In Memory of Noah
By Lisa Luzzi
A shared used trail, why is this concept so unacceptable in this county? Is
the population density just too great in the Bay Area to make it feasible to
share the trails? Or is it the snobbish attitude of the equestrians and
hikers that believe the trails exist for their tranquil recreational
experience and theirs alone. Is it a safety issue or is it more of an
education issue? Education is essential if it ever is to become a reality.
I was contacted recently by some equestrian friends who are very much
interested in sharing. They have a story to share with the mountain biking
community. Their story begins on Monday, July 3rd, a day off for most folks.
Four women headed west from Sonoma County, with their horses in tow, looking
to ride in the glorious Point Reyes National Seashore. They started from Five
Brooks Stables out in Olema, and headed out to Wild Cat Beach on the Stewart
Trail, which is actually a 10 foot wide fire road, legal for all users. They
had a pleasant ride down to the beach on a wonderful sunny day. After a
relaxing break at the beach, the foursome headed back up the Stewart trail,
for their steep ascent out. The four horses were in single file as they
climbed out. The road winds up the mountain, with a few blind corners to
negotiate, and the equestrians chose to take the outside edge so as to
broaden their line of vision as they approached the corners. As the four were
coming around one of these sweeping corners, they encountered a bike heading
down the trail.
The biker, seeing the horses, came to a stop along side of them. One of the
four horses, the second in line, had never encountered a bike and was
beginning to get a bit nervous with this strange metal beast so near by. Just
then, a second biker came down. Seeing his buddy stopped and the horse
traffic, he came to a stop near his friend. The skittish horse was backing up
as the rider is trying her best to get him under control, at which time, the
third biker in the group arrives, this one with squealing brakes. The second
horse is totally freaked out by this squealing creature and is backing up
sideways. The third equestrian jumps off her horse to guide him up trail, as
the fourth rider is trying to move up along the outside. All four horses are
precariously close to the edge of the fire road, which has a steep drop off.
The fourth rider feels her horse's leg slip off the edge of the road, she
slides off the saddles, just as her horse, Noah tumbles off the edge.
Noah dropped approximately 100 ft. to a small landing and popped back up on
his feet. The hillside is covered with thick brush and nettles. He attempts
to get his footing and falls again, another 500 ft. down the hillside. Noah's
owner, in extreme panic, jumps on one of the other girl's horse and races off
for help. She runs into a ranger as she gets close to the stables, and still
crazed with panic, she gets out only that she needs water. The ranger tells
her he has none and to go down to the stables. It is unclear if there was any
further communication with that ranger (this story was recounted by her
friends that stayed behind). Meanwhile, one of the equestrians and one of the
bikers had hiked down to Noah to wait for help. It took 5 hours before anyone
came to their aide! And finally, the woman's husband, whom she had called
from the stables, arrived from Sonoma. The other two girls had walked out by
this point and alerted the ranger, expecting that some kind of rescue would
get underway, only to find that nothing was being done. The husband, being
knowledgeable in veterinary medicine, brought an injection to put Noah down
if need be. That's what was needed. Apparently being exposed to the nettles
in that quantity and for that duration is what killed Noah
Could this accident have been prevented? Should the equestrians have not been
riding on the outside of the trail? Should the bikers not have gathered along
side the horses? Perhaps the bikers should have just slowed and passed.
Definitely those squealing brakes should have been fixed. And all horses
should be introduced to bikes before they hit the trails. There are many
lessons to learn, and we all need to be educated.
In memory of Noah, my friends and I are planning a joint project between the
Bicycle Trails Council and the Marin Horse Council. Together we hope to
produce a brochure that would help address these questions and educate us all
so accidents like this can be prevented. If you're interested in helping out
with this project, have ideas or suggestions, please call the BTC.