Hey ATRC folks,

On Saturday evening I went for a run at Bull Creek. For those of you who have been on Austin trails during a weekend, you might be thinking this was a bad idea. The trails are crowded with all sorts of characters and it’s hard to get a good run in when you’re having to dodge around a bunch of party-goers who have no sense of trail etiquette. But I can’t always choose when and where I can get miles in, and I’m certainly not going to get up early in the morning like all of you crazy/dedicated runners who live as if you’re on Pacific Time. So if any of y’all are like me, and you end up on Austin trails on a weekend afternoon or evening, I’ll list a little cast of characters you might meet out there, and I’ll suggest the proper trail etiquette for dealing with these folks. I hope you find it helpful.

1. Creekside Coachella Folks:

You might have seen these people on trails before. At Bull Creek they’re everywhere. These people’s idea of enhancing a beautiful trail viewpoint is to lug a deluxe 45 pound grill 10 miles down a 45 degree slope, set it up right in front of a waterfall overlook, get their buddies to bring their loudest sound system to the same spot, and set up a 16 course picnic in the middle of the trail while listening to Top 40 hits at the approximate decibel level of a Lear Jet.

(Actual image of a person with their sound system at Bull Creek)

Apart from the obvious noise nuisance, however, these folks are pretty awesome. They’ll be baffled at the concept of you using trails for the bizarre activity of running, but they’ll frequently offer you food and try to hit you up for conversation. The best way to interact with these people is to give them a polite wave as you run by, give a wide berth to their lawn chairs and picnic blankets, and accept any offer of food with sincere gratitude (considering that you are already probably bonking at this point).

2. Waterborne Lovebirds:

Let’s be honest, going hiking with a loved one can be a very romantic experience. I personally just took my significant other out hiking on Bull Creek yesterday, and we had a wonderful time. But every once in a while, (while sitting on a ledge holding hands at a particular waterfall, or expressing their love for one another in the middle of a moving stream), these sweethearts can drift from public displays of affection into minor public displays of indecency.

It’s generally harmless, considering that they’re usually a few miles into the woods away from most public view, and they’re usually hidden behind some trees or bushes. However, for us as runners, their concealment makes them all the more difficult to avoid, because you can’t see them until you literally stumble upon their mini Game of Thrones reenactment. You may immediately avert your gaze, but not before you see their eyes looking upon you with the same terror usually reserved for random tiger attacks and annual performance job reviews. Your best response in this situation is just to put your hands up as blinders around your face, briefly mumble an apology, and pretend to run as fast as Jim Walmsley as you escape this desperately awkward moment.

3. Bull Creek Burners:

As I was running on Saturday, I came upon a bearded young man with bloodshot eyes who warned me not to run too quickly lest I suddenly stumble upon a group of his friends that had gathered further down the trail. He indicated to me (with a two fingered sign to his lips) that these compatriots may be sharing their enthusiasm for herbs with one another. If I’m honest though, I didn’t really need this warning. You can usually smell the distinctive smell from quite a ways off, and the plumes of smoke rising from their gathering are visible enough to signal their activities to any other reggae devotees in the area.

(Police sketch of these hooligans at Bull Creek)

The best way to practice trail etiquette with these folks is to slow your pace and make a lot of noise (patting your thighs or making weird sounding whoops) to give these persons warning and time to hide their illicit substances. They’re relatively calm and polite people, so as long as you give them some notice, you won’t give them or yourself any cause to worry.

Running anywhere in this weird town ensures that you’ll meet a cast of quirky characters, but trail systems like Bull Creek are special places where the truly amazing culture of Austin still lingers away from high rise condos and traffic. If you really want to see the true side of Austin, come check out Bull Creek on a weekend, and you won’t be disappointed.