This summer, we’re calling on people across the country to spend more time outside on trails! And to help everyone have a safe and fun time while they’re out there, we like to highlight tips and stories that promote practicing good trail etiquette and recreating responsibly. As someone who recently completed a cross-country bike trip and frequently bikes to get around in his community, we asked Sam Westby (@SamCWestby) to tell us more about his experiences on the trail and with sharing the trail.
Learn about Sam’s #TrailMoments, then share your own!
I just got back from my biggest adventure ever: biking from Pacific City, Oregon, to Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was a self-supported trip over 42 days with my dad! I’ve been on two wheels since I could walk, and he has been bike touring since the 1970s. Cycling has always been a core part of my life, and this bike tour showed me that there’s even more to experience. We met all types of people, had all types of weather and had an all around good time.
Planning was an essential part of the trip. Before we left, we put together the entire route and downloaded it onto our bike computers. Many other cyclists we met were using wonderful routes created by the Adventure Cycling Association (Adventure Cycling). We decided to use parts of Adventure Cycling’s routes and create other parts on our own. This is a big task, but big excursions require a lot of effort. We used RideWithGPS and Google Map’s Street View and Satellite View to check traffic, road type and the size of the shoulder. We didn’t have to worry about those things on trails, so it was always a no-brainer to hop on the trails instead of the road whenever we could. The first of the many miles of trails we experienced during our trip was north of Salt Lake City, where we rode more than 40 miles of trail south into the city, then approximately 20 miles of trail east out of the city through Provo Canyon. We rode on amazing trails cutting through all of Lincoln, Nebraska, and were on trails for days in Indiana and Ohio. The bike infrastructure across the U.S. impressed me on our journey—and it’s only getting better thanks to the Rail-to-Trails Conservancy and the Great American Rail-Trail, which will be a fully walkable and bikeable trail route across the country!
There were times during our trip when everything did not always go perfectly, particularly in Colorado. At one point on the 150 miles of trail along Interstate 70 into Denver, the trail was closed due to high water. We later learned that this information was posted online, and the trail had been closed for a while, but we didn’t do our research about trail closures and were caught by surprise. Our options were to bike an uncomfortable 5 miles on the road, take a 55-mile detour or try to hitchhike. We didn’t see any cars and we didn’t want to backtrack, so we took the risk and biked the 5 miles. Looking back, we should have taken the detour. Nothing bad happened, but all I’m going to say is we didn't feel safe. The moral of the story is to do your research and know before you go; your safety is worth more than a few hours of your day.
Trails were mostly relaxing for me and my dad. There were no cars. Navigating was easy. People were friendly. It was common for someone to come up and start talking to us while we were taking a break on a bench. Some of these people were familiar with bike touring, others had never heard of it before. These interactions gave trails a feeling of community. I even enjoyed just waving at others while we rode past. We stayed alert and considerate of everyone on the trail: letting faster people pass on the left, holding our candy wrappers (there were lots of candy wrappers left over after “fueling up” during our ride) until we reached a trash can, and making sure to follow the rules of the specific trail. It is a team effort to keep these spaces welcoming to everyone. A little effort goes a long way so everyone can have their #TrailMoments.
As a cyclist, I get excited for new people joining the sport. A big question is choosing where to ride, and local trails are a great place to start. On trails, you don’t need to worry about getting lost, avoiding vehicles or challenging terrain. Multiuse trails welcome people of all abilities, so no matter who you are, the trail is for you. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy made TrailLink, a free app and website to help you find trails wherever you are. Trust me, they’re everywhere. My dad and I rode on trails in most of the states we biked through. And now, back in my home of Boston, Massachusetts, I’m enjoying rides and walks along the Minuteman Bikeway and the Emerald Necklace Trail.