Here's to You: Be safe on area bike trails
Early morning; a cool breeze; a trace of mist lifts to reveal a flock of white pelicans resting on the water.
A bald eagle watches my bike approach and takes flight to escort me half a mile before soaring upward over the lake. Pedaling home after dark, I slow to contemplate the best strategy for passing the young skunk that has asserted its right to the center of the trail. Just a few of the joys to be had cycling the trails right here in our own back yard.
Recent paving projects have connected Bemidji to Walker, Park Rapids and Brainerd via the Paul Bunyan and Heartland trails. The Migizee Trail starts in Cass Lake and winds through the forests along Pike Bay, offering a 19-mile loop, one of the most beautiful loops in the state. City trails connect the waterfront to the Bemidji State University campus and Diamond Point Park. Construction of the trail by Nymore Beach and the Sanford Center is nearing completion.
Minnesota was recently recognized as the Best Trails State by the American Trails Group, and we have some of the best Minnesota trails right here. They are wide, have high quality surface and convenient parking options, and are well maintained. They offer recreational cyclists of all ages and abilities opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
While trails offer cyclists a pleasant respite from motor traffic, it is still important be alert and ride safely. Trail users must stop at stop signs. Many crossroads carry low-volume - but high-speed - traffic, tempting cyclists to blow through. Several cyclists and inline skaters in Minnesota have been killed doing this.
Cyclists must share the trail with other users. We are the fastest and most dangerous vehicles on the trail, and, as such, we must keep right, yield to slower users, audibly signal when passing (bell, horn, or "On your left"). All users should keep right, keep dogs and children under control, be alert to audible signals and move off the trail when stopped.
That said, on a beautiful Saturday morning, the trail is full of kids, families with strollers, joggers plugged into their iPods, couples meandering with their dogs, and all sorts of slower, more inexperienced cyclists out enjoying the trails. I remember on one trip passing a youngster struggling along with his training wheels and a half-mile later meeting an old gent, bare-chested on a vintage 3-speed, showing off his fresh bypass scar!
Those of us who are faster and more experienced should be patient and gentle in our interactions with other users, slowing and even stopping if need be to give a family a chance to regroup. A thumbs up or a "cool bike" to the kids helps win new converts to the joy of cycling. Save speed for the road and times when the trail is less congested. Wear a helmet. Even a low-speed fall can result in a significant head injury. And of course, all users should stay on the trail, respect private property, carry out trash and leave the wildlife undisturbed.
Has this inspired you to get your bike out on the trail?
Please visit the Dr. Bike Area Voices blog at http://drbike.areavoices.com where you will also find links to more information about Minnesota's beautiful multiuse trails.
Diane Pittman is a family and emergency physician, bicycle commuter and lifelong cycling enthusiast. She is a League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor.