Mountain bike riders can be a bit uncouth.* There's the speed. And the swearing. And the spitting. First aid equals using a cut-off, dirty sock top as a Band-Aid (true story). Duct tape is hallowed.
And that's why when my husband and I saddled into a Rotorua, New Zealand bike shop–freshly purchased discount tennis shoes (read: no cleats) waiting in the rental car–we were psyched to learn Rotorua has an amazing forest network of fully segregated trails.
The Whakarewarewa (do with that what you will) Forest (part of The Redwoods Forest) has trails for uncouth mountain bikers like we were that day. It has trails for hikers and runners, activities we pursue on other days. And it has trails for horses who go poo. For the most part these trails are all fully blazed and graded for difficulty (1-5 for the MTB trails). This segregation is a godsent if you're a tourist using rented gear and cranking out miles you haven't earned.
That's not to say my husband and I are incapable of sharing. In Boulder and elsewhere, multi-use is the way. And despite newspaper editorials stating otherwise, for the most part sharing trails is an amicable relationship. Trails are just a dirt sidewalk. I try not to spit on your sidewalk or push you into the gutter, and I hope that you won't let your horse step on my head.
Ahh, but there's something to be said for separate trails. Trails where you can really put your head down and pedal. Or where you can stop to literally smell the roses and not worry about hoofs or squealing tires. In the New Zealand forest there wasn't even the threat of bears or mountain lions, just unforeseen and unfamiliar terrain. It made for some amazing riding. Even if our shoes were shot and the rental bikes needed a serious bath.
*A generalization used to illustrate a point. Certainly not a true statement of ALL mountain bikers. Some are way worse than others.
(Ed Note: BACKPACKER web producer Katie Herrell just returned from a two-week surfing, hiking, and mountain biking jaunt through Middle Ear--, er, New Zealand. This is her third dispatch from that other, cooler land down under. Her first, Your Tent is a Biohazard, chronicled the trouble your tent can get into at airport security. Her second, analyzed the term urban backpacker, which spawned some interesting debate.)