After a week of riding the (gorgeous, incomparable) bike trails on Cape Cod, I’ve learned alot about human nature. First there are the types of people you will find using the trails:
1. The Tour de France’rs
They have their bodysuits, their space-age helmets, their front-arm-leaning handlebars, fanny packs and camelbaks, and feet cemented to the pedals, so they AIN’T stoppin. Just stay out of the way because the peloton is coming through, and you will die if you get in front of it.
2. The Neurotic Parents
They want to teach their kids to ride, but maybe they should’ve thought about doing that at home, before they got on the biking superhighway. Sometimes they have to stop and lecture their children about “how angry it makes me when you do that.” Often accompanied by grandparents pushing empty strollers. Occasionally you see a variation of this with three or more adults pulled over to the side of the trail, all fussing over one crying child in a bike trailer.
3. Walkers, Joggers, and Dog-walkers
They have every right to be on the bike trail. It’s supposed to be a safe haven for people trying to enjoy a walk or run without having to risk their lives on summer-traffic-filled roads. But I’m not sure they’re any safer with the bikes than they are with the cars.
4. Teenagers, Old Folks, and European Tourists
Lesser seen, but still present. Teens will be surly and/or dangerous-looking. So will the old folks. Europeans will be half-naked and stopped on the side of the trail eating berries.
6. Normal People Out for a Nice Bike Ride
Like me and my family, who were just trying to get through it all unscathed. And at least one of your party will be asking, “What’s the point again? Why are we riding bikes in a straight line for hours?”
My scariest moment was when we passed a dad and son who were pulled over, and mom was just getting back into the flow of traffic. Older Son was in the middle of the lane passing her and I was starting to make my move when I noticed there was a daughter, maybe four years old, trying to turn around and find her family. Older slowed down when he saw her swerve across the lane of traffic.
But the 65-year-old guy coming toward all of this mess didn’t. He just made a grimace like, “Oh my God! There’s a little pink Dora bike in front of me! How dare she? I’m about to crash into her! But I ain’t slowin down, dag-nabbit!”
I told Older he did the right thing. When in doubt, STOP BEFORE YOU CRASH INTO PEOPLE. It’s pretty basic.
Now. To this spicy gumbo, add cars. Every time you come to a street crossing it’s complete anarchy. By the letter of the law (we think), cars aren’t supposed to yield to bikes in crosswalks (I know, stupidest thing ever). But it makes sense if you realize that bikes are supposed to observe the same traffic rules as cars, so a rail trail crosswalk throws everything into confusion.
Cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians, so on the trail, the rule is that bikers should stop and walk their bike across the streets, hence becoming pedestrians and clearly having the right of way.
But no one ever gets off their bike. And the cars can’t always see the crossings coming. They are hidden around corners and in trees, and anyway most drivers on the Cape are in vacation mode. They’re not paying attention or they’re in a SERIOUS rush to get to some soft-serve. If they’re not familiar with the trail, they can be flying along with no clue that a person could jump out in front of their car.
As my dear old sailor dad used to say, the laws of gross tonnage apply. Motor vehicle vs. pedestrian laws don’t matter when a many-ton vehicle is flying toward your 65-pound skin-and-bones baby.
So we taught the boys to come to a COMPLETE stop at every crossing. BUT, those of us who are trying to keep our children from being flattened by cars get in the way of the peloton, who fly through, knocking you out of the way in their hurry to beat you to the entrance on the other side of the road.
Then you’ve got the people who draft off your stopped cars. You and the kids are getting across as safely as you can, when the others come up your butt because they shot out in front of the drivers who stopped for you. Now you’re on the other side trying to climb back on your bike and get….CRAP! Angry Granny!
“ON! YOUR! LEFT!!!!” They yell, annoyed at you for being in their way.
So what does all this mean? It’s simple. People need rules. I have my own problems respecting authority and I’m the first person to say, “Bah! That’s not a real law.” But if there were just some basic right-of-way guidelines (i.e. when a small child loses control of their bike and darts in front of you BY ACCIDENT – stop your damn bike instead of yelling at them and their parents), the trail would be a far less terrifying place.
Dave had a theory that it’s like the townies vs. the college kids. After a few weeks of having bikes dart out in front of their car, or being on a bike and having a car speed toward you, there’s competition between locals and tourists, drivers and bikers. The age-old story. Oh – and it’s hot. And everyone’s stuck with their cranky family.
Of course Dave also managed to get in a little parenting wisdom. Our last human behavior observation, which I’ve been saying like a broken record for years anyway, is this: kids will watch what the adults are doing and do exactly the same thing.
So when he’d had enough of all the shenanigans, Older got in on the act. As he tried to turn left to exit the crosswalk and head for a deli we’d picked for lunch, another crazy grandpa went flying by him (to pass everyone and get back on the trail first) and almost knocked him down. Older yelled, “Thanks for almost crashing into me while I was trying to make a legal and safe left-hand turn.” (We’ll have to work on brevity when it comes to his snippy remarks.)
After this event Dave told him, “If somebody’s out here yelling at people then they’re probably not a very happy person. Don’t let them ruin your day.” So we mocked him, ate sandwiches, and went back into the fray for another hour of enjoyable riding in straight lines amongst crazy people.
But please don’t let this story deter you from riding the trails. Go early or late, go on a Tuesday, go when it’s NOT summer, but get out there and see them, because as far as rail trails go, this one is world class.