The desert in Southern California has been full of surprises. Hiking through mud and snow were definitely surprises for me. Looking up from the mud and seeing three mountain bikers barreling down the trail towards me was also a surprise. On the Appalachian Trail I never once encountered a mountain biker on the trail and I was pretty surprised to encounter them on the PCT.
Almost all of the PCT markers indicate that biking is banned so I made eye contact with the oncoming bikers and prepared to stand my ground. All of my years as a Boston pedestrian suddenly came into play as I stared down the bikers and prepared to either educate them about their mistake or dive into the bushes to avoid a last minute collision.
What I had forgotten to take into account was that I was hiking with a retired forest ranger with a pet peeve about mountain bikers abusing hiking trails. Before I knew it he was 3 paces ahead of me using his self-proclaimed “teaching voice” to give the unsuspecting mountain bikers a piece of his mind.
The mountain bikers claimed that they didn’t know that they were on the PCT, and they didn’t know that they weren’t allowed to ride on the PCT (though they looked rather sheepish about it). One of them said, “hey man, why don’t you just enjoy your hike and let us enjoy our ride.” This did nothing to mollify the former forest ranger who countered with, “why don’t you just give me your names?” Unsurprisingly they declined to offer that information.
Clearly the mountain bikers had gotten a bit more than they bargained for. “What do you want us to do about it?” One of them asked. “Turn around and go back to wherever the **** you came from and let your biker friends know that mountain bikers are not allowed on the PCT!”
I could almost see the steam venting out of my friends ears. This was not the answer the bikers were looking for or expecting. They looked to me for help (I was nonchalantly standing my ground and watching the show). Eventually one of the mountain bikers looked properly chastised, apologized, and said that they’d never bike the PCT again as they detoured off the trail around us and continued on their way.
In the fresh mud and snow on the trail the evidence of the mountain bikers passing was obvious and continued to rile my friend. Only three weeks retired, he still had all of the local forest rangers on speed dial and made sure to contact all of the local officials and inform them about these mountain bikers offenses.
We were saddened to learn that there is a big problem with mountain bikers on the trail in this area. The local mountain biking community affectionately refers to the PCT as the “perfect cycling trail”. The raging debate between the mountain biking community and federal officials about appropriate land use seems complicated to me, but for now the issue about mountain bikers on the PCT is straight forward. Bikes are not allowed on the PCT and I’ll be happy if I don’t encounter any more of them on the trail.