Popping My Trail Poaching Cherry
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.
Thanks to Ruandy Albisurez for the lead photo.