Can’t we all just get along?
By Kierstin Kloeckner
My guess is that most of those reading this article are not pro-snow machine or ATV/UTV. The name of this publication alone, Silent Sports, goes against everything motor-related. We can, however, as readers and as silent sports supporters, choose two ways to go in this modern world we live in. We can go against everything motor sports stand for: hate them, curse them, and try to ban them. The other option is to try our best to understand these activities, and the folks who partake in them, because they are here to stay. Well, at least until fossil fuels run out. If we are to veer from the Us vs. Them scenario, which is currently ripping our country to shreds, we must work with the participants of motor sports, the lobbyists who support them, and the communities who seem to survive on their dollars.
To be 100-percent honest, I admit there was a time, not long ago, when I cursed both these machines and the drivers who operated them. I made blanket statements which made them out to ruin every wilderness area, trail, and cool town. I blamed them for going too fast, littering, getting drunk while operating vehicles, being loud and obnoxious, and, for some reason, I just plain didn’t like them. Here’s the thing: ask most hikers, birders, and trail runners, and they’ll say the same thing about mountain bikers and gravel riders. And this got me thinking: What if I looked at these activities and the people who do them in a different way? What if I actually mingled and chatted with them while I moved through what they considered “their” territory on my bike?
As many of you know, gravel riding, fat biking, and bike packing is all the rage in the cycling world. New events come out each year and almost every weekend, year round, you’ll find events catering to human-powered, two-wheeled woods riding. Many of these events are thrown into the middle of areas which were once known as only power sport regions. My first experience in this world, after leaving dog sledding and canoeing in Northern Minnesota anyway, was the Skull-N-Bones gravel ride in the Blue Hills of Wisconsin. When we pulled in to the town of Bruce, I knew we’d be surrounded by bear hunters and ATV/UTV riders during the entire event. At that moment, I asked myself: Would I go to this event hating them, ruining it not only for myself, but also possibly forming more animosity between those operators and cyclists, or would I go to it with my eyes wide open, hoping for the best and not expecting the worst? I chose the latter—and it changed my world.
After cycling 104 miles of forest roads and ATV trails on the Tuscobia, no, I didn’t like how churned up the roads and trails were. I hated the sand pits, baby heads, and dust, the convoys of ATVs/UTVs drowning out almost every nature sound with a growl of motors, and smothering the scent of pine with petrol. But you know what? The operators were nice! They waved, moved off to the side when they saw us, and slowed down to limit the dust kicked up as they passed. They tried. They acknowledged us. What was going through their heads? I have no clue. But I do know what was going through many of the cyclist’s heads—and it wasn’t pretty.
Fast forward several years to my fight, along with many others, to limit snow machines in Blue Mound State Park. I won’t go into details. However, I will say years of Us vs. Them have become a downright fight between the DNR and the group, Friends of Blue Mound. For this project, I am standing my ground because there are so few places in Southern Wisconsin untouched by motors. But I am trying to hold on to some empathy and understanding as a whole, as well as kindness, while trying to limit the land snow machines can use in the park.
Not long after the master plan for Blue Mound was released this year, showing the possible move forward for snow machines, I went north with a couple of other fat bikers to explore forest roads and trails. We found ourselves at a cabin in Pickerel, WI—aka snow machine/ATV/UTV central. If it weren’t for the Frosty Bear Fatbike event in Laona that weekend, I would have been quite sure we were the only cyclists within a 100-mile radius. We were most certainly the minority. As we rolled out Saturday morning, down a county road, we were given plenty of birth by passing trucks trailering their snow machines. No aggression, no attitude. From there, we made our way to forest roads and snowmobile trails leading to bars. As we rolled up to the bars, and leaned our two-wheeled beasts against the building next to a line of snow machines, we wondered how we’d be welcomed. We walked into the bar, placed our bike helmets next to snow machine helmets, and sat at the bar. I’m sure we were looked at in a funny way, but I didn’t notice it. The proprietor was as nice as could be and we were treated with complete respect by everyone in the bar. When leaving, I saw it was the same thing: smiles, questions and curiosity; no animosity whatsoever. Now—how would a bunch of cyclists have acted with snow machine or ATV drivers in a cyclist bar? I doubt as kindly. And this makes me sad. It makes me want to bridge the gap in some way between the two groups so we can both have what we want/need, without going up against one another.
So, how can this be done? It won’t likely be easy. However, it will be worthwhile. Since I don’t use snow machines or ATV/UTVs, the only thing I can work on is how I, as a cyclist and nature lover, behave. Instead of clumping the entire group of motor sports participants into one group, I need to first and foremost see them as individual people. More than likely, they are not out there to ruin trails or cause harm to silent sports users. They are out there for very similar reasons we are. They like being outside, alone or with groups of friends. They like seeing new places and they have a sense of adventure. Thinking about it this way humanizes the participants, instead of blaming them with a blanketed statement,or, even more importantly, it takes the “victimization” off of us. I feel this is always Step One for bridging a gap. Find what we all share in common. Second, talk with them. Introduce yourself at a bar. Ask questions. Ask for directions if lost on a forest road (I’ve done this many times even though I could have figured it out with more work on my own, and it’s amazing how wonderful the response has been). Show them YOU are a human as well, not just a loud-mouthed, Lycra-clad cyclist who is anti-motor sport. Attend and support events which are held in areas known for motor sports. Many of these events donate funds to local charities (The Bear 100 and Hibernator pay for emergency equipment for the EMS). By doing so, you will show the community you care. Lastly, attend town hall and DNR meetings surrounding proposed trail and ordinance changes. This is the trickiest part, but also the most important. This is where tempers tend to fly and the room gets divided quickly. At a recent trail meeting, I began my talk with stating, “I understand your wants because I want something not much different than you do.” I bridged the gap with that statement alone, without raising my voice, talking about true concerns without blame, and the room softened. Anger is a powerful tool, something to be taken out on rare occasions and only if needed. Entering a town hall meeting with fists pumping from the start never ends well. Trust me, this used to be my MO—until I realized it wasn’t working.
Although in my dreamland I’d love to see motor sports dwindle, I understand that won’t happen for quite some time. Instead of heading out on adventures angry all the time when I come across motor sports participants, I use this bridging technique which has allowed me to go with the flow much more, and even make new friends on the other side of the fence!