This phrase is a call used as a common courtesy on the trails in these parts, usually uttered when a bicyclist is coming up on either a walker or another cyclist from behind. It serves as a warning to the slower person about your approach, and also a request for the person to move towards the right side of the trail if he or she is blocking the trail. You hear the phrase quite frequently on crowded trails, and the responses to this call can vary quite a bit. Sometimes folks do not hear you unless you yell because they have their earphones on and are listening to something or the other on their mobile devices. Sometimes folks do something unexpected like moving into your path. But the call works often enough that its usage is a common practice. I do not know what the etiquette of overtaking on a trail is in other places. Perhaps in the UK, they say “On your right!”
It happened when I was barrelling downhill on the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT), heading from Bethesda to Fletcher’s Cove on the C&O Canal. Traffic on the trail was unusually light that morning. It was a cool morning, actually unusually cool for this time of year, and I was wearing extra gear to keep out the chill. I felt an occasional drop of water from the overcast skies. The forecasters had predicted that it would all clear up, but perhaps even this slight threat of inclement weather had been sufficient to deter other bikers from the trail. (Or maybe it was because people have left town on vacations because of the start of summer.)
My goal for the ride was to tackle two trails that had slopes that were challenging. I needed the training to be better prepared for the Rockies. The Capital Crescent Trail and the Custis trail, both trails that I had found difficult in the past in this context, were within reachable distance of each other.
As I was speeding down the nearly empty CCT, I spied this kid in front of me who was walking down the middle of the trail in the same direction that I was riding. I tried to warn him “On your left!”, but I got no response. He had his earphones on! I had to slow down. I kept repeating myself with increasing urgency as I got closer to him and continued to slow down. He heard me at the last minute and jumped to the side. He turned to me with a sheepish grin on his face. “Sorry, my bad.” But I was not upset at all. In fact, I had to smile in spite of the fact that he had slowed me down significantly. It was partly due to the look on his face, and the spirit in which he apologized. There was no sign of annoyance in his demeanor at being startled, and he also openly accepted his responsibility. Also, I was not really in a hurry (in spite of my speed), and I was happily distracted by the thought of a kid taking a walk on the trail in the middle of the morning, enjoying the outdoors. Hopefully he had not bunked school, but in any case, he seemed to be involved a healthy outdoor diversion that was better than idling in front of an electronic display of some sort at home. I was not upset.Later on during the ride, while on a section of the W&OD trail in Virginia, I sighted a mother (I think!) and her little girl on the trail in front of me. The two of them moved to the side of the trail when the mother noticed my approach. The mother sat herself next to the kid, pointed my way, and the two of them waited for me to come by. As I got closer she waved to me, and the kid gave me a big smile that would have melted any reasonable person’s heart. I waved back with a smile on my face. I got a big lift that lasted for a significant portion of the rest of the ride.It is sometimes the small things that you remember from these type of outings, and I hope many such opportunities for smaller memories continue to present themselves during the next few weeks of training.I managed to tackle the hills on both the Capital Crescent and Custis trails without having to get off the bike and push it uphill. I am also learning how to better relax while doing rides like this that require some endurance. I took breaks from riding whenever I felt like it without feeling a need to push myself and keep going. I eased up on imaginary challenges that I tend to set for myself while riding. In spite of this outlook, I did manage to keep a good pace. In the end I covered about 46 miles, and I was in the groove towards the end, hitting four and a half minute miles on the rough trail. Perhaps I am in decent shape for the final ride already.
3 thoughts on “On Your Left”
you’ve hit upon one of my pet peeves. Here on kiawah we have 15 miles of bicycle trails which are used by both runners and cyclists. I am both and it makes me crazy when the cyclists don’t warn you that they’re coming up behind you as you run. I’ve been nearly run over and startled terribly several times. One can always tell that the perpetrators are tourists as they use rental bikes 😦
There seems to be no easy answer to this problem. As a walker, I find that I cannot afford to get lost in my thoughts completely. I have to be aware of my surroundings and keep a ear open for sounds from behind me. As a biker, I am not sure how loud I need to be to get a walker’s attention, and I do not like to sound as if I am shouting unnecessarily! But if folks are wearing earphones….
Very sweet of the mom and little girl. Teaching how to share the trails!
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