Well, it seems a post I had earlier on a different venue than here caused quite the stir. Such a stir that the editorial team decided to pull the essay. There were definitely some things that were unclear and there’s some things I’d like to clarify, but before I even do that I’m just going to post the whole essay as it originally appeared. So here it goes:
Last week, Bicycling magazine posted an article in regards to Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s intention to race Tour Divide next year. As bikepackers we should not allow Gary Johnson to lineup in Banff next summer. Gary Johnson’s policies are an attempt to close public land forever from American hands.
Johnson has been a longtime member of the Libertarian Party, a party which values private property, private industry, and the free market above all government interference. This insistence on privatization risks putting public lands into private hands. While Johnson believes in protecting National Forests and National Parks, he has shown intent “…to give control of those BLM [Bureau of Land Management] lands to the state and sell that land to the private landowners, and actually put that on private property tax rolls, that makes a lot of sense.”1 This is where Gary Johnson’s desire to race Tour Divide is problematic.
The Bureau of Land Management has seen it’s fair share of headlines lately after an armed militia in Central Oregon occupied an unmanned Widlife Sanctuary building in protest against the BLM. Originally a combination of the Grazing Service and the General Land Office, the original intent of the agency was to fulfill the tasks of these two former agencies, redistributing federal land and to lease land for grazing rights. In it’s 70 years the Bureau of Land Management has extended it’s duties to a multitude of land use policies, generally their mission is stated “[t]o sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”2 The BLM saw over 61 million visits for recreational use over their 250 million plus acres in 2015. 3
I’d like to point out that in BLM’s direct mission statement they state the enjoyment of public lands. This is what mountain biking is; an enjoyment of our public lands. BLM land is used for mountain biking across the West, such as Bend Oregon’s Horse Ridge Trail or Moab’s Brand trail. In 2015, the BLM saw over 6 million visits for “non-motorized travel” under which mountain biking falls. The agency’s commitment to mountain biking can be seen through their partnership with the International Mountain Bicycling Association and MTB Project to post detailed mountain bike maps on their website.
While Tour Divide mostly runs along National Forest land, there is one big exception, The Great Divide Basin in Wyoming. For any of you that have completed Tour Divide, you know how special this place is to the route. While sometimes described as one of the most brutal sections with harsh headwinds, it can also be the most beautiful, where the night gets so dark people have seen Aurora Borealis sitings this far south. This section of the route from Pinedale to Wamsutter is all Bureau of Land Management land. If Gary Johnson and the Libertarian’s got their way, this land would be chopped off and sold to the highest bidder, which would mean no more access for Mountain Bikes, let alone the other various users. It would be land forever closed to public access.
Tour Divide would not be the only race to be affected if Gary Johnson got to see his version of America. The Comstock Epic is a 500 mile race across Nevada, a state which is 68 percent BLM land, as just another example of how detrimental to the sport a Libertarian rise to power would be.
While Gary Johnson will most likely not be in the White House this time next year, and his policies will not actually see the light of day, we as a community need to send a message, that this dangerous rhetoric of giving away our land is unacceptable. This public land is the land where we bikepack; the land where we camp; the land where we race; the land where we train. In defense of public lands that are mine, yours, and every Americans, we should not allow Gary Johnson to toe that line in June in Banff.
For some reason, this got a whole lotta sorts of people all twisted up. Within an hour the Facebook comments had gotten out of hand, with some especially good ones;
All joking aside, comments seemed to fall into three general categories.
- “This is a free unsanctioned race you can’t ban anyone!”
- “Maybe we should let him do it so he can see the beauty of public land and change course.”
- “Keep politics out of bikepacking!”
OK, so going down the list, number one. Definitely. There are no race organizers, no one can necessarily ban Gary Johnson from racing, but that wasn’t quite what I was aiming at. I definitely failed as a writer on that one, that one I take full responsibility for. This was not me saying with my full authority, that I, and I alone should ban Gary Johnson (or anyone with that kind of authority). More so, my argument was that it would behoove the bikepacking community as a whole to come together and tell the Libertarian candidate to stay at home because we do not invite him based on his desire to privatize our public land we recreate on.
“BUT WE SHOULDN’T HAVE A LITMUS POLITICAL TEST TO LINEUP TO RACE”
Absolutely not, but why would we embrace someone who has so coldly stated that they want to destroy our sport? That they want to limit access which limits where we ride and closes out our sport turning our once thriving public land into private land. Think of anyone who has ridden from Argentina to Prudoe Bay only to find Chevron won’t let you touch the water. Now let’s imagine that you now reached Pinedale, WY and all there was was a gate and a highway you now have to ride to the border. Everyone already complains about Gary Johnson’s home state of New Mexico and it’s irritating endless highways.Why are we trying to close ourselves out? Yes, there are definitely some bikepackers who I disagree with politically, but none are running a presidential candidacy whose entire end goal is to close off access to public land. This is not a reach. This is pretty straightforward reasoning on why Gary Johnson is a symbol of the privatization of the West and how we need to boycott him to send a message that we will not allow our public lands to be wrested from us.
2) “Maybe we should let him do it so he can see the beauty of public land and change course.”
Yes! I would love Gary Johnson to hit Wyoming, shed a tear like a racist Native American caricature in an anti-pollution commercial and say “I shall aim to destroy the West, No More Forever”. But let’s get real. This is not GJ’s first rodeo. He’s competed in triathalons and is already an avid mountain biker and road cyclist (sure he probably is more so one of those annoying fitness type racers, the kind that tells you more about their power meter than anywhere cool they ever went, but I digress). The point of the matter is that he has already been in contact with active outdoor scenes and none of these people have influenced his overtly private property politics at all. This rhetoric feels very pie in the sky and I don’t necessarily buy it.
And of course my favorite. The elections over, let’s forget politics. No. Sorry, but you can’t decide when to turn politics on and off. You can choose to ignore it, but you cannot tell people when to. This is about access and advocacy. This is about closing off our public lands. If a developer were in your hometown saying they want to tear down your local trail network you would be active, you would be telling them to leave your community. You would be protecting what’s rightfully yours, something you cherish, something you fight for. That’s what we should be doing here. This is not some “I don’t like his politics so I don’t want to hear him”. No. This is “his politics are a direct attack on our sport and I want him to hear US“. Those saying that this is divisive nonsense are not seeing the real dangerous divisiveness; turning our public trails into private property. So, no, Gary Johnson, unless he makes a radical shift in his politics, he is a hypocrite on the trail and we do NOT need to invite him. We can tell him to stay home, and we should.