Numerous parked cars line the road at the trailhead when I arrive one September morning. Several people in different small groups linger about getting ready for a walk or returning therefrom. A few voices resonate in the canyon. I don’t like it. It’s not even a busy day, but I don’t like it.
I haven’t spent much time on Santa Barbara’s frontcountry trails in many years. Too many people, and the sight and sound of the city, which can be hard to escape on the frontside of the Santa Ynez Mountains though there are indeed quieter nooks to be found, tend to ruin the ambiance and mindset I’m typically after when I go out for a hike.
I’ve flown down the trails at white-knuckled dangerous speed on my mountain bike far more than I’ve ever hiked them and likely ever will hike them. My arrival at Cold Springs Trailhead this warm and sunny fall day reaffirms my existing aversion to the frontcountry trails.
I step from the pavement to the dirt eagerly looking forward to getting up the mountain. Having seldom walked the trail, having spent more time hopping cobblestones up the creek if’n I do visit Cold Springs Canyon on foot, I’m shocked at the numerous highly worn and wide use trails crisscrossing the mountainside. It seems every corner on a trail is routinely cut leading to new unstable paths and subsequent erosion. My antipathy grows, my irascible nature being stoked. It’s all too trampled and crowded for my likes.
A few minutes up the superhighway of a footpath and I come to a little bag sitting beside the trail. It’s somewhat common. I see it at the beach, too, and I’ve actually done it before myself, picked up after the dog and set the bag aside to grab on the return walk. Because who wants to tote a warm sack of it around?
Yet I have carried it before, too, which is no small item to note when you have a 170 pound Great Dane. Sometimes I’ve tied the bag to the end of a piece of driftwood to gain some distance and avoid the stream of stench wafting from it. Thirty or forty minutes or however long of kicking around a long beach at low tide walking the dog with my bindle of excrement. I can’t imagine it’s any more enjoyable carrying it up a mountain trail on a warm day.
I understand why people bag it and set it aside. Though it may be temporary, to every person who then passes by it’s no different than any other piece of litter that spoils a scene. Reminds me of a time I came across dirty diapers at Red Rock on the Santa Ynez River. Not much different, both bags of crap lying around, just from different animals.
And so the majority of people are expected to tolerate the unsightly dropping of trash on trail so that one person can avoid the inconvenience of being a responsible and considerate pet owner. In economics this is referred to as a “negative externality,” or a cost affecting a person who did not choose to incur it.
For whatever reason on this day the bag of poop irked me more than usual and made me strike a deal with myself to not again be “that guy.” I have no moral authority here or interest in preaching, but think about it folks.