I’ve been a cyclist for over 25 years and a dedicated mountain biker for the past 8 years. I have ridden trails all over the Western US. And I have never poached a trail that was closed to bikes. Not ever. Until today.
People who know me can’t believe I’ve never poached a trail. I’ve been an outspoken advocate for bike access on trails since I started riding dirt. I’m also a noisy upstart, an outspoken firebrand, and I rail against the machine. With a name like The Ümabomber (the nickname comes from the Marzocchi Bomber suspension fork), it’s easy to see why people would expect me to ride rogue.
But I’m also possessed of some weird conscience that feels horribly guilty when I go against the rules. In part, it’s that I don’t want my actions to negatively impact the work others, like the Northwest Trail Alliance, are doing to try to gain access to more urban trails. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
But there’s a problem with that problem.
The problem is The Problem is manufactured. The problem is a matter of perception. Mountain bikers (and cyclists in general) are perceived as threats and/or nuisances to most non-bike riding humans in the United States. People—especially anti-progressive people—love to hate what they don’t understand; gays, people of other nationalities, other belief systems, other social classes, bike riders.
As soon as we throw a leg over a bike to ride, we are perceived as less human. On the trail, we are perceived as earth-raping, nature killing monsters. On the roads we are perceived as obstacles to other people’s enjoyment of reality—or their escape from it. At best we are perceived as being in the way, a nuisance. At worst, we become targets for impotent and misplaced anger and rage. Read the comments section of any newspaper any time a cyclist is murdered by an inattentive driver. It’s a horrifying display of the absolute worst of humanity, and for many cyclists, it’s a big reason why they turn to off-road cycling for fitness and recreation.
After the recent Portland Parks & Recreation decision to ban bikes from a trail system where bikes had not been identified as threats to the preservation of a large city park, it was clear that railing against the machine would no longer be enough. It was time to ride.
So, today I took my bike to the trails in one of the largest public parks in the country, on singletrack that is closed to anyone except hikers, their (illegally) off-leash dogs, and uber-fit long distance runners.
I also took about 65 friends with me. My deflowering was public: the loss of my poaching virginity made the evening news. Even more poignant, the trail is named Wild Cherry.
Together, we pushed our bikes up one patch of singletrack. We were courteous. We made way for people to pass. We said hello. We didn’t descend upon them—wheeled hellions —screaming blood curdling death cries, snatching up their soft, furry canines in our talons to rip to shreds and feed to our young. We didn’t hate.
I can’t say we met the same courtesy in everyone we encountered. And don’t look now, but according to the comments left on the news reports of our ride, there are many, many people who feel they can and should run us over with their cars and trucks and murder us in cold blood…simply because they hate us. You’d think we were pedophiles instead of people who ride bikes; that’s how much hate vitriol America has in their hearts for us.
As rides go, it was anti-climatic. Short and bittersweet. The purpose of the ride was to show our numbers and to take the trails with the same unapologetic ownership the other user groups take for granted. As we headed out for the trail, I climbed up on a garbage can and delivered our message:
Dear Portland: We’re here. Our numbers are growing. We are not terrorists. We are people who ride bikes. We live here. We work, and pay taxes, and volunteer in our communities. We vote. We do more trail work and volunteer more than you do. And we build better, more sustainable and environmentally beneficial trails. You need to stop treating us like we are some kind of criminal class. We are going to ride. Get used to it.
As Vernon Felton mentioned in his recent article, Portland does not deserve to be awarded any kudos for being “bike-friendly”. Portland is bike-friendly if you are a commuter, sort of. Certainly, Portland does not deserve the League of American Bicyclist’s award of Platinum Status for Bike-Friendly Cities when she systematically and repeatedly refuses to accommodate and actively discriminates against an entire user group.
I propose a new designation: Prohibition Status.
In the 20s, prohibition supporters were referred to as Drys and anti-prohibition adherents were called Wets. Here in Portland, as mountain bikers, we are under siege by a new breed of “dry crusaders”, anti-progressive NIMBYs who reject reason and logic and refuse to share what isn’t even theirs to give. (Incidentally, on this day—April 7th—in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first step toward ending Prohibition by allowing people to buy and sell beer.)
So while I applaud my local trail advocacy groups for their letter writing campaigns and ongoing conversations with city policy makers (and especially for filing suit against the city) I think my days of playing nicey-nice with the Drys are over. I simply refuse to be part of The problem any longer. I refuse to play into the expectations forced upon me by other, more entitled user groups, these new prohibitionists.
See, I’ve had my trail poaching cherry popped. Amanda Fritz made me do it. And now there’s no going back. I’m going to ride more…dirty and wet.
Then in early March, as if on cue, Portland Parks and Rec took another dump on area cyclists by banning bikes in one of the few public areas where bikes had been allowed on trails.
This is not the first time the City has yanked the rug out from under advocates, planners and builders who dedicated extensive resources over the past couple of years. Numerous MTB advocates have attempted to work with the city in good faith, to try to craft a solution to include more trail access for bikes in Portland.
What really stinks about this latest maneuver was how and why the City turned tail. I’m not going to detail the particulars about this betrayal of public trust; suffice it to say city Commissioners rather arbitrarily and capriciously decided to cut off a mountain bikers (which had not been identified as a threat to the areas conservation goals), while simultaneously taking no measures to address actual threats that had been clearly identified by an advisory committee. In other words, Portland hates mountain bikes.
On March 16th, a ride was scheduled to protest the River View decision and the city’s abandonment of public process. Organized by local rider and racer, and fellow bloggerati, Charlie Sponsel, The River View Protest Ride drew over 300 riders. Ironically, the ride happened on city streets, circling the River View area as heavy rains in the days before the ride rendered the trails vulnerable. To demonstrate mountain bikers’ commitment to good trail stewardship, the decision was made to stay off the trails, and take to the streets.
The protest drew attention from dozens of media outlets—both national and local—who covered the event, and within days the city was shifting in its seat, made uncomfortable from all the heat. Pressure from International Mountain Bicycling Association, People for Bikes, and League of American Bicyclists, in the form of a letter sent to Mayor Charlie Hales and all four city commissioners. Portland’s status as a “Platinum Status Bike-Friendly City”—as anointed by the League of American Bicyclists—is in jeopardy, as hundreds of cyclists of all stripes insist Portland no longer deserves the title. As Vernon Felton points out in his article which begs a redefinition of what a Platinum Status Bike-Friendly City is, Portland really never deserved the title in the first place with these policies and attitudes. (And have you been on Williams Avenue since the city turned it from a perfectly functional and useable bikeway into a clusterfuck of a rat maze death trap for both cars, bikes and pedestrians alike?)
Other municipalities across the country have been able to accommodate similar user groups, with minimal or no user conflicts. Yet Portland’s elected and appointed officials have—for far too long—catered to certain well-funded, elitist NIMBYs who have negative and inaccurate perceptions of who mountain bikers are and what they’re about.
Fair and equal access to public lands is all Portland mountain bikers are asking for. Scratch that—we aren’t asking anymore. We’re demanding. We live here. We pay taxes. We volunteer in our communities. And we vote. But what the City of Portland needs to recognize more than anything these days is we’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
River View was the tipping point for Portland area mountain bikers. It’s just the beginning. Both IMBA and NWTA encourage riders to keep up the letter-writing campaigns, and I support that call to action. But I also suspect this is Portland’s reaction to such efforts:
By all means, keep writing those letters. And as soon as you’ve mailed them off, get on your bikes and ride. Because we need to be visible. We need to make a big noise. And we need to keep the heat on the city for as long as it takes to effect significant change.
Next week we take the battle to Forest Park. One of the largest city parks in the country, Forest Park offers 70 miles of trails spread out over 5,000 acres—yet a mere 1/3 of a mile of the available singletrack open to mountain bikers. And what happened at River View happened with Forest Park time and again over the past several years.
Once upon a time, in a zip code not too far away, in a bizarro alternate reality, there was a version of the Ümabomber who dropped badass spiritual wisdom on people for work. Part social psychology studier, part boot camp ass kicker, and part stand-up comedy act, I donned my wizard robes (actually, brightly colored stretchy pants) and gave inspiring and humorous lectures and lessons full of insights gleaned from many trips around the solar system. I also kicked major butt in the workout department.
I attracted kindred spirits: graduates from the School of Hard Knocks. Underdogs. And really, really smart people who wanted nothing to do with wispy feel-good new ageisms. As a yoga teacher, I was nurturing in a tough love way, grounded, serious, but playful as well. I held people’s feet to the fire. Yoga—at least the way I understood it—and had learned it from master teachers was a tool for self-knowledge. Sure, there were the physical benefits—strong core, flexible limbs—but the real benefit for me was more psychological than anything else. On the whole it is a practice of self-mastery.
As soon as yoga became mainstream, it jumped the shark. It was no longer a discipline, now it was A LIFESTYLE, complete with overpriced, proper apparel, extreme dietary restrictions, and smug, self-righteous pop culture vocabulary. And Lord Shiva help you if you didn’t selfie your handstands all over Instagram.
The shark jumping just happened to occur right around that time that a movie called “The Secret” came out. Coincidence? Methinks not.
As soon as The Secret started circulating, there was a massive shift in the entire culture of yoga. For years I had been teaching at a very high level—I don’t mean trick poses. I mean life-changing, mind-blowing paradigm shift shit. I was renowned for my direct, no-nonsense, assertive style. It wasn’t for everyone. It was physically and mentally challenging. If you wanted someone to stroke your hair and hold your hand and tell you fluffy feel-good affirmations, I wasn’t the teacher for you. But if you wanted someone who would hold the space for you to get really real with yourself in a grounded, supportive way, and get some great physical therapy at the same time, The Ümabomber was your girl.
Once the shark was jumped I was expected to speak in weird, passive language using soft, feathery words. Words like juicy, blossom, shine. These words were to be delivered in hushed tones, breathy whispers with extremely dramatic sibilance. I was to be more “suggestive” instead of directive. And rather than educating people by dropping knowledge bombs them I was now supposed to just make them feel good. I was—in fact—not just supposed to TASTE the rainbow, I was supposed to BE the rainbow.
The next yoga teacher I hear say something idiotic like “we store anger in our thighs” is going to get slapped upside her head. And then I’ll just shrug and say “you must have manifested my anger…namaste!” via Buzzfeed.
What I mean is, it was now required to BE POSITIVE at all times and in all ways.
Dog just died? BE POSITIVE! Boyfriend dumped you? BE positive! Cancer diagnosis? BE POSITIVE! Filing bankruptcy? Be POSITIVE! Lost your job? Be positive! Cancer diagnosis, job loss, bankruptcy, and dead dog all in the same week? Be SUPER posi! And my what crappy karma you have! You should chant OM to your chakras to realign them, try this juice fast I’m starving myself with and for fuck sake SMILE.
This surge in positive thinking using the Law of Attraction looks very bright on the outside, but there’s a dark underbelly to it all. Denying others—or even ourselves— the right to feel sad, lonely, unhappy or scared isn’t enlightened, or generous, or kind—all qualities the practice of yoga is supposed to engender. In fact, denying others’ feelings and insisting on bright, positive energy all the time is one of the worst kinds of self-righteousness, steeped in delusion and arrogance.
Manson cites multiple studies that debunk the whole “Law of Attraction” theory and explain why it seems to work.
“This is kind of my theory for why this strain of thought has persisted across generations; it’s a psychological pyramid scheme of sorts. You take one person who decides to ignore reality in favor of feeling good all the time. This sort of self-absorption then turns off anybody who is content and rational, and instead attracts the most desperate and gullible. This person, delusionally positive to the brim, then ironically attracts and surrounds themselves with other delusionally positive followers. Years later, one of these delusionally positive followers then decides to “manifest” their dreams by spreading the law of attraction further to other desperate well-wishers. The chain of positivity carries on this way through the generations, where each author, blogger or seminar leader who speaks ardently of manifesting one’s purpose, or believing oneself to happiness and bliss, or listening to The Universe, generates a new population of delusionally positive followers who then go on and do the same thing all over again.”
What Manson describes is exactly what I observed in the field of yoga. It began to feel like some kind of weird, feel-good self-help cult, than the disciplined, reality-based practice I had learned many years ago. The insistence on pathological positive thinking began to make me feel like I was part of some fundamentalist religion than a tool for self-discovery.
Sure, sure…there are many great teachers of yoga who are true the original intent, purpose, and practice of yoga. I’ve trained with some of the best. But for myself, yoga—the thing I once credited with saving my life—was now a straightjacket of conformity, neurosis and ruin. And yeah, I was angry…I had practiced my own version of this delusional thinking; I spent my life savings filling in the meager income I received as a yoga teacher so I could keep doing what I loved. I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to what I needed, I was focusing on what felt good. Guess what? It didn’t work.
After teaching for 15 years, setting down the torch I’d carried was akin to a divorce or worse. It was an excruciating process that took years to complete. Ironically, one of yoga’s central teachings is about not identifying with concepts and ideas, but I’ll admit it—I was deeply attached to my identity to being a yoga teacher, a guide, and a healer. Over the years I’d taught thousands of students, helped them become kinder, more loving, stronger versions of themselves, while I became the most stressed-out, broke, neurotic person in the yoga studio.
I felt as though I was attending my own funeral in some ways, day after day—a sort of morbid Groundhog Day. Worst of all were the feelings of isolation, fear and loneliness that came when my former peers sat in judgment of me. Granted most of my critics were exactly the uber posi-tribe Manson points out, above. They insisted I just needed to change my attitude, ask the universe, BE POSITIVE, and The Universe would provide…namaste.
Instead, I quit.
It was one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. It forced me to get serious about my writing work, which I had a great deal of insecurity and fear around. It forced me to take chances, to risk real growth and change. And it forced me to reclaim yoga as the word I use to describe my own relationship with life.
Many of my former peers and probably not a few students would read this and label me a hater, and they’d be right. I hate ignorance and willful disregard of common sense. But I have never advocated building an altar to pain and suffering (unlike certain schools of yoga). Still, I would rather have the richness of experience that comes with allowing myself my pain—as well as my pleasure—than to reject anything but a sort of false happiness.
“My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice. Yet your intellect will never grasp them, and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail. My teachings are older than the world. How can you grasp their meaning? If you want to know me, look inside your heart.”
—LAO TZU, TAO TE CHING
From the ashes, the Phoenix. The Ümabomber is nothing if not scrappy and resilient. I am still purpose driven. Still realism based. And still passionate that survival is not enough. Existence is not enough. We are here to live meaningful, happy lives. Those lives must contain sorrow, nervousness, pain and other “dark” emotions. Without them life has no depth, no resilience, and no growth. Even the most esoteric spiritual traditions nod toward the “wisdom” of the natural world; contrasting energies are the pulse of reality. That’s not woowoo magic. That’s science, baby.
I am still a “believer” in yoga. Or—it would be more accurate to say I’m a fan of yoga. I don’t really believe anything I can’t experience directly. But real yoga doesn’t require belief. It requires doing. It requires honesty. And it requires broad-mindedness not empty-headedness.
People constantly ask me if I still “do yoga” now that I don’t teach much. I tell them I do, but it’s not what you think of as yoga.
The open road and singletrack trail are my yoga. Learning to dirt jump at the pump track—this is my yoga. Writing every damn day in a variety of mediums and forms—both for money and for love—is my yoga. I still teach yoga, but the medium is different. This blog is my teaching platform. I’ll come out of retirement now and then to show bikers how to fix their janky hips and strengthen their core. I’ve even got another BikeYoga book coming out soon. And like Lao Tzu, my teaching is easy to understand and easy to put into practice…
Life is short. Don’t count the moments, make the moments count.
I know that those who worship in Church of Bike don’t need preachin’. We need more saddle time. More time spinning circles outside. More getting up to go down. More brappin’ and less yappin’.
In other words if riding your bike is the place you feel most alive, RIDE MORE.
Need some knowledge dropped on you? Email The Ümabomber your burning questions about bikes, business, boys, girls, riding, life, love, and the pursuit of pedal-powered pleasure. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I definitely know how squeeze the crap out of the questions and make them give up their secrets.
Here at the Ümabomber Intergalactic Headquarters we know we are not the center of the universe, even if we do talk about ourselves pompously in the third person.
We know singletrack access, planning and building takes a village…unless we’re talking about Forest Park, in which case it may take the entire bike-riding population of this and the 3 nearest solar systems. The fight for trail access for mountain biking and off-road access in Forest Park—and other park lands in Portland—is ancient. Keeping up the fight is a difficult battle which requires constant diligence, patience and commitment.
Through the years, the Northwest Trail Alliance has remained dedicated and engaged in this battle for more and better trail access for urban riders. That is why I encourage everyone who rides mountain bikes, cross bikes, cruiser bikes or any others bikes in Portland metro to support NWTA.
Originally designed a few years ago by NWTA member Dylan VanWeelden, these rad tee-shirts not only look good, they let you wear your heart on your sleeve. Back by popular demand, proceeds support the NWTA’s ongoing work to represent for urban off-road cycling opportunities; the cost is $20 plus $5 shipping and handling.
This is a limited edition design so order now; supplies won’t last long! Shirts are from American Apparel and fit true to size.
FREE FOREST PARK! Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
The Northwest Trail Alliance Mission: To create, enhance, and protect mountain bike riding opportunities: to advocate for trail access; to promote responsible mountain biking; and to build, maintain, and ride sustainable trails.
Down, but never out, our heroine, the Viking Biking Shield Maiden, lives to ride another day.
A funny thing happened on the way to Singlespeed World Championships in Alaska this summer, but not like funny ha-ha. It involved several days in the hospital, not because I hucked some monster gap jump at The Lumberyard and cased it. I wish it had been something epic, something noteworthy. But no.
I, the Viking Biking Shield Maiden, was taken out of commission by a common house cat.
Granted, this particular cat turned out to be downright venomous—a furry snake for all intents and purposes—and to add insult to injury the little bastard is my furry snake. Named after the jazz musician, Mingus has always been a difficult animal.
Part feral, for some reason the little shit imprinted on me as a kitten. His feisty, rough-and-tumble, chip-on-shoulder attitude made him the perfect playmate for my furry BFF—my big handsome mastiff/shepherd/boxer mix—named Monk.
The energy between the two was incredible. A lesser cat would have been clobbered—or slobbered—to death, but not Mingus. The two were inseparable. My ex-husband and I couldn’t say the same and when we parted ways, we couldn’t bring ourselves to split up “the kids”.
Dopers suck. More dope, please.
During my stay in the hospital, as I was pumped full of dozens of IV antibiotics, I pondered Mingus’ fate. It’s one thing when the little rat decides to crap on my shoes to let me know he’s unhappy with my absence while I’m working at Sea Otter, but being on the verge of septic shock was quite another.
Mingus is a scrappy, stubborn, obstinate sonofabitch but the bite wasn’t a deliberate assault. See, when other cats enter our yard he becomes incensed, crazed to defend his territory. One morning, around 4am he was looking out the bedroom window and saw the neighbor’s cat stalking past. Somehow my slumbering brain picked up on the tension, and as I moved to push him off the bed away from me, he startled, and reflexively chomped and slashed at me, before running off growling. It was more of a defensive move than willful malice on his part.
“No, really, doctor… Everything is fine at home. Why do you ask?”
It’s been suggested that my relationship with this cat is kind of like my relationship with my singlespeed: that is to say, abusive. I love it fiercely, and sometimes it loves me back, but sometimes it beats me up, too. But I keep coming back for more. Perhaps it’s no coincidence I gave my sleek and stealthy singlespeed the name of Ninja Cougar. I’m used to cats that like to get rowdy.
The Ninja Cougar looks sweet, but will tear your legs off, piece by tiny piece.
After reading the Angry Singlespeeder’s accounting of SSWC I’m not sorry I didn’t make it up to Anchorage, though I’m sure sitting in a seedy bar at 3am, drunk on cheap beer and expensive bourbon beats having IVs poked into your limbs and having to be helped to the toilet.
LaCava, it turns out, had a similar cat-bite experience. Cat scratch fever and Ted Nugent jokes aside, pasteurella multocida—the bacterium responsible for this potentially life-threatening infection—is no laughing matter.
NWTA group ride at Siouxon Creek trail in southern Washington, pre-furry snake bite.
Though my best laid SSWC plans were thwarted by felis silvestris catus, I remained undaunted and set a new summer vacation goal for myself: to ride as many local trails as possible, especially the ones I’d not yet sampled. Post-hospitalization anemia tried to put a crimp in that plan as well, but I managed a few noteworthy rides, and found some new favorite trails to explore.
The Ümabomber in her natural habitat, shredding Timberline to Town trail on Mt Hood.
Tomorrow I share my love of shredding and one of these favorite new-to-me trails with a group on Mount Hood.
Organized in part by the Northwest Trail Alliance, whose newsletters I write and design, we’ll be shuttling the Timberline to Town, Crosstown, and Pioneer Bridle trails. We’ll end the ride with lunch, Skeeball and Air Hockey championships at Ratskeller’s in Government Camp.
Because AIR HOCKEY.
The NWTA group ride ends here. Bring your A-game.
It’s an unseasonably warm weekend leading us into the autumnal equinox on the 22nd of September. Already the darkening days are getting to me. It’s not the rain that brings me down in winter here, it’s the darkness during the day, as well as the night.
But today… Today is bright and hot. The smell of the neighbor’s BBQ taunts me, making my mouth water, and my stomach growl. Today is the intersection of fresh hop season and hammock time. And tomorrow… Tomorrow we ride.
If you’re in Portland and want to join us, bring your trail bike, a sense of adventure and some cash.
Of yeah, and bring your A-game if you intend to beat me at air hockey. You’ll need it.
Like riding bikes but hate feeling stiff, achy and in pain from it? BikeYoga was developed for people who ride bikes. It is a system of easy movements and stretches to help "tune-up" your body for greater comfort and ease—on and off the bike.
The Lumberyard is Oregon's only indoor bike park, offering year-round riding fun and skill building opportunities for adults (and kids, duh) of all ages. Just passing through? Check it out!