Does this look like Industrial Recreation to you? (Warm Springs Ridge in the Allan Mountain IRA during the Lost Trail Bike Fest. This was about 11:00 on a day with 150 riding trails in the area)
Or This? (A busy day on Razorback Ridge in the Blue Joint WSA when it was open to bikes)
How about this? (Put in for the Middle Fork of the Salmon River)
Or finally ... (Average summer day on Mt. Bierstadt)
Two recent articles, here and here, in the Mountain Journal, would have you believe that mountain bikers are one of the greatest threats to Wilderness in the United States., not the American Lands Council or mining.
A the core of the two jeremiads are two core fallacies and a slew of ridiculous statements such as bike chains are too noisy (yet too quiet for bears to notice) or bikes are kinetically powered, whatever than means. I was tempted to just ignore them since they aren't that original. If you have read an article opposing bikes in the backcountry you have probably read something similar. After the first article I had a spirited interaction with the author in the Facebook comments (which to their credit they had not deleted when I last checked) where I asked to to provide some evidence to back up his allegations. Instead I got links to Outside Magazine Articles and to a You Tube video of a lift served downhill mountain biker at Jackson Hole.
The first lie is that there is only motivation for mountain biking and that is to go fast. For him there is no climbing, no pushing bikes, no sharing vistas with friends.
"when you are mountain biking, you are making tracks along steep trails strewn with rocks and have little time to admire the scenery; you are staring over handlebars toward the ground...while fast tracking through the Teton Wilderness, you don’t have time to reflect on the needs of the grizzly, the wolf or even other wilderness travelers; the focus is on yourself and the track a few yards ahead."
The idea that a mountain biker could be bike packing, or hoping for a bear sighting or hoping to stop and relax next to a lake seems like an impossibility. Rather than seeing us as fellow travelers out for an escape from civilization seems entirely alien. It's as if he watched a Red Bull video and decided that encompassed the entire sport rather than just a small niche that is the most likely to garner views and likes. As such he fears that the backcountry will be transformed into energy drink fueled huckfests. All I can say is that jaundiced view is misplaced. For him there are only two option for wilderness. Either a bike free paradise or a resort styled bike park. The idea that there is a middle ground of managed use. The Middle Fork of the Salmon has 30,000 visitors through the heart of Frank Church / River of No Return Wilderness Area. Every day during the summer season 7 groups and around 100 people depart from the put in every day. I had the luck of being one of those people this year. Did we see other people. Yes. we also saw numerous herds of big horn sheep, two black bears along shore, deer, ducks, geese. bald eagled, and of course cutthroat trout. In Colorado another 30,000 people climb Mt. Bierstadt in the Mt., Evans Wilderness. Teton Pass in the winter is so crowded with backcountry skiers they have volunteers to monitor the parking lots. People have been mountain biking in the Ten Lakes WSA for decades and despite the "explosive" growth of mountain biking maybe 100 - 200 people a year ride bikes there. Despite decades of riding in the Boulder/ White Clouds still qualified for wilderness. The fact is these trails are difficult, they are remote, and the people who ride them have a different tempment than the folks in YouTube videos. To ride in these areas you need to be looking for something different than a quick adrenaline fix. So let's stop with the lie that mountain bikers are uniquely responsible for degrading the backcountry. If you head outdoors you are part of the problem and part of the solution. It doesn't matter whether your goal is quiet reflection or something more energetic, you are the bear's guest and you are wearing out your welcome the moment you touch dirt.
The second lie is that there is one and only one way to experience wilderness and that is slow and quiet, to way as the First People's did. When did wilderness turn into a such dour experience? When did the Aboriginal tribes turn into a bunch of Church Ladies? What happened to hunting, vision quests, hallucinogens, fighting, loving? Wilderness is about escaping the confines of urban and suburban life and connect with natural world and our primal nature; to realize that we aren't separate from creation, but part of it. To do that we need to do more than whisper in the cathedral of trees and tiptoe through wildflower meadows. It means learning to move like a bear, howl like wolf, and fly like a bird. We need to be expanding our horizons, embracing the vibrant and passionate, along with contemplation and reverie. Don't just walk, run. Don't just whisper, laugh with joy. As much as we may want to play at being pre-industrial hunter gathers in the wilderness. No one is venturing out there with the Clovis toolset and surviving. (Of course as far I know there may be some reality show out there where they are doing that, but I'm not aware of it.) We all make compromises with modern life whether camp stoves, waterproof fabrics. The question isn't is this too modern. The question is, does this piece of technology bring me closer to nature or does to distance me, In every case the answer is going to be a balance of both. In the end we need to come together to protect a landscape we all love without judging whether other people have the right attitude or beliefs.