Anyone who rides off road has to be aware of ever-increasing land use restrictions. This hot button topic has been escalating for years and emotions on the subject tend to run high. Being a fringe dweller in my local motorcycle community, I’ve always taken a passive stance to activism. But years ago when I was told that a local riding area east of town was about to be closed, I saw my chance to get involved. I spent the next few days asking around to try and understand what exactly was entailed in these restrictions.
“They’re trying to shut down a hundred acres of trails east of town.” Someone told me.
“They’re trying to close all the trails out east in the desert!” Someone else said.
“They’re trying to ban all motorized vehicle traffic on public lands!!!” Another person cried.
I finally approached the proprietor of my favorite bike shop in town. He was the epicenter of a large portion of the local off road constituency. Without going into any details about the possible ban he told me that the local motorcycle community had already sprung into action; a public hearing had been set and a rally was being organized. He gave me a passionate speech about how we would all come together and assemble on the steps of the government building and provide a united show of force inside the hearing.
“Count me in!” I said enthusiastically.
I was excited. I had never participated in any form of protest or felt part of a movement. I felt a great urgency and sense of purpose. If I closed my eyes I could envision Malcolm Smith representing us as a calm, cool and collected country lawyer dispensing folksy wisdom to a captive audience. He would win the day! It was all ridiculously Capra-esque.
The day of the rally arrived and I approached the site with some trepidation. What if I was the only person there? What if I was the only motorcyclist there? What if it was just me and a horde of feral hippies? As I rounded the corner of the county building, I was relieved to see people – ALOT of people. A news truck too. Ok, I thought and relaxed a bit, this could be good. I said hello to the few people I knew and joined the crowd in what could only be described as milling about.
Finally after 30 minutes or so of this, everyone was let into the building and herded into a large conference room. It quickly became standing room only and I regretted choosing Taco Time’s dollar burrito for lunch. I surveyed the crowd and saw no hippies or obvious ecoterrorists. To my dismay everyone looked rather normal. We all stood there for a while and eventually some sort of board or commission walked in and called the hearing to order.
They began with a broad overview of the ban and then called for comments. First to grab the microphone was the president of the local motorcycle and ATV club. It felt like we had won the coin toss for kick off. Her speech was passionate, concise, and well articulated. Score one for us! Next came a blunt speech from someone about all the garbage and bullet riddled appliances that are dumped in the area. Though I couldn’t image anyone dumping an old washing machine off the back of their 300EXC, common sense dictated that some form of motor vehicle carried that junk out there. One point for them…tie game.
It all kind of disintegrated after that. People began trying to talk over each other. Anger started to seep into people’s tones. Voices escalated. Speeches became rants. The board called for order repeatedly and was finally able to silence the crowd. An elderly lady approached the microphone, gingerly unfolded a piece of paper and read, “If you’ve ever seen the morning dew cascade down the soft petal of a desert flower…”
Half the room groaned in unison and everyone began talking simultaneously. From all the noise I could make out some guy in a wheelchair demanding access to public lands; a drunk guy next to him slurring something unintelligible. The air grew thick with tension, the voices indistinguishable, and I slipped out the back door breathing heavily and wondering if the whole experience had given me hives. I knew right then and there that would be my last appearance at any sort of rally or protest.
In the years since I’ve discovered something about myself. I’m not what you would define as a people person. People in the plural sense; single person – no problem. Any time people have a meeting of the minds and can’t even agree on what they disagree on it seems to infect me with a violent kind of A-D-D. Homeowners Association meetings, PTA gatherings, and the Maury Povich Show all make me want to smash things and run away screaming. The soft lethargic sound of Garrison Keillor’s voice makes me want to club baby seals to death; which has nothing to do with this article, I just can’t stand hearing his voice. Call me unrealistically impatient, call me easily annoyed. These are part of my unique short comings.
Maybe if I felt a stronger bond with the off road community I’d be more apt to toe the front line and wave the flag. A lot of my interactions with other OHV users have felt very 13th grade. It sometimes seems like off roaders are a community of factions and cliques with a singular common denominator, rather than a singular community with diverse members.
I’ve been snubbed by trophy truck drivers and adventure bikers. I’m also just as guilty as the next guy, having looked down on quad riders as people who ruin my beloved single track. And I never really cared about rock crawling or OHV play areas being closed down because I don’t use them. Well I should care, because denying access to those forms of off roading sets a precedent and will eventually affect me also. It’s that kind of elitist attitude that divides us. I understand that communities tend to be self segregating, with common interests polarizing people into groups. But this creates a lack of communication and it allows the divide and conquer strategy to work well against us.
All forms of motorized recreation (as well as hikers, bikers, and equestrians) should all have reasonable access to designated areas on public lands. Public lands by definition have to be all inclusive – its not a country club. Unfortunately for us, those designated lands are disappearing faster than with any other recreation group. The more all forms of motorized recreation try to communicate with each other, the more we can stay current with pending legislation that denies us access.
So ok, I really want to support the cause but I’ve already determined that I’m useless when it comes to personal involvement. Well I found another way. From the comfort of my own home, at my computer with a bag of tortilla chips, I found the BlueRibbon Coalition. I could spend the next few paragraphs summarizing the history of this organization, it’s accomplishments, and how it utilizes its resources to help defend your right to ride. I could, but I won’t because I’m lazy and someone already did all this on their website. I could also drone on and on about how imperative it is to help fund this program and hope to guilt people into contributing. But I’m not going to do that either, this isn’t pledge week at NPR.
I will say that I’ll gladly donate to this organization because they know the system and can speak the language (without yelling) to help keep trails open. I believe they even have lobbyists in Washington. If I remember correctly, lobbyists are people who help special interest groups by getting elected officials drunk and take compromising pictures of them. Let’s hope my contribution buys a lot of Grey Goose and a bunch of hookers.
By the way, the rally I attended that day was a failure. The local newspaper ran a piece on it with a map highlighting the area that was now closed. After close examination of the map, I realized it wasn’t an area that even had any trails. It was next to an area that had trails. When I approached the proprietor of my local bike shop and asked if he realized this he said, “Yeah I know. We were fighting to maintain a buffer zone around the trails.”
Nobody told me that.