Dave Peterson: Ballistic Chipmunks and Other Hazards to Trail Navigation

It is not all rainbows and unicorns out there on the trails. Good thing too, since rainbows indicate wet pavement and unicorns are really pointy.

(The following incidents really happened to me. Only two required trips to the emergency room.)

It is a beautiful day, and you are out enjoying a walk or a bike ride on the trail. What could possibly go wrong?

How about getting whacked in the face by low hanging branches? Maybe an uninsured bumble bee collides with your nose or a yellow-jacket with anger issues finds its way down your shirt.

Spring also brings the out the protective parents. Red-winged blackbirds are notorious for attempting to chase off almost anything that enters their territory. They dive at your head but only occasionally make contact. Geese will hiss if you get too close to the goslings.  Some will even attempt a chase. I have had two aerial attacks and took a goose to the side of the head once. Turns out it is better to stand your ground and spread your arms to show who is bigger. This only works if you are bigger than the goose.

Then there are the chipmunks. So cute! So extraordinarily bad at evading bicycles!

In fact, chipmunks will run out from perfectly safe hiding spots and zigzag across the trail just to get run over.  No other animal will go so far out of its way to fling itself into traffic when surprised.  When bicycling, I no longer apply the brakes or swerve when a chipmunk runs out since such actions will not avoid the determined rodent and only increase my probability of crashing.*


Physics Quiz Time: A chipmunk runs out and gets caught in the rear spokes of a bicycle.  It rides one quarter revolution of the wheel and is launched vertically.  The cyclist continues at constant speed and observes the bicycle travels 20 feet before the chipmunk lands.  What is the speed of the bicycle?  How high does the chipmunk go?

Extra Credit:  If a different chipmunk does the same maneuver but in the spokes of the front wheel, describe the expression on the chipmunk's face as it passes the rider's face.


I have almost been trampled by a deer but that was only because we were heading in roughly the same direction at the same speed.  She wanted to cross the trail, and I was in the way.

And now to the human-created hazards.  After the obvious ones of ear bud wearing pedestrians and high speed cyclists riding through weekend crowds are users of retractable dog leashes.  A busy trail is not a good place to spool out the dog like some furry low altitude stunt kite.  A well trained dog will heel.  An untrained dog should probably be on a short leash (or perhaps the untrained owner should be on a short leash). Stretching a nearly invisible thin black line across the trail connecting you with your dog will likely snare unsuspecting cyclists and pedestrians.  Luckily I ducked just in the nick of time. Also please pick up after your dog.  Leaving a pile in the middle of the path is just bad manners and it is messy to step in or ride through. Darn slippery too.  I was glad to fall clear of the dog poop.

Not all hazards occur on the trails. Our local festival is a golden opportunity for the bane of sidewalks; the double-wide stroller. We all know your beautiful children are so very special but do they need to occupy the full width of the city sidewalk?  Even parents of twins may recall one of them popping out slightly ahead of the other.  Give the second one a chance to see things first and put them in the front seat of a nice narrow tandem stroller.  Front seat assignments could also be by odd-even days, by scores on a physics quiz or by the child paying a bit extra for "Stroller Plus" seating.

Remember, you may meet another double-wide stroller on the sidewalk of the State Street bridge and then what will you do?  Yes, you will provide virtually endless entertainment for the hundreds of onlookers as both parties try to maneuver past each other.  Will your children ever overcome the embarrassment?

So be careful out there.  Stay narrow, watch out for goose and flying squirrel, and always carry a towel.


*An effective way to clear chipmunks from the trail is to flap one's arms like a large bird.  This triggers some deep-seated evasion response in the chipmunks.  They will sound an alarm call and leap for cover.  This can work up to 50 yards away.  Unfortunately, it requires the ability to ride a bike no-handed for a few seconds and assumes the chipmunks are actually paying attention.  Some clueless chipmunks appear to be listening to iPods or texting.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sandy Klimowski June 18, 2011 at 04:50 PM
Not all dog owners who use the retractable leashes are untrained. We do watch as closly as possible for oncoming bikes. It's the bike riders who come up behind us at a high rate of speed (and even those out for a nice ride) who don't somehow let us know they are coming. I would be glad to "rein" in my dogs if Iknew you were there. How about using a bell, or shouting, or something. It does take two to tango (tangle?)
John Locke June 19, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Another fine piece, Dave. Of course the biker, the retractable leash dog-walker and the stroller pusher all have a right to enjoy the trail. Everyone has a responsibility, however, to be somewhat aware of their surroundings. I couldn't crack your physics quiz, Dave, but I do know that a bike traveling a leisurely 12 to 14 mph is covering 18-20 feet per second. So there is about a 2-3 second window between a hearty "on your left!" and the actual appearance of a bicycle. Unfortunately, a good number of my fellow trail users seem to require far more time to process that information. And another thing...the individual strolling in the oncoming lane, head down, texting. These folks are often so engrossed in their technology that, despite an audible warning, won't look up. I have, on one occasion, brought my bike to a complete stop to avoid an impending collision and the texter has actually walked into me. Oh, one more thing...my fellow bikers riding 2 abreast, obliviously chatting while coming around a blind curve. Don't do that. So pay attention, keep to the right whenever possible and we can all enjoy.
Dave Peterson June 19, 2011 at 09:23 PM
Thanks for the excellent comments! Certainly everyone has equal rights to the trails. Nearly everyone acts responsibly and is courteous. There are just a few that make it painful for the rest of us. In all cases, the faster person or vehicle has the responsibility to use care when passing. It is written into the Geneva Parks ordinance (http://www.genevaparks.org/_pdf/_board/Park%20Ordinance.pdf) and also the Bicycle Rules of the Road that cyclists must give audible warning when passing. Yet, even a very early warning bell from the cyclist will only give the pedestrian a few seconds to react. That may not be enough time for other more involved actions such as retrieving children or pets who have wandered. A summer weekend in Island Park often brings together all the elements of potential conflict; unaware pedestrians, small children at the playground, pets of all shapes and sizes, skaters, fishers, and cyclists. I cringe when seeing a "cycle team" come through the park at high speed on a busy weekend. There have been some bad crashes right in front of the playground. It seems many cyclists may not be aware it is a always bad idea on the trails (and illegal on the streets) to wear earbuds or earphones in both ears when riding. Well, the chipmunks are still at it. Just yesterday one sitting off to the side of the trail waited until the cyclist was almost past and then ran all the way across the trail to go right under the bike. Do they get paid to do that?
Craig Taylor June 22, 2011 at 02:21 AM
I am constantly amazed how many chipmunks make it between my tires. Only ever hit one. I've learned how to make the chipmunk's warning sound, and it works well, if I see them.


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