Saturday, March 28, 2009

Trail Types

When you ride the same route day after day, year after year, you start to notice patterns of behavior in your fellow travelers. I've been keeping a mental list of "trail types" for years, and I finally decided it's time to put some of these observations down in writing. Some types are comical, others irritating, and some are just plain weird. I hope you find this amusing.

The Regular (Pedestrian)
A Regular is a pedestrian who knows what's what on the trail. Regulars always walk in straight lines, usually on the right side of the trail; they never bunch up and block traffic; they generally move steadily and briskly. They usually are either alone or with a single companion.

Regular walkers recognize and greet us regular riders when we pass. Sometimes friendships are formed. I often see Suzie (not her real name) exchange hand-slaps with each of the Old Geezers (see below) as they ride past, and they sometimes stop to talk. The trail is a real, if mobile, community.

The Foghorn (Bike)
This one's a puzzle to me. You know how when cell phones first started getting popular it took users awhile to figure out that you didn't have to shout into one to be heard, regardless of how difficult a time you were having hearing? The cell phone shouter seems to be fading into the past, but his bike-riding cousin is alive and well. The Foghorn can be heard approaching from 200 yards away, gabbing constantly and LOUDLY to his companion(s). Here's a typical conversation:

COMPANION:  (inaudible reply)
COMPANION:  (barely audible mumble)

and so on. It sounds like one side of a phone conversation until they get within a few feet, when I might catch a word or two from the companion before they pass.

This type is always a hard rider, which makes me wonder whether there's some physical connection between the leg muscles and the diaphragm that expels the words out forcefully during a hard workout. Or possibly the Foghorns are loud all the time; I'll never know since they disappear so fast.

The Old Geezers (Bike)
There's a group of retirement-age men who ride the trail every day from somewhere around Matthews beach up to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. I don't believe they ever miss a day, regardless of how nasty the weather is.

They're a class unto themselves, and a wonderful addition to the trail culture. They ride slowly, usually two-by-two, but are conscientious to make room for anyone who wants to pass. Quirky adornments add to the character of the group, like an amusing bell, or a little flag flying from a helmet.

I once told them I'd like to join their group when I retire. I was informed that would automatically make me president until I could find a newer member to pass the responsibility on to. Here's hoping they're still around when that day comes.

The Commuter (Bike)
This is my group, of course, so I'm probably not qualified to provide an unbiased description. I'm not so sure we commuters really have a whole lot of traits in common, though. One common trait is that we all generally have a waterproof way to transport our clothes. I have a hard plastic trunk, but Ortlieb panniers or packs are more common.

Commuters run the gamut from slow to fast. Some Commuters seem to also be Fitness Geeks or Racers (see below).

The Clueless (Pedestrian, usually)
The first really warm spring day brings out the Clueless in droves. They wander all over the trail or stride right down the middle, huddle in packs, dart unpredictably, and generally raise the danger level on the trail for everyone, especially themselves.

Another prime viewing time for the Clueless seeker is the first week of fall quarter at the UW. Clueless freshmen (particularly athletes, for some reason) have no idea what "shared use" means, and they show up in incredible numbers. They provide a valuable source of data for researching how long it takes to clue in. Next fall I hope to conduct some experiments, but from memory I'd say it generally takes about two weeks to convert them all to fine, upstanding members of the trail community. Here's a rough outline of their progress:

Day 1: Unresponsive to voice or bell; appear confused when they hear, "On your left."

Day 3: Look annoyed when you ask them to make room; but at least they notice you.

Day 5: Look resigned when you ask them to make room; start to walk in straighter lines near the edge of the trail.

Day 10: No longer plug the trail in packs; look over their shoulder before crossing.

The Newb (Bike, Pedestrian)
The Newb is clueless but enthusiastically interested in the "trail" experience. They smile at and greet everyone they pass, which is sort of nice but you just can't keep that up forever. Newb bikers make copious use of their new bell, often unintentionally frightening pedestrians by not signaling soon enough. They tend to weave back and forth, sometimes in cadence with the downstroke on their pedals. Be nice to them; they mean well.

The Fitness Geek (Bike)
The Fitness Geek is on a schedule, and woe to the biker or pedestrian who becomes an obstacle in his path. You can see the heart rate monitor strapped to his arm as he blows past, head down so he can keep track of the readouts on his comp. Sometimes they're on some kind of program with varying intensity levels, because I'll see them later, riding slowly and actually looking around a little.

The Racer (Bike)
This type is closely related to the fitness geek. He, too, is very goal-oriented, but the goal isn't related to heart rate or time, but to the destination. Anything that slows the Racer down is an intense irritant: traffic lights, Clueless pedestrians, even slower riders like myself.

A Racer is not thrilled about sharing the trail with you. You are tolerated only if you are conveniently off to the side and by yourself, so that he can pass without breaking stride.

Here's a diagnostic trait: when riding past Gasworks Park, a Racer eschews the official trail because of its sinuous path from road to sidewalk and back, and instead just rides on Northlake Way, a pot-holed two-lane road with no shoulder. I estimate they save at most two seconds by this maneuver. I haven't yet discovered the calculus by which they conclude that this is worth the risk.

The Quirks
This is just a catch-all category for the interesting unclassifiables I run into. You've got your power-assist bikers here, your unicyclists, your shopping cart ladies, your tai-chi practitioners. For a year or so I was seeing someone riding a hyper-tall bike — no idea where he came from or why. I used to see a woman regularly running the trail near 77th — backwards.

The trail is for everyone. Why not add your own quirky self to the mix? We'll all be the better for it.