Saturday, February 24, 2007
Don't Invade My Solitude: Mountain Biking Clashes With the Purpose of Wilderness
I recently picked up the Feb 2007 edition of Backpacker Magazine. I was enjoying it until I came across "The Big Question: Do Mountain Bikes Belong In Wilderness Areas?"
It is a "yes" and "no" opinion column. The "Yes" opinion was written by Mark Eller, Communications Manager of the IMBA. The "No" opinion was written by Dan Smuts, Deputy Regional Director (CA/NV), The Wilderness Society.
Here is Dan Smuts "NO" opinion:
Wilderness not only protects wildlife habitat, water and air, it also creates space for hiking, climbing and horseback riding. The Wilderness Act's ban on "mechanical transport" clearly includes mountain bikes. Because these bikes can cover many miles in an afternoon, they increase contact among users and reduce solitude - a key aspect of wilderness. Mountain bikers who claim they don't negatively impact trails are missing the point. A bike barreling down a trail at 20 mph not only endangers hikers, but clashes with the purpose of wilderness. However, when drafting proposals, we are always willing to talk with mountain bikers to create conversation plans that support all sides."
Sooo....Mr. Smuts' issue doesn't appear to be about trail destruction (studies show that biking has similar impact in the wilderness as hiking and is less destructive than horses)...it's all about solitude.
According to Mr. Smuts, mountain bikers clash with the purpose of wilderness. bikes can cover many miles in an afternoon and increase contact with other people out in the wilderness which reduces solitude...so the purpose of the wilderness is solitude.
Lets say I go on a hiking trip, walking through the wilderness, enjoying the wild solitude. I come up on someone who is walking slower than I am. I can see them ahead of me, hear them talking, breathing or whatever. Because I see and hear them, they are infringing upon my solitude. It takes me 5 or 10 minutes to actually catch up with the other hikers, I say "excuse me, coming through", they move to the side of the trail, I move to the other side, I pass them and it takes another 5 or 10 minutes before I am out of their sight. So for 10-20 minutes, we have invaded each others solitude, but it's ok, because we are all using our feet.
I continue on my journey, blissful again in the wild solitude. Suddenly I hear "on your right" or "excuse me, passing through", I turn around, see a person on a bike coming, I step to the side of the trail, the biker goes to the other side of the trail, he passes me and is out of my sight within 2 or 3 minutes...but now I am pissed off, my solitude has been invaded and ruined...the purpose of the wilderness has been destroyed....for 3 minutes I had to endure the presence of someone else in my wild solitude...and this time it is not ok....because...they were on 2 wheels.
I think Mark Eller of the IMBA and the "Yes" opinion has it correct when he states "We belive opposition to bikes in the wilderness is a matter of prejudice: Some hikes don't like seeing us on the trails."
(And no, I don't think it is cool for ANY biker, trail runner, faster hiker, crosscountry skier, equesterian to blast down a trail and scare or endanger other trail users. That's just bad manners, which are NOT exclusive to mountain bikers. )
Can't we just all get along and settle this issue so we can focus on REALLY important things like a bald Brittney Spears, Anna Nicole and crying judges???
**image created by THE WARD-O-MATIC