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)'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 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


Tim said...

Good point.

Karen Travels said...

I ran to the bathroom (yes, bathroom - that's where my backpackers are kept!) to find and read this article again.

You have a great point. As an avid hiker, (and wannabe biker), I have never been bothered by people on bikes in the woods. UNless you count the jealousy I have of them!!

Michelle said...

Most true outdoor enthusiasts care about the wilderness, it's silly to have these fractional subsections, but I could really do without stepping/riding in or around a smelly, slick pile of horse doodoo...maybe THEY should pack out what they pack in...JUST KIDDING!!!
I love horses and don't mind them on trails and am especially careful if I am approaching them, waiting for the rider to give me the go-ahead. It's just soo easy to target someone else and the big piles they leave behind :). Really, I DO love horses and think a backcountry horse ride would be awesome.

Karen, you want to ride, do it, girl!!! I started out on pavement and soon moved to the mountains. Don't be jealous, JOIN us!! My favorite ride so far was Johnson Pass, I only had a few hours, if I had to do it on foot, I would not have made it as far and would not have seen some of the most spectular backcountry I have ever experienced. We generally don't "blast 20 miles an hour" down a trail because we actually like to see the world around us.

Jefe Montana said...


It's nice that you don't blast down a trial at 20 mph. And it is fun to see a lot of country in one day. But the Wilderness Act isn't about fun, or niceties:

I have seen an entire liner corridor of the United States in less than 5 days -- coast to coast at 70mph. It was fun, it still is fun, anyone who has ever been on a road trip or read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road can see the appeal.

But it is too much, too fast, too easy.

The Wilderness Act is as much about ease as it is about solitude. Wilderness Areas are meant to be places where things are just what they are, not improved, not made easy, not made nice, not made fun. That doesn’t mean it is not fun; because as you probably know it is. Wilderness is a place where you can become part of the scene, you are not outside of nature, not removed from it, not better than it, you are simply part of it -- for once in your life (perhaps here more than anywhere else) you are truly 'in' the game.

Sure, could bikes be permissible in Wilderness? Maybe, on a limited basis, if everyone was as nice as you, if everyone could agree or be forced to spread out -- not be on the same (most scenic) trail at the same time; if everyone thought about their actions and their effect on their surroundings; but, let's face it, probably not. After all that's why the Wilderness Act exists: because people can't handle it, we are simply no damn good at thinking it through, never have been, never will be, perhaps never should be. But that is why we have the Act -- to keep relatively small chunks of land limited by the acts of (Wo)Man. We need that Michelle; I hope you can see that.

Nobody these days is willing to give up anything; we all want it all. Too bad more folks aren't willing to put a little constraint on their actions. The world would be a whole lot better place for everyone involved.

Good luck Michelle, I hope you never run out of trails to ride; if you ever do get to the end of them all, I'll bet there are few worth doing again...


Jefe Montana