We live in fractious times. I sometimes feel myself getting an ulcer when I watch the news. And when I watch video of hardcore red-state Republicans dissing Obama and his supporters and yelling uncivil nonsense ("terrorist," "Muslim," "baby killer," "socialist") I have a couple of responses, but mostly it's just what a bunch of pathetic sore losers. I think, Y'all have monopolized all three branches of government for almost two decades, and now maybe it's time for a little change, and your response is to act like spoiled children whose parents never taught you how to behave in public.
There was a time when I was a "Bush hater." I just couldn't stand the guy. He was a Yale-educated grandson of an oil baron whose only achievement in life was flipping the Texas Rangers for a tidy profit, and he talked like a hick, and it all just seemed like a big put on, while he was really just interested in enriching his old oil buddies and letting Dick Cheney take a big crap on the constitution, start two idiotic and debilitating wars, and -- oh yeah -- subvert the credibility of the entire global economy, with the end result that the US was pretty much thought globally to be the Assholes of the Universe in just seven years' time.¹ That's not just me and Sarah Silverman talking. That's the rest of the Universe talking, and it might be a good time for us to start listening, before the Universe decides that maybe oil should be priced in euros and not dollars. For example. For starters.
So but I'm not here to lecture anybody, and I apologize if I just can't control myself, but my point is that George W. Bush will, before he leaves office, make it easier for mountain bikers to gain access to national parks. Naturally, NORBA and IMBA and maybe even NAMBLA have been pushing for this for years. It's a glacial system right now that takes years, and mountains of paperwork, and canyons of despair to get bikes into some of the nation's most coveted natural environments.
I've got mixed feelings about this, because sure it would be awesome to take the old Stumpjumper out to the Cloud Peak Wilderness in Wyoming, or into Arches National Monument in Utah, or wherever. Who wouldn't dig that?
But you know I'm just not sure the Presidency of the United States should be used, necessarily, to serve the needs and whims and hobbies of the man (or the woman) sitting in that saddle, and I'm not at all sure that allowing mountain bikes on "multiple use" trails out West is an unconditionally good thing either, given the already rancorous relationship between horse enthusiasts, say, and backpackers. Mountain bikes are hell on trails, no question about it, which is why trail maintenance is so important to good relations between "different constituencies," but even better is to give everyone their own designated path, but of course that's doubling or tripling the impact in the national environmental treasury, lands we should be grateful have been set aside into perpetuity to protect from the usual enchroachments of "civilization" and "development."
I worry that opening up national parks to mountain bikes is a little like "drill baby drill" in spirit -- that is, let us have access to the resources for our own selfish purposes, everyone else be damned. Of course, like anything else there is surely a middle ground, and it's not especially useful to make the conversation a polarized all-or-nothing sort of thing.
So in the spirit of moderation and bipartisan fellowship, let me just say I think it's neat that President Bush is an enthusiastic mountain biker, and that he's willing to ease up on rules that have long discriminated against mountain biking (whereas it's amazingly easy to get your 1,000 head of beef or sheep² onto federal lands to graze on the People's Grass and contaminate and reroute the People's Water Sources, etc.), and if it results in some awesome new trails in our national parks, that's great. But! I'd hasten to add that there are plenty -- plenty! -- of awesome existing trails on unregulated lands, dozens more than I'll ever be able to ride in a lifetime.³
So pushing really hard to allow more mountain biking reminds me, a little, of the idiot motorhead contingent here in Minnesota who insist that the BWCA should be opened up to motorboats in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter, when literally 99% of the rest of the state's land area is perfectly legal for those pursuits (and a significant amount of it's public land and perfectly accessible).
It's not a perfect equivalence obviously because cycling is more or less a silent sport that has less aesthetic impact on the environment (unless you're wearing one of those heinous Rock Racing or LiquiGas kits, of course), but I guess what I'm saying is that we need to proceed very carefully and diplomatically. Let's keep it civil and above-board. You know the rules, and I think they apply pretty well to the real world, too: ride within your limits, yield to others, warn of your approach, skidding is amateur.
I'd like to see those rules on campaign lawn signs around the country, actually.
¹Edward Abbey said, memorably: "America. Love it or leave it alone."
²John Muir, seeing the damage grazing sheep had done in the High Sierra, called them "hooved locusts."
³There is one troubling exception to all this, and that's the ongoing hassle with the Mah-Da-Hey trail in North Dakota, where a significant section of existing world-class singletrack is interrupted by Theodore Roosevelt National Grassland, and there's been a battle brewing about this for years and years, and it seems to make the most sense to any normal person evaluating the sitch to just go ahead and open up that disputed section of remote trail and stop the silly game of bureaucratic charades.
An Amusement & Diversion for The Genteel Cyclist. Daily.