I had been pedaling for more than an hour when I finally reached the high-point of the rocky singletrack. Below me, aspen trees covered the steep hillside. On the horizon, peaks interrupted the sky in jagged irregularity. It took a few minutes for my heart to slow down and my breathing to stop coming in gasps. For a moment, the world was quiet. Still. Peaceful.
But that’s when I heard the REEEEEREEEEEEREEEEE of an approaching motorbike.
I moved off the trail just in time for the motorbike to miss knocking me over.
The stillness was gone. Now instead, I was angry and frustrated.
But this isn’t about whether or not motorbikes should have access to my local trails.*
*They shouldn’t. And there are many good reasons for that. But that’s for another day.
No, this is about a change in the way we interact and experience the natural world.
More and more people in the wilds are trading human-powered modes of travel for motors. This is an unfortunate trend. Even kids, who once roamed neighborhoods on skateboards, scooters, bikes, and on foot, are riding electric bikes and motorized scooters. Motorbikes are outnumbering mountain bikes on some of the local trails. Hunters use ATVs and Side-by-Sides more than ever.
Like most things these days, wilderness exploration is suffering from an abundance of ease. We have become an impatient species. If we have to wait 5 seconds for a website to load, we move on to the next. If our food isn’t handed to us a few minutes after we ask for it, we complain to the manager. We don’t take the time to read articles, so we make conclusions based on headlines, Tweets, and Facebook posts.
And the people who still bother with the mountains are riding motorbikes, staying in cars, or demanding to be carried above the ground in gondolas.
We are a deteriorating culture.
But there is a fix. It costs nothing. It doesn’t require politicians, lobbyists, or laws.
The antidote to our poisoned culture is simple: be human-powered.
Slow down. Leave the engine in the garage. Ride a bike. Go for a walk.
You’re too fat for that? You won’t be after a few weeks.
Too tired? It fixes that as well.
No time? Stop watching 6 hours of TV every day.
Human powered humans can save the world.
Riding singletrack is more fun than hating each other.
A walk in the woods is more interesting than the Walking Dead.
A pumping heart is cheaper than pumping gas.
I’m not anti-motors. I drive an F150. I enjoy riding a motorcycle once in a while. I drive to the trailhead sometimes. And I’ve used an ATV to access peaks and ridge-lines. But what was once a means to an end, has become the end itself. It’s no longer enough to quickly speed to the trailhead. Now, we need to quickly speed along the trails (with no regard to what our speeding does to the trails). A bike ride through the woods, or a hike in the hills helps us appreciate the scale and scope of wild country.
Leave the engines in the parking lot where they belong, and enjoy the solitude and peace of the outdoors while you still can.