Wednesday, July 21, 2010


On Monday morning, I decided to do the four-mile route on the Central Lakes Trail that runs just a few blocks from my house. It’s a wonderful trail and I’ve written about my hikes on the trail over and over again. But what I haven’t mentioned is trail etiquette: what is the polite way to interact with other people on the trail?

Volumes have been written about trail etiquette in general—the golden-rule, common-sense advice for being a good trail sharer like: stay to the right, leave your *!#&**! cell phone at home, bikers yield to hikers, etc.

I thought it might be helpful if I shared my ten years of trail-walking experience in offering proper trail greetings to your fellow trail users.

Rule 1: A single hiker meeting another single hiker raises one hand in greeting (to show that you aren’t carrying a weapon), smiles slightly, and says, “Hi” or “Morning.” It is not necessary to say the entire “Good morning” greeting. Three syllables are w-a-a-y overkill and make people feel a little creeped out. One or two syllables are plenty.

Rule 2: A single hiker meeting a runner needs to evaluate clothing before deciding on a greeting. If the runner is wearing mesh shorts, a tank top with a number on it, and a Timex Personal Trainer heart rate monitor, you might as well save your breath. The runner is probably already on mile number 19 and his or her glazed eyes don’t really see you anyway. Just stay as far to the right as possible and try not to get hit by flying sweat.

Rule 3: A single hiker meeting a runner who is 40 pounds overweight and wearing a pair of “mom” or "dad" shorts, huffing and puffing red-faced along at 3 miles per hour, should greet the runner warmly. Smile, encourage, give a thumbs up, and say, “Way to go!”

Rule 4: A single hiker meeting bikers wearing racing spandex and aerodynamic helmets while riding Litespeed Carbon bikes should be very cautious. The hiker should just get as far to the edge of the trail as possible and stay out of their way. These bikers don’t want to say “hi” to you. In fact, they really just wish you would stay the heck off their trail. You are only a blur in their peripheral vision, so do not—I repeat, do not—attempt to make friends.

Rule 5: A single hiker meeting a biker dressed in khaki cargo shorts and a sweaty 1984 Rolling Stones tee-shirt should raise one hand in greeting (again to show that you are not carrying a weapon) and say, “Hi.” The biker will always say “hi” but may or may not return the wave, depending upon how skillful he or she is at riding the bike. For some amateur bikers, a hand off the handlebars can result in a serious, death-defying swerve. Do not take it personally if the hand-lift greeting is not returned.

Rule 6: A single hiker meeting a dog-walker evaluates the situation based on the size and aggressiveness of the dog. Large dogs with sharp teeth straining against leashes are not a good risk. Stay as far right as possible. Do not raise your hand in greeting as the large dog may think your hand is lunch. Do not fall for the old line, “Slasher just wants to make friends,” that many vicious-dog owners use to lull unsuspecting hikers into a state of trust. Slasher does not want to be your friend. Slasher wants to take a chunk out of your leg.

Rule 7: A single hiker meeting a dog-walker with a three-pound toy dog of any breed, especially if the dog-walker is over the age of 60, should be prepared to stop and talk for at least 15 minutes. If you think you can sneak by with a simple hand wave and “Morning,” think again. The word “morning” will trigger an entire conversation about the afore-mentioned morning including the temperature, the day’s forecast, what we all had for breakfast—which somehow leads to everyone sharing their cholesterol numbers, both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers, what surgeries they have had, and what type of medication they are on. Unless you want to spend another 15 minutes talking, do not even mention the dog.

Rule 8: A single hiker meeting a child biking on the trail must unfortunately just keep walking without greeting or waving or doing anything that might be interpreted as child accosting. Sometimes I wish it were 1963 again and grandmas walking along the trail could smile at kids without being viewed as pedophiles.

So there you go. Rules for hikers. If you find yourself in an etiquette quandary out there on the trail, don’t say you haven’t been told.


Anonymous said...

Add another rule for men. They not only need to be careful of greeting children. they also need to be careful of greeting women walking or biking alone. My husband said if he plans to turn around at a certain point but meets a woman near that point he has to go a half mile farther just so it doesn't look like he's turning around and following her.

Anonymous said...

Get a dog! I have experienced a complete reversal of other trail user attitudes since I got my dog. He makes friends three at a time and won't take no for an answer.

It seems if you have a pleasant, friendly dog, people you meet must equate the master with the beast!