During a recent bikepacking trip I encountered a strange phenomena that I have dubbed “carcer erectus”. See the blog on that ride here, but I wanted to give special attention to this uniquely suburban property management technique. Carcer erectus is Latin, though the words probably are not used grammatically correctly. “Carcer”, is the root of incarcerate, i.e. to imprison. “Erectus” is to erect, construct, or build. Carcer erectus in this case means to build a prison for yourself to live in.
I planned my route using a combination of online resources as always. This particular trip was through San Diego suburbia, staying on as many dirt trails and roads as possible. San Diego has a great network of this kind of riding. Part of my ride was along the “Coast to Crest” trail, which when complete will be a continuous dirt trail inland from the ocean via a 70 mile route.
I am well aware that planning a route in this way can be critically lacking in ground truth. Satellite images on the web are often months or years out of date, routes that are marked as legal for bikes are sometimes not, and incomplete elevation data can have you planning a ride that includes a drop off an 80 foot cliff. This means you have to be flexible and willing to backtrack, explore and improvise when needed.
I encountered a new obstacle that will never be obvious from GPS and image data. It will take a little explanation if you have not run into it yet. Communities adjacent to these suburban trails also make good access points. But some of these communities have erected cages they must live in (thus “carcer erectus”) in order to prevent outsiders from accessing public trails through their community.
In a carcer erectus, the community must be completely surrounded by a tall imposing gate with no gaps anywhere, made mostly of vertical poles making it difficult to scale. Residents of these communities are able to access the public trail through a gate that is locked by a combination, much like the way access to a private pool or tennis court is managed. Residents have the combination and keep it secret.
I found several of these along the route.
I don’t suspect that these fences are illegal. They lie on the few feet of private property between the public street and the public trail, and the private land owner can do with their property as they will. What I did observe is that the door handles used on the locks appear to provide a sufficient foot hold to stand on, in case you might have the need to do that. While I did not test this out, I surmised it because the door handles used on these gates were highly dented and scuffed with rubber. I am also not sure you could consider scaling such a fence to be trespassing, since you are going from one public area to another, and even while you are on the fence, the band of private property is so narrow you probably do not fit in it entirely anyway.
So be aware of carcer erectus, it may be coming to trail near you.