Over a Beer: What Exactly Are “Wilderness Values”?

Would a mountain bike ruin the Wilderness nature of this image? I don't think so. (Taken while backpacking in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.)
Would a mountain bike ruin the Wilderness nature of this image? I don’t think so. (Taken while backpacking in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.)

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

Recently I was mountain biking along a bike-legal trail that bordered a Wilderness area. As I found out from talking to trail runners and backpackers along my route (it was the 4th of July weekend, and relatively busy), the portion of the Tumble Creek trail that I was riding along the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness boundary serves to complete a 15-mile loop through the Wilderness.

As I was pedaling along, I encountered a trail runner who didn’t exactly know where she was going. I offered to share my map with her, but she said that her partner knew where they were headed, but that he “doesn’t go very fast,” and couldn’t keep up with her. I found it strange, because I’m not much of a trail runner, and I could have kept her pace, but I just went on with my ride.

About 5 minutes later I came upon who I assumed to be her significant other, and I realized exactly why he couldn’t keep up. Just a few paces from the trailhead where they had started, this runner was moving slowly, because he was narrating this “Wilderness” run into a GoPro held in front of him on a selfie stick.

Yes, my friends, this foot traveler—who appeared to be about 60 years of age, so shelve the millenial jibes—was attempting to run and describe his run to, presumably, the viewers on the interwebs, while holding an electronic box on a pole.

As he prepared to enter a Wilderness area.

As I was editing this article, I decided to run a quick search on Youtube to see if I could find the video. It took me literally one search term and less than 10 seconds to find. Since this guy–named Steve Bremner–is obviously looking for publicity by posting this video public on Youtube, I decided to give it to him.

Here’s the video. You can see me, yielding the trail like a conscientious mountain biker, at 0:30-0:36, and then you can see Steve talking with his S.O. (Bekka) about our conversation at 0:39-0:57. The rest of the video goes on to show their run through the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness. Note the off-leash dog (Chewy), which is against the rules of the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness.

As you read the arguments levied against reversing the blanket ban on mountain bikes in Wilderness areas, one that seems to come up again and again is that bicycles somehow, someway, don’t fit in with “Wilderness values.”

I’d like to know exactly what these Wilderness values are. Do they include self reliance? Do they include pushing yourself to your physical limits? Appreciating the beauty of the world around you? Disconnecting from the hectic pace of life in our modern world? Traveling lightly and not making an impact on this planet we call home?

Or is the only actual “value”: “wheels aren’t allowed”?

Taken while backpacking in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.
Taken while backpacking in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

This isn’t the only example of what could be considered by some to be flagrant disrespect for the values that make wilderness, Wilderness. I’ve seen hikers hiking along with music blaring from speakers built into their backpacks. And I’ve seen equestrians do the same. I’ve seen horsepacking shelters that look more akin to a 2-star hotel than a tent. I’ve seen horse trains rip apart singletrack trails, turning them into muddy trenches three feet deep.

Yet somehow mountain bikers, with their evil conglomeration of quiet, low-impact metal and plastic, are the enemy in this situation.

Somewhere along the way, I think what exactly Wilderness should stand for has been perverted. It’s been altered. It’s been changed from the original intent. And I don’t necessarily claim to have an inside line on what the original intent was, but as we move forward from this place of mis-interpretation and mal-practice, I think we have an opportunity to re-interpret the laws and the guidelines that govern Wilderness areas in a common sense way.

Do I think that that trail runner shouldn’t have been able to dictate his run into his GoPro? No, of course he’s free to do so, and I don’t want to stand in the way of his freedom, no matter how dumb I think selfie sticks are. The moral of the story is that he’s enjoying the Wilderness in a harmless, low-impact way, that’s not affecting the people or the land around him.

And the same can be said for conscientious mountain bikers.

But the idiots walking around with speakers blaring? Don’t jack up my soundscape yo!