Thursday, February 1, 2007
Off-roaders on the Santa Ana mountains' Main Divide Road exemplify outdoor etiquette while sharing the trails.
It's 3,000 feet up on the Main Divide road that bisects the Santa Ana Mountains when the ATV golf cart, stuffed with kid, mom and guy driver, suddenly swings left up an insanely steep side road and flips.
I'm a few hundred yards back, struggling with a broken seat post on my mountain bike when I hear the news, courtesy of a slightly dazed couple in an enormous SUV, wondering if I'm part of the human detritus along what is arguably the best off-road, um, road in Orange County.
"Is anyone hurt?" I ask, reporting I'm fine. Just then, the driver fumbles with a little black walkie-talkie as it crackles to life. He relaxes. It turns out the open air vehicle with roll cage is already back on four wheels and no one is injured.
Minutes later, I come to where the dusty green vehicle turned. Two others just like it are there, along with a 1976 red and white Toyota Land Cruiser. By this time, everyone is standing around nervously joking, the men puffing cigarettes. The crowd is from Riverside County and they are veteran off-roaders. No helmets, but big goggles and cool dust masks. One guy even sports a death skull on his face.
Laughing and shaking our heads, we agree they got what they came for: incredible views, a bit of nature, some excitement, at least one serious thrill – and a family-safe day.
I peddle off realizing this ride isn't turning out anything like I expected. Riding from Black Star Canyon to Maple Springs is all up and down. It's even harder with a cock-eyed seat barely attached to the bike. But the thing I dreaded the most I don't find - idiot off-roaders.
In fact, they are as polite as waiters at a four star restaurant. "May I help you? Are you OK?" Can I get you anything?"
Over the years, I've mostly avoided the Main Divide. It's a mess of a road, loose stones, ruts and rocks everywhere. No shade. And, I figured, too many jerks driving dust-spewing vehicles.
While it's true, off-roaders kick up a lot of dust, I learn this day that blaming the drivers for the – cough, cough - mess is like blaming equestrians for horse manure. It's just part of the package.
Behind the clouds of dirt, are some of the nicest people I've come across outdoors. Of course, there are a few road hogs. But for the most part on this day, granola-chewing John Muir-types can easily co-exist with their motorized cousins.
Consider that when I suddenly found myself straddling a seat post sans seat, it was a guy in a gi-nourmous SUV that stopped, offered to help and loaned his pliers to extract the broken screw which once held my seat to the post.
So what's the big deal, you might ask. Cyclists would do the same. And when you count the number of hikers blinded and gagged on dust from dirt bikes, one good Samaritan seems hardly worth mentioning.
But in some 30 miles of mountain biking on Sunday, every single SUV, motorbike, all-terrain vehicle and truck (OK, there was one trucker who I would have kindly offered my seat post) were polite, courteous and yielded the trail.
Most of the drivers not only pulled to the side, not only slowed down, they flat out stopped in their tracks.
In one instance, the road on a steep climb was so full of loose rocks, I pulled over to let a truck by. The young man at the wheel, motioned, "No, after you." It was like we were walking through the door together at the Orange County Performing Arts Center getting ready for the opera. Grazie!
Perhaps part of the reason why nearly everyone minded their manners on Sunday is because this crowd was off-road savvy - they understood trail etiquette and drove on legal fire roads.
I've come across less polite types in limited use areas (think horses, hikers, cyclists only - no motorized vehicles) from Chino Hills State Park to O'Neill Regional Park. And don't get me started on the teenagers careening down Trabuco Creek Road in their parents' SUVs.
But you can't lump all off-roaders together anymore than you can mountain bikers, who have run me off a trail or two while I was running. And, it turns out, you can't judge them by their dust either.
Contact the writer: David Whiting's column on people and places appears Thursdays. He can be reached at 714-796-6869 or email@example.com