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.