I’ve been using the recreational paths installed on former railroad beds in our part of the country since 1982. That’s a long time ago and a ton of miles covered on these linear parks.
So I know a few things about trail etiquette. There have been few close calls in terms of possible collisions. On the whole, I’ve always leaned toward safety over speed. But sometimes people do unexpected things while out on those trails. You always have to be alert.
There are new rules of etiquette in place during the pandemic. Principally, these involve adequate social distancing. Staying six feet apart is the basic construct. Yet with moving traffic and the volatility of the Coronavirus strain that leads to Covid-19, there is risk of infecting others or being infected if that stuff gets floating around in the air.
I’ve seen some people walking with masks on. Even a few people riding bikes with masks on. But I’ve yet to see a runner wearing a mask. I think there are good reasons for that. Breathing through a mask of any sort while running is quite difficult. Condensation builds up quickly. Oxygen exchange is impinged. So is release of CO2, the inevitable product of breathing.
So I don’t wear a mask while running. If I’m running during period when there are lots of people on the trail, I go well around them to avoid them.
Some studies have shown that runners and cyclists are at risk of spreading or contracting the disease if they exercise too close together. The draft created while moving can actually carry airborne virus droplets or particles. That’s why races and large group events need to be canceled and postposed. Until this pandemic is under control through proven medical treatments or a vaccine, the potential spread of the virus in public place is simply too great to bring big groups of people together.
Yet out on the public trails, there is plenty of time to anticipate and respond to social distancing etiquette. If I’m cycling and approach a clog of people at some point on the trail, I wait for them to sort it out and disperse. If necessary, I’ll even unclip and stand back until a group breaks up. It doesn’t happen that often, and I don’t let it bother me.
Don’t be a jerk
Hopefully there are not still aggressive cyclists and runners so obsessed with their personal objectives they refuse to abide in simply courtesy and social distancing measures. I’ve known and have seen plenty of cyclists who act impatiently on the trail or ride far too fast in areas where groups of people tend to congregate. To those cyclists I say “Skip the trail” now and in the future. If you’re capable of going 20mph+ (as I am) on a typical ride a busy trail is no place to force yourself upon the world.
That’s particularly true now that so many casual trail users are out trying to get exercise. I’ve seen far more people out on the public pathways than at any other time in the past forty years. The pandemic has families out walking together. That’s fair and reasonable use of public trails. Most pay attention to keeping their distance.
Just yesterday I was running an unpaved forest preserve path when a family walking together came over the hill. Their two young children stepped aside on the narrow footpath and I actually traipsed through the weeds a little to give them fair margin as well. That’s how most people are responding to all this. They’re considerate of each other.
It comes down to reading the situation wherever you go. Unless tested, none of us knows if we’re a carrier of this virus. Even without symptoms, we can spread it around and not know it. If you’re more comfortable exercising with a mask on, that’s all well and good. Those of us that aren’t wearing masks need to respect the space of others more than we usually might. That means accommodating more than six feet if we can, and being patient in every circumstance. That’s basic human respect.
I’ve been a runner close to fifty years and a cyclist nearly twenty. I’ve lived through my share of bad colds and flus during all those years. Brought a few of them on from overtraining and I’m sure picked up plenty of germs from locker rooms and public fountains. So I’m no germophobe, but neither do I think it’s fine to be a germajerk.
Going to the grocery store and other places, I’m largely wearing a mask. While out running and riding, I’m taking a pass on the mask while being extra cautious to give people safe space. That’s being respectful and sensible at the same time.
And when the pools open back up, there’s no way I’m swimming with a mask. That’s where I’m really drawing the line.