ended up seeing bikes on the trail that I thought were a little bit cooler than mine. No big deal, though.

One day, I was standing around by a water fountain on the trail with a couple friends of mine who had gone on a ride with me. As we were taking turns at the fountain, a guy coming down the trail on his bike caught one of our attention and in turn, the group. The man in question was riding a brand-new 5,000 dollar plus, special edition, full-suspension Porsche mountain bike (we had a couple bike geeks in our group to confirm this). We all glanced over in its direction and tried not to stare too much.

The reason that we were staring, though, wasn't as much to do with the bike as it was the rider. Not only was he barely pedaling along, but he had a cell phone in his right hand that he was talking on (as well as some unbelievably ugly sunglasses). As if to add to it all, he was barely managing to keep himself on the trail steering with his left hand, as he was also trying to hold a cigarette with the same appendage. It was a perfectly yuppie moment, and we all laughed at it heartily (as well as wished that we could take the bike he was on out for a real spin).

Several times I've been the object of something funny for other people to laugh at, but I readily admit that. The funny thing is that although I've been out on the trail tons of times, I've never really seen anyone wipe out other than little kids and myself. I guess others have the common sense to practice somewhere nobody can see them until they get good enough to go out in public. I've always been kind of the dive-in first kind, though.

Probably one of the nicest things about the trails, though, is the human interaction, and especially the fleeting glimpses that last for only a split second before you're on your way in opposite directions. While I'm not a very socially outgoing, I've always been someone who simply enjoys watching people. No matter how fast I'm moving along the trail, or how hard I'm working to make a goal of mine, one of the things I always manage to do it look at peoples faces when I'm going by them in the opposite direction. Out of all the people I see, and all the times I go out, I rarely see the same people twice over short periods of time.

It may seem like a really silly thing to say, but I feel that from only very short glimpses at a person, it's possible to learn (or at least, think I do) things about them. I feel like I'm able to decide whether the person has had a good day or a bad one, and whether or not they're someone I'd even like to talk to. The funny thing is that these thoughts only last a few seconds, and then they're either out of my head or I'm on to a different person. It's probably not fair to judge someone in such a short amount of time, but I do it anyway, I've ridden by people who looked like they wouldn't talk to me if I were the last person on earth, and I've glanced at others who have literally caused me to feel a little bit better about things simply because their smile seemed genuine.

I'm usually so absorbed in thinking about things when I'm out that I flash a completely non-descript sort of smirk that has become my standard way of passing. Once in a great while, though, someone will catch my attention with how they look and it will become a conscious decision to smile even more. I never know if they see it or not, but if someone is riding too close behind them, they usually get a glance of real emotions. Maybe then, I think that it's something that will catch on.