Remember when Columbia’s trails were exclusively for exercise? Not any more. Today’s trails are hi-speed conduits to commerce and social networking. The routes remain the same — albeit a few more than a decade ago — and the surroundings are still an urban salad bowl: lush greens, easy on the dressing. Yet the pace and intensity have evolved. Today’s power brokers are conducting business on CoMo’s dirt paths.
It began innocently enough. One former mayor biked to and from work. His motive was simple: a vigorous fresh-air commute. He wasn’t wired for iAnything. Not so with today’s movers, shakers and decision-makers. Around this city, planners and professors, preachers and politicians are wired, peddling ideas and deals as they pedal along.
Not so long ago, our great decisions — business, professional, political — happened on the golf course. People wearing funny clothing formed committees and, armed with clubs and balls, plotted your future. Their vision looked green.
Sure, some executives still conduct business on the golf greens. But it’s a lot less complicated —and quicker — to jump up from your desk, leave the office, hit the trail and turn up the volume.
It’s so easy to communicate while getting in your 30-minute workout.
On the Katy Trail, an archipelago of emergency call stations and well-maintained bathrooms ease your anticipation. Those conveniences attract more and more decision-makers, who bring their tools with them.
Columbia visitors admire our splendid system of trails to exercise and commune with nature. Many trails connect to each other. But a more global connectivity is happening as folks blend trail time with talk time while walking, running, biking or dragging dogs on leashes behind.
It’s no surprise that such behavior leads to casualties. The first victim is tranquility and the loss of communion with nature. Whole ecosystems thrive by the wayside, unnoticed, as more and more hikers and bikers move through Mother Nature neither seeing nor hearing.
The second victim is sensory loss. Even dog walkers are wearing headsets these days. So far, the dogs seem to resist the habit, having the good sense to want to hear a cyclist’s warning, “Passing on your left.”
The phenomenon of trail texting isn’t new; most folks employ their personal electronic devices in almost every situation: driving, dinner, concerts, weddings, funerals and courtship. There’s evidence on the Internet that the next evolutionary change in the human body won’t be the loss of the little toe or the appendix. Your descendants eventually will grow a screen in one palm and Wi-Fi at the base of the medulla; ears will morph into headphones, insulating the brain from too much exposure to the real world.
Obviously, not all trail talk is business. And not all of it is electronic. Occasionally, you’ll glimpse something resembling a Norman Rockwell scene: two people walking the trail, lost in a conversation with each other — without batteries.
If you’re new to the trails, keep these thoughts in mind:
- Trail attire: Shoes should match the outfit, but only in terms of comfort.
- Trail volunteers wear neon vests, easily recognized so you can hide your errant behavior.
- Cyclists wearing racing silks are in a big damn hurry.
- No matter how loud you shout “Snake!” people wearing headphones can’t hear you.
- Trail riders wearing earbuds while texting have nine lives.
- Dogs love the trail because they think it’s a great place to do business, too.
- Squirrels love playing chicken with cyclists.
- Hikers walking four abreast get a free bag of fries for forcing bikers off the path.
- On the trail, it’s OK to wear white between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
- Lawmakers who allow ATVs on the trail might as well endorse dog walking on interstates.
I wish them well, these trail-bound conductors of electronic business and politics and social scheduling. And I hope they enjoy the trail. Just stay outta my way.