Trail Etiquette

Some of us have been struggling more than others with social distancing in the outdoors. Like that group walking side-by-side down the middle of the Centennial Trail that seem insulted by the ring of a bike bell or “on your left” shout out. Or the runner who passes so close on a wide trail that his panting thunders in your ears and the smell of laundry detergent or cologne lingers unnervingly long. And how about the cyclist who blows by you on the side of the trail at mach 10 without even the benefit of a “hot pizza”?  

Such displays of indifference to coronavirus-era social norms can be disheartening, but then again even the best intentioned among us are bound to have our lapses. Case in point. One of the worst displays of social distancing trail etiquette unfolded the other day on an outing I organized, thanks to my two bullheaded trail companions.  

I was excited about a 5-mile run on a Spokane County Conservation Area trail that I hadn’t been to in years. And after so many solo outings over the past two months, it was nice to have some company for a change. It became clear right away, however, that social distancing was going to be a problem for my crew.  

Out in front, our leader swerved back-and-forth like a drunken sailor from one side of the trail to the other, making no effort to give the occasional hikers we encountered their fair share of space. And when it was time for a gear adjustment or sip of water, he plopped himself down in the middle of the trail like it was his own private parlor and proceeded to rummage through his backpack oblivious to passersby. 

Next in line, the gregarious one of our bunch bounded down the trail like a jackrabbit from hell. She charged ever forward like a maniac driven by unseen demons, only pausing at each opportunity to greet and invade the precious space of hikers unfortunate enough to encounter our rag-tag band of trail aficionados.  

Photo by Shallan Knowles

Taking up the rear, it was left to me to pick up the pieces and dole out the apologies for my companions’ boorish behavior. Thankfully, the handful of hikers we encountered that day seemed more than understanding, with many of them seemingly delighted by our antics. And there were some good reasons to cut our rambling, trail-hogging freakshow some slack.  

Our self-absorbed leader may be prone to middle-of-the-trail picnics, but when a five-year-old on a bike says it’s time for a snack, he means right here, right now. The excessively chummy teenager, on the other hand, has some compulsions of her own thanks to her ancestors’ unique occupation. A mutt that’s a good part rat terrier, her predecessors were bred to catch rats and hunt small animals. Hence her squirrel-behind-every-bush disposition. Reigning in these two has its challenging moments for sure, but I’m ever grateful for the amazing trails I share with them and the kind and tolerant humans we encounter along the way. 

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