By JULIE JOHNSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 9:02 p.m.
Cyclists pedaled through vineyards on the Santa Rosa Creek Trail under slate-gray skies Sunday as Santa Rosa friends Ann Murray, 56, and Karen Derrick, 52, walked Murray’s dog, Kona.
When the pair heard a bicyclist approaching from behind, the rider merged to the left side of the eight-foot-wide path and zoomed past as Murray pulled her dog close.
The exchange was effortless and quick. But a simple misstep can have life-altering consequences on trails full of Sonoma County’s athletes and outdoor enthusiasts. Just over a week ago, a collision between a jogger and a cyclist left the runner with a fractured skull.
“Half of the riders didn’t even let us know they were coming,” Murray said of their four-mile walk.
Riders and walkers Sunday said some people follow long-established trail etiquette for paths used by runners, dog walkers, families pushing strollers, kids on training wheels and athletes on road bikes. Cyclists holler, “On your left!” Walkers stay to the right. But with one absent-minded person or misplaced step, the delicate balance topples.
On Feb. 4, a popular fitness instructor was jogging along the creek-side trail and stepped into the center of the path to make a U-turn and head back, police said. Odessa O’Brien Schexnaydre, 39, of Santa Rosa was unaware that a cyclist had been approaching from behind.
She was hit and her skull fractured, causing brain and ear bleeding as well as nausea and pain. The bicyclist left the scene and hasn’t come forward.
On Friday, the marathon runner, avid cyclist and mother of two boys returned to the emergency room due to extreme pain, said her mother, Mapel Profant.
“She can’t take care of the kids, drive a car, or walk longer than a few feet,” Profant said.
Profant said she hopes her daughter’s struggle causes people to “better share our beautiful trails and parks.”
“Good will come out of this – consciousness-raising, if nothing else,” Profant said.
Riders and walkers are talking about it. Along the creek Sunday, they said they weren’t surprised when they learned a cyclist and jogger had collided. Cyclist Mike Foio, 58, said he sees plenty of riders “really cooking it on the trail.”
“I’m surprised more people haven’t been hit,” said Foio, who lives outside Sebastopol and rides about 60 miles a week. Like many, he takes to the trails to get away from the danger of cars.
“I just take it easy on the bike path,” Foio said.
Jeremy Brott, 56, of Santa Rosa, gave a wide berth to a couple strolling around a blind curve in the trail near Railroad Avenue.
“I feel so sorry for her,” he said of Schexnaydre. “And I’m disappointed that the cyclist rode off. I don’t like it when cyclists give us all a bad name.”
Unpredictable walkers are just as frightening as speeding bikes. People are distracted by conversations. Children run loose. Dog leashes stretch into trip wires.
Santa Rosa attorney John Johnson, 55, stopped pedaling Sunday as he approached several walkers and yelled: “Bike back!”
“The strategy is to yell well in advance,” Johnson said.
His other tip when he approaches others: “I put it in neutral so you can hear the tic tic tic,” of the gears, Johnson said.
Suzanne Eraldi, Fleet Feet Sports store clerk, takes several running groups on trails and roadways and said she schools each group on the importance of following a few simple rules.
Run against traffic along roadways, and run with traffic, on the right side, on trails, Eraldi said. Bikers yield to runners. Everyone yields to equestrians.
“When you’re running or cycling, especially on the (Prince Memorial) Greenway because it’s got such high traffic, you have to treat it like a road. Be aware, run to the right,” Eraldi said. The Greenway is the start of the trail in downtown Santa Rosa.
The widespread use of headphones among runners means they must be extra vigilant of their surroundings, she said.
“That’s a dangerous choice, and we’ve probably all done it,” Eraldi said.
Schexnaydre said she had headphones with her but doesn’t remember whether she was listening to music at the time of the crash.
Along Santa Rosa Creek Sunday, cows bellowed and birds chirped and cooed. A red fox trotted onto the path and then darted into the brush with a whoosh.
Van Halen pumped through Justin Zuiderweg’s headphones, energizing him on a 7.75-mile ride. The 33-year-old Santa Rosa resident said he usually runs the trail but Sunday was his first ride on a new bike.
Zuiderweg, a driver for Cisco Systems, said he knows running or riding with headphones is dangerous, so he relies on his eyes.
“I’m always looking around, scanning,” Zuiderweg said. “When I’m going to do anything, I look.”