The weekend is here, spring is almost sprung, and you want to go hike in the great outdoors.
In addition to invigorating challenges, Colorado trails offer plenty of unavoidable obstacles. steep climbs, harrowing terrain, afternoon storms and wildly fluctuating temperatures. But there's one thing nature lovers should neither be nor have to deal with: trail jerks.
And the number of trail jerks is rising.
Newcomers have flooded the state, eager to enjoy the mix of culture in the city and wild adventures in the mountains — but with no comprehension of urban or wilderness ethics. First-time trail users, inspired to become outdoorsy because some city entertainment options don't feel safe during a pandemic, are heading outside in droves. Too often, those of us who have been on the trails for decades are intolerant of the newcomers, unfriendly and gruff. New hikers should be welcomed by old-time trail users...and also gently guided in best practices.
Because most trail jerks aren’t bad actors. They just don’t know better.
Afraid you’re a jerk? Fear not. There are some basic rules we can all follow that will help keep the state’s trails fun, free of conflict and perhaps in even better shape than we found them.
Leave No Dog Shit Behind
Fido joined you and needs to take a crap. Fine — it’s all part of the experience. But if you see your dog dumping in the woods, it’s your job to pick up the poop and carry it out. Our stomachs are still churning from the neatly tied poop bags that litterbug dog owners left behind alongside trails in 2020. Who do these dog owners think is going to pick up after them? Forest rangers? Fellow hikers? Do they imagine their doggie bags will decompose, or just blend into the landscape? These scat sacks are an eyesore and a scourge. Double-bag that dookie and take it home.
Trek Out Your T.P.
Dogs aren't the only craptastrophes. If you need to poop, be sure to do your business far from the trail and water sources. If land managers allow, wipe with leaves, bury your scat six inches deep, and stir it up with some organic matter for faster decomposition. If you use toilet paper, cart it out yourself. And cover up the damage you've done.
Turn Off Your Speakers
Nobody should have to bring earplugs to the woods. But our ears are still ringing from ungodly loud boomboxes blasting their way down the trail. Silence and the sounds of birds, chipmunks and streams are some of the joys of hiking. Hearing the rustle of predators and oblivious trail users are not. This is not the place to hold a rave or rock show for your hiking buddies. We love music, too...but there is a time and place for it. If you really need to listen to tunes, put in your earbuds and stop deejaying for the rest of us. And even then, keep the volume low. You need to hear bikers, hikers, joggers and salivating animals that might be trying to eat you. Neither a mountain lion nor a fellow trail user should be required to raise their voice to get your attention.
Shut Up and Quit Gossiping
As much as your case of genital warts, the orgy you attended last night, the annoying football player your cousin is dating or your thoughts on the dreadful state of the world might be of interest at the bar, nobody wants to hear the salacious details of your messy life from a quarter-mile away. The same goes for the spat with your spouse, your whining about the weather, your thoughts on the stock market, or your rambles about how cheap Colorado living is — particularly when you’re the person driving up housing prices and gentrifying the state’s cities and towns. Shush. It does wonders for your soul — and ours.
Stop Pestering the Animals
Don’t feed the animals. Don’t touch the animals. Don’t befriend the animals. Don’t try to turn the animals into your pets. Let them be. How would you like it if some weird creature walked into your home and started hassling you or picked you up? You wouldn’t. Don’t do it to the animals. Take a picture if you want, then move on. Your interactions with fauna endanger both them and you.
Keep Your Dog Under Control
Yes, you love your best friend and pup. And you want her to roam free. Happily, there are plenty of trails in Colorado where leashes are not required. But that doesn’t mean you should let your dog bark at, piss on or nip at passing strangers and their pets. Some people are downright terrified of dogs, and if your lovable beast approaches them, they will have a panic attack and perhaps hurt your fluff muffin. If your dog chases down a small animal, the little creature might not survive. If your dog chases down a bear, your best friend might die — and you could wind up carrying her corpse back to the trailhead.
Be Friendly but Not Annoying
The trails are not Manhattan. Unless you’ve taken a vow of silence — and believe us, that’s better than a vow of garrulousness — you should make eye contact with strangers. Feel free to say hi to other hikers. Wish them a good day. Warn people of hazards ahead. If they seem fatigued, offer them a few comforting words. If they seem disoriented or injured, offer to help if you can. If you need help, it's okay to ask. But once those pleasantries and necessities are over, keep on hiking.
Wear Your Masks and Stay at a Distance
COVID-19 is still a thing, and although outdoor transmission is highly unlikely, it’s still a worry. So put on your mask as you walk or jog by people. Even if you’re one of those who think masks are a hoax, keeping covered is the polite thing to do. Just because someone is a naturalist doesn’t mean they get to flout their junk. Treat your nose and mouth like your genitals: Wrap ’em up. We once watched a too-friendly maskless creep bend down and close-talk to a little girl. Close-talking to other people’s children is always gross; in COVID times, it's downright dangerous.
Don’t Try to Hook Up
Speaking of close-talking, the mountains aren’t a meat market. Don’t try to get laid or find love on the trail. When you hit on people, you freak them out. Nope, nobody wants to know how you think their ass looks as they’re making their way up a peak. Or how pretty they are. Or what fine muscular tone they have. Keep your libido locked up, keep your eyes on the trail, and don’t be a creepazoid. Plenty of hikers are carrying bear spray and pistols. If common decency doesn't prevent you from being a predator, maybe your own sense of self-preservation will.
Stay Safe and Be Prepared
Remember the ten essentials for safe hiking? According to the U.S. National Park Service, now there are twelve! And if you’re going to bring gear, you’d better know how to use it. Let’s review the initial ten essentials that forest rangers say you should lug along: navigation tools (a map, a compass and a GPS, if you’re feeling spendy); sun protection (hat, sunglasses and sunscreen); warm clothes (gloves, a hat, a jacket, long underwear and rain protection — and remember, denim is death); illumination (a headlamp or flashlight); a first-aid kit; fire (waterproof matches and a lighter can save your life...just don't start a forest fire, and do obey local regulations); repair kit and tools (duct tape, a knife, a screwdriver and scissors); food; water and water treatment supplies; emergency shelter (a tent, a tarp, a bivy or a space blanket). And now for the new additions: hand sanitizer and that mask!
Moving Through Mud
The snow has melted and the trails are soaked. If you can, find a dry path. But if you’re stuck meandering through the muck, it’s tempting to walk around mud puddles; after all, who wants soggy feet? Here’s the problem: If you circumnavigate the mess, you widen the trail, damage the flora, and sully the scenery. So brave the mud and stay on the trail. Yes, your feet might turn to prunes, but at least you won’t be wrecking the hike for others for years to come.
Smug That You Know All This? Don’t Become a Jerk Yourself!
When you encounter jerks, it can be tempting to confront them. Pretty soon, you’ve become the jerk yourself. So don’t scold. Don’t fight. Don’t lecture. And if someone wants to mess with you, just walk away. Welcome new trail users — even when they're not from the state. And if you see one of those godawful dog-crap sacks, do us all a favor. Swallow your pride (and your nausea), and cart it out yourself.
Do you have rules you wish Colorado's trail users would follow? Let us know at email@example.com. For more on good behavior in the wilderness, visit the Center for Outdoor Ethics’ Leave No Trace Behind website.
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