There’s certainly been no shortage of embarrassing moments in my life, the majority of which have been self inflicted. Social ineptitude, general clumsiness, and unintentional off-color remarks at perfectly inappropriate times have kept them coming in a steady torrent. I accepted this long ago and in doing so acquired a liberating sense of personal freedom. I generally don’t really care if I seem like an idiot. However, there are a few exceptionally embarrassing moments from the past that cause me to cringe involuntarily. Among these is the fact that I once hugged a tree.
Many of us who ride motorcycles off road have kissed a tree - in the figurative sense. But when I say I hugged a tree I mean I literally put my arms around it and gave it a love squeeze. I wish I could say I was loaded to the gills on some designer drug that caused erratic behavior. I also wish I could say it was a beneficial life changing experience, that it gave me whimsical insight into the delicate balance of nature. The truth is I was completely sober and I felt like a moron. In my defense I had the same motive that has driven guys to do ridiculous things since the dawn of time – I did it for a girl.
At the time I was dating a highly opinionated nouveau hippy chick. A girl that in hindsight I didn’t really have much in common with. Or possibly anything in common with. She was boisterous and loved cats and nature and organic vegetarian food and political causes and folk music. I was feckless and liked whiskey and chicken wings. One day while strolling through a park together I made a flippant remark about ‘tree huggers’. She stopped walking and it quickly became obvious I had touched a nerve. I was in for an argument. Or worse – a debate.
I back pedaled frantically but it was too late, I had stepped in it. She wanted to know how I could possibly form such a negative opinion about something that I’ve never done. How could I be sure I wouldn’t like it? She had done it and assured me that if I tried it I would like it. I assured her that I had no intention of offending her and certainly no intention of hugging a tree. Could we please just move on? Apparently we couldn’t. She wanted to know how I felt about clear cutting; about the Rain Forest disappearing. I shrugged. Then she wanted to know how I could care so little about nature and the environment. I told her it was pretty effortless. Which, of course, was the wrong thing to say.
At first I found myself wishing I hadn’t made the remark. Then I began hoping to reach some kind of common ground. She continued to drone on and on about the fragile beauty of nature and the physiological benefits of hugging a tree. It felt like weeks passed. I found myself wondering if I had grown a beard. Eventually I began trying to figure out how to get her to just…SHUT…UP. I considered my alternatives. There weren’t many.
If I left the park without her she would follow me home and we would argue for the rest of the night. If I used two sticks and a shoe lace to make a crude garotte and asphyxiate her where would I hide the body? The river was close but it was broad daylight and I’d need something to weight her down. This option involved a possible prison term. Eventually I became resigned to the only practical solution. I walked over to a large Ponderosa Pine, wrapped my arms around it and squeezed. I instantly became sure of two things: my relationship with the hippy girl was about to come to an end and hugging a tree would rank highly in the most embarrassing things I’ve done.
Ever since I’ve been involved in off road motorcycling, I’ve maintained a us-against-them mentality when it came to environmental activists. Recently I came to an ironic realization: I love nature and as a dual sport motorcyclist I am, in fact, being environmentally conscious.
Riding off road offers many challenges, but so does riding a motorcycle in rush hour traffic. None of my riding buddies ever talk about how they long to ride the Los Angeles freeway system. The vast majority of us who ride prefer to be challenged by nature and rewarded with spectacular vistas and a sense of solitude. Of course, the same can be said for many other forms of outdoor recreation. But if you want to talk in terms carbon foot print, few outdoor enthusiasts have as little impact on the environment as those who ride dual sports.
My single cylinder DRZ400 gets gas mileage that puts most economy cars to shame. On an average day ride I’ll burn one or two gallons of gas. During this ride I’ll normally see a decent representation of other outdoor enthusiasts. Hikers that commute 60 miles to the trailhead and back in their SUV. Campers in an old VW Bus that belches black exhaust as if it ran on soft coal. Mountain bikers unloading their bikes from a V8 powered Toyota Tundra. And of course, the equestrian set – I’ve yet to see a horse trailer being towed by a Prius. With the exception of road cyclists and a few avid mountain bikers, most everyone I see enjoying non-motorized forms of recreation in the forest has consumed more fossil fuels in a single day than I will in several rides. Don’t these people care about the environment?
Now that I’m an exponent of environmentalism, next time I receive stink eye from a hiker I’ll feel justified in giving it right back. I realize that nature has a delicate beauty that must be appreciated and admired – while I’m hauling ass through it.