When We Say Parks, You Say Trails
Recently, while reminiscing about restaurants, someone told me a funny story about a family waiting for their dinner, and then, bam. A ceiling fan hit the entire tray full of food. Tacos and bits of guacamole land on other tables, on faces, inside purses, and queso splatters the walls. Everyone in shock, considering themselves lucky if the quesadilla shrapnel flew past them.
Weren't restaurants great?
These days, we are living in a different version of our world. The version where some microscopic crap is smeared all over the map. Everything felt slow-motion at first, but gradually this new way of life has become almost routine. FaceTime chats, awkward online workouts, and being classified as non-essential while telling yourself (no matter what the CDC says), you are, in fact, very essential (and now writing blogs). It's now trendy to smell like bleach and not at all absurd to wash our hands fifty times a day. Is this the generation that will now and forever be the cleanest and have the driest hands? Is social distancing becoming routine? I hear it only takes two weeks to create a habit.
As trail builders, we build mountain bike trails all over the United States and are in the woods most of the day. We've been social-distancing ourselves for a while now. It's part of the job. Recently it has become an occupational perk. We usually don't see anybody on the worksite throughout the entire project, minus a few curious locals now and then.
Last month, while heading to a worksite, I was shocked to see a very full parking lot. Yes, it was a Saturday, but the parking lot was so packed that cars were parking along the road.
Perhaps everyone thought they would be the only person wanting to ride their bike today. Or walk or skip or whatever people like doing at their local trails. Perhaps every one of them is willing to take a risk because time on the trails is so important. Or is "essential" the magical word to use these days?
I don't own a TV or get a newspaper delivered to my door, but the information about social distancing and COVID-19 is everywhere. Our every move is determined by this virus. It's along the lines of knowing the lyrics to a Taylor Swift song, but have no idea how. We can't help but listen to it whether we like it or not. Social distancing is one of the top five things to talk about during any conversation, right next to toilet paper and unemployment. It is impossible to ignore. So why are so many people out and about?
Are all these trail-goers from another planet? Aliens disguised as mountain bikers?
Or maybe, they are discovering what we’ve known to be true: people need trails.
It is beyond exciting to see a trail system being used and full of happy—I'm hoping healthy—people. It's even more exciting being part of the team that helped create it. As a trail builder and a mountain biker (and a human), it's easy to say all communities need trails close to home. In my field, it's mentioned almost every day. The more trails, the better. Every city, every town, and neighborhood should have multiple trail systems featuring every style of riding. (Magic wand, please!) I may be biased. I may be living in a trail builder’s bubble. I would like to think most people understand the importance of trails, but a lot of the time, trail systems can be taken for granted and overlooked.
And then, in some crazy way, the pandemic created further proof that having local trails for communities is, in fact, crucial. Sure, it's exercise. Yeah, nature is excellent. And that feeling of freedom while going as fast as possible on some gnarly downhill is so great, y'all. But trails also keep us sane in a somewhat insane world. People need trails to reduce stress, to feel safe, to feel normal, a feeling of accomplishment, in addition to maintaining a physically healthy lifestyle. And, mountain biking can build up confidence that reaches beyond the trail. So while we're all walking around with face masks on—or bandanas, old t-shirts, last year's Halloween costume—at least we can do it with confidence and walk with our heads held high. Maybe a compliment will be yelled from ten feet away.
Right now, it is even more apparent how vital trails are for communities.
Because trails are becoming more crowded than ever, maybe this means trail builders everywhere should be considered "essential." (High-five to all the trail builders out there!) Could there be an urgency to build more miles so every trail user can have a great experience while also practicing healthy social distancing?
You tell me. Are your local trails full of people itching to get outside? Are your neighborhood streets and sidewalks becoming the popular hangout these days?
Recently, we've all been forced to make significant changes in our lives. If something positive can come from this, it would be the visual evidence that more trails in more communities are necessary in this crazy, crap-splattered world. All healthy habits are essential to all people (even aliens). Right along with growler deliveries and daydreaming about the future.
If your town needs more trails, talk to the City Council, the Parks & Recreation Department, or find your IMBA Local Partner and see how you can get involved to help make more trails happen. Have these conversations. Have them from afar by talking on the phone, using a computer, or by Morse code. Whichever method works best. But have them. It’s time for more trails in more places.
Thanks for reading. Stay safe out there.