Saturday, September 1, 2012
Fairy Dust and Angry Gnomes
Normally our 'Saint Saturday' ride is casual, laid-back, and care free. It has been noted that I have yet to crash, hit a tree, or fall off my bike while riding Saint Edward Park. Due mostly to our attitude going in to this ride, Caution (Greg) and I do this relaxed ride every Saturday morning, early to avoid the throngs. After we crank off 7 or so easy miles we pack up gear and head to Caffe Ladro for coffee, sugar, and idle chit-chat. No sweat.
Our ride this morning was the usual affair with two notable exceptions: a blizzard of fairy dust and angry trail gnomes (see pictured above).
Easy first. This time of year, in the Northwest, brings with it little rain, much like the rest of the country. Our foliage, used to a constant spritz of fine mist year-round, dries up rapidly under the harsh NW sun and scorching 85 degree heat. Thankfully these torturous conditions typically last only 10 days, often times strangling out 14 straight days. The horror!
As a result, ground-cover turns brown or reverts into its original essence: dust. For mountain bikers this means that trails, once compacted with damp soil, are now covered in a thick layer of fairy dust, with hard pack underneath. Tricky surface this. Riding style for this condition is similar to riding over wet and slippery surface-mud. Tricky because the surface is not slippery to walk on, unlike walking on mud but it is 'slippery' to ride on. Not slippery like mud but it has a loose, top surface that feels slippery, giving way easily under hard-climbing tire rotation or quick high-G turns. I will be glad when some rain returns and the trails regain some of their stickiness.
Now for the angry. With one notable exception, Duthie Mountain Bike Park, most of the worthwhile trail systems in this area are multi-use. This means that on any given day we are likely to run into horses, bikers, hikers, dogs, squirrels and of course the dreaded Angry Trail Gnome. Our trails and parks are all clearly marked "multi-use" and I don't often run into problems with other trail users. Most are courteous and considerate. The written hierarchy of users (meaning, who is required to yield to who on a narrow trail) is: horseback riders at the top, followed by hikers, then hikers with dogs, squirrels, and then mountain bikers bringing up the rear.
This is an odd ranking because, up here at least, mountain bikers are the primary group that maintains the trail systems. In fact many of these trails would not exist without the efforts of mountain bikers. No matter. We all work to get along and share the commons. Well, not the Angry Trail Gnomes.
ATG are easy to spot. They are usually trail runners (unfortunately every user group has there own version of ATG), always alone and they always wear ear buds (no doubt blaring Barry Manilow), this is so they can't actually hear anyone coming up on them (or the birds, or the wind through the trees). This always results in them being shocked and surprised when they come upon us on the trail.
Trail etiquette dictates that mtn bikers yield to hikers but these ATGs always yield due too the sudden surprise that they are not alone in the woods. They leap into the bush, aghast. Often standing knee deep in ferns on the side of the trail, waiting for the group to pass, scowling and snarling at us like a dog growls at a bump in the dead of night. Oft times muttering contemptive words under their breath. We are all smiles and apologies and well-wishing, of course.
No matter to them, the Angry Trail Gnomes, they can't help themselves.