Weekends are always dicey on the W&OD. I have commented before on the large, random population that flocks there when they’re off work for a couple of days: the well-intentioned but seldom-exercised, the parents with kids just learning how to ride a bike (or use in-like skates), the dog-walkers, the neighbors who meet and decide to have a gabfest while standing in the middle of the trail, the elderly couple strolling slowly, the large walking group who think that both sides of the trail belong to them, the “weekend warriors” whose girth bespeaks sporadic activity. And, in early March, all of this is compounded on the first warm weekend of the season. Nobody’s been out for a while, and so everybody who uses the Trail on occasional random weekends flocks there en masse for the first outing of the year.
Consequently on last Sunday afternoon the Trail was nearing SRO. Cyclists are aware of the implications of the situation, and my objectives in terms of distance, difficulty, and average speed were modest. Had I been ultra-ambitious I would have found a non-Trail route to take. But there I was, calmly rolling out to Herndon. Just this side of Reston Town Center, I had come to the crest of a downhill stretch leading under an overpass, and could see the uphill section beyond the crossing bridge. The only people in sight were a family group of a walking mother, a girl about 9 on a two-wheeler, and a little boy about Ben’s age in a Big Wheel type of vehicle. They were coming toward me, starting down the descent on the other side, my “uphill.” The boy was swooping back and forth from one side to the other.
I noticed from some distance that the mom had placed herself between the boy and the center of the trail and thought “good, she’s warned him and has him under control.” As I sped down the hill and approached them everything looked calm. When I started uphill, however, the 9-year-old veered sharply toward the center line. [Why does this happen so often? I can be going along, spot a rider, runner, or walker way up ahead, and they’ll also be going along in a perfectly straight line. All is well until about ten feet away, when they swerve or veer and I have to shout “Look out!” It’s as if they sense I am coming and want to create a little excitement.] The mom lunged forward to grab her handlebars. In doing so, she left the side of her little boy. He of course immediately sensed an opening and swerved straight across the trail immediately in front of me, at right angles to my path. I slammed on the brakes and shouted “look out!” followed immediately by “Gee Whiz!” as I came to a halt about two feet in front of him. [I
swear pledge that this is exactly what I said, thank goodness.] She grabbed him just as he started to sob, from fright I’m sure; I think she shouted at him too.
I just pushed off, stuck my to back in the toe clip, and kept on going, uttering an exasperated “Man!” as I left. No use having words; it was really nobody’s fault, and I am sure the mom, who was probably just trying to get her kids out for some exercise, was upset and feeling bad too. Her plight illustrates that when the children outnumber the adults things can never be in complete control. Parents have to play man defense; kids will always find the seam in the zone sooner or later. When there’s one mom and two kids one of them is always going to be open. But my other point is that nobody should be on the Trail who is unable to control their vehicle completely. No 3- or 4-year-old can be trusted to ride a vehicle in a straight line consistently. Likewise the Trail is not where you learn how to skateboard/ride a tricycle/ride a bicycle/rollerblade. That’s what the driveway and sidewalk are for. Everyone on the Trail needs to be in complete control of themselves at all times, for their safety and that of others.
And that’s why the Trail is not always my first choice on weekends.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.