Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Leave No Trace

Note: Today's post contains some graphic descriptions and salty language. You've been forewarned! 

Recently the Iowa Gravel Series head honcho, Chris McQueen, wrote a post on the IGS site regarding an incident that occurred at one of his events. The events Chris puts on have signed turns. He uses "real estate" type signage, the sort you might see in front of a property for sale, to mark corners. So, these are valuable and he retrieves them after every one of his events. 

While fetching signage after a recent event he discovered one sign missing and it had been replaced with a handmade sign bearing the visage of a penis riding a bicycle. The directional arrows were scrabbled on each of the four corners, so riders weren't misdirected. On the reverse side, Chris found the message "Tell Your Riders To Stop Being Dickheads To The People Who Live Here Or Find A Different Route!"

As the race director, he was, unsurprisingly, concerned and is seeking to get to the root of things. But as I contemplated this story, I was reminded of past negative, or potentially negative interactions with "locals" and also how the presence of bicycle riders can leave impacts on local residents. Those impacts can be positive or negative. In some cases, my preference would be that no impact was made at all. 

A potentially negative outcome with a local almost shut down this checkpoint location for T.I.v12

  Rural residents are people that are typically very insular and protective of "their" land, (whether or not they actually own said land is not material to the discussion), and suspicions arise whenever a rural person sees anything out of the ordinary when it comes to people, vehicles, or other oddities. Things stand out more in the wide open areas. It's easy to see that the sight of a cyclist is an odd occurrence for most rural residents. 

Rural residents can also be very charming, helpful, and a fantastic resource to cyclists or those involved with putting on events in the cycling realm. Stories of kindness and help unlooked for abound with gravel cycling and I have personally witnessed things like that in my time as an RD and a rider. I recall riding the first DK200 in 2006 and finding a water jug on a card table alongside a dusty road with no farm house in sight. A sign was hastily made and taped to the table's edge that read "Free Water! Take what you need." This was not an outlier either. Folks still do this at many events all across the nation and I hear and see this from gravel events all the time. The kindness and concerns of rural residents is fantastic. 

We can all get along nicely if we try.

But a warning to race directors and gravel event riders or rural riders in general: Ignore rural residents and their concerns at your own peril! Most rural residents will not suffer fools or acts of tomfoolery gently. Trespassing or taking of things is frowned upon and may be met with lethal force if you cross the wrong person. 

Not that I am condoning the reactions rural residents may have, but this is the reality of rural areas. You'd best be aware and ready to be diplomatic, understanding, and willing to compromise. A little grace goes a long way with rural folks. In my experience, a direct explanation of your doings in a kindly tone will smooth over almost every encounter you may have, as long as you are not willfully breaking the law or engaging in other like activity. In fact, I haven't had to really give up anything when having such encounters except some of my time and patience. An inexpensive investment to make to keep the event or ride going. 

Not that every interaction goes swimmingly. You can expect that not all of them will. But the majority of them will if you have the mind to be aware of rural residents concerns and "need to know". Remember, it doesn't help to get aggressive, angry, or combative. You'll only make matters worse. 

Racers that drop garbage chap my hide. (Image by Jon Duke of C.O.G. 100)

The other thing I think is an impediment to racers or riders and rural residents getting along is how racers (especially racers, but regular riders as well) act during events. A few things that I have heard about or personally have witnessed really make me concerned and could be having a negative effect upon the relationship between residents and riders. 

First up is a mostly unspoken concern that happens all the time at many gravel events: People relieving themselves along rural roads. Public urination is pretty much frowned upon almost everywhere you go, but it would seem that many, (mostly male) riders need a reminder that a little prudence goes a long way toward keeping rural residents from crying foul when it comes to your taking a piss. (Shouldn't that be leaving a piss? This never made sense to me....) Anyway... Get behind a tree, out of sight of homes, down in a ditch or something. Or wait till you reach a checkpoint. But don't stand alongside the road in sight of homes and do this. (I feel like I am speaking to children.) 

And finally, why do we even tolerate gel packets, food wrappers, or other garbage being thrown on gravel roads? This is the one that really irks me. I've seen it more and more since "Pro" riders, sponsored riders, and those who think that they are one of those two, got into gravel racing. This needs to be addressed.

Riders will not do anything until race directors take a stand, or...... Race directors have to clean the course after the event. One or the other. The DK200 used to have a Klean Kanza event the week after the 200 where they not only cleaned up their mess, but they picked up ALL the garbage they could find. This was class-leading event operation there. Who does this anymore? 

But if that is not possible, you would have to put the onus on the riders. And you'd have to have a no tolerance policy. In fact, all of the above mentioned issues in this post should be no-tolerance reasons for riders to be kicked out of events. But which race directors have the wherewithal to do that? I'd like to know..... 

I'll tell ya what. If RD's did take a stance as I suggest, you'd see a lot less issues. And yes, you'd see a lot less riders at events in some cases. But does littering and acting a fool make their entry fees worth it? The answer to that says a lot about what is and what is not important in any gravel event.


Jon Bakker said...

It's a really good topic you raise, and strikes me especially because last Saturday, I was (very briefly) a "bad ambassador" of cycling. I didn't litter, I didn't trespass, and I wasn't being loud or obnoxious, but I took the road for granted and my place on it. Thankfully all I came away with was a lesson, and nothing worse.

I was riding solo on a local gravel loop I like to use to get some climbing in, but because of the dry conditions of late here in Michigan, the washboarding on the roads was exceptionally bad. One 1-mile section of the loop was so choppy that there was *no* smooth line to be found anywhere for a whole mile - it was frustrating because anything faster than 6mph felt like your were riding through the spin cycle of an out of balance washing machine. After that section comes the biggest hill, and it's a tough hill with nearly 250 feet of climbing in about a mile and a half, but not a steady climb; it has a few ups and downs (mostly ups) within that climb. That section was mostly washboarded, but there were smooth lines in various places along the road. I have ridden that hill nearly 30 times this year, and am quite familiar with the low traffic there, but in my own interests I foolishly followed the smooth lines rather than following the convention of always staying on the right side of the road, especially going up a hill where you are blind to oncoming vehicles. Being a heavy guy like me, I was trying to follow the path of least resistance. That was my mistake.

As one can guess, as I was huffing and puffing my way up the hill with a decent effort, a half-ton pickup truck crested the hill in front of me at a decent speed for the dirt road and was maybe 200 feet away when we saw each other. He immediately slowed and veered toward his ditch (my left) and I scrambled to my right and out of his way and mouthed "I'M SORRY! THANK YOU!" as we passed each other. It happened in less than a second, but felt like an eternity and I'm frankly still a little rattled by it. I don't know the driver, but his instincts were to avoid me and preserve my life, and he was initially headed in a dangerous line of travel for himself to accomplish that until I moved out of his way. I am so thankful he didn't hit me, and I'm glad I had the wherewithal to pedal myself immediately in a safer direction. He didn't stop, come back to yell at me (which I fully deserved!) or anything like that. We both just went our ways.

I have no way to reach out to him to apologize and thank him, so I will do the next best thing - I will pay closer attention to where I'm riding and always expect a vehicle to come the other way, even in low traffic areas. Even if it's an easier line, I have no more right to the road surface than other users, including pickups - and I knew this, of course, I just got lazy and felt entitled to the easiest path. I feel bad for putting that driver through that situation (I drive a vehicle daily for my work so I can understand it from his side) and though I deserve his ire, I hope he concludes that I was an exception, and not the rule, for the way cyclists and autos can both use these roads in harmony. I will be a better ambassador for cyclists going forward, and though it's unlikely I'll ever meet him, I owe him an apology and my thanks. And, let's face it, I'd never want to be the reason someone draws genitalia on a road sign!

Guitar Ted said...

@Jon Bakker - First off - I am glad that no one was injured or worse in that encounter.

Secondly - Thank you for sharing that. I assume that you could have easily kept that to yourself, but your compelling story, and maybe more than that, motivated your telling of it here. I thank you for that sharing.

Thirdly, this is a reminder for sure that we all can use and take to heart. It's a little different than where I was going today with my rant, but this is a VERY important topic nonetheless less. It is something I've often communicated here and elsewhere. Gravel is "safer" but it is not where we can just leave caution to the wind. We still need to be vigilant.

Thank you Jon! I really appreciate your time and effort to tell that story and I thank you for reading here.

NY Roll said...

Such a great topic. We are guests, and people lose that mindset and start in with entitled attitudes. Yes, rural America tends to think they own more than they really do. It is pride, pride in where they reside, pride in being remote, pride in their ability to escape the man. So yeah, some weirdo bouncing through on a bike is not ideally welcomed, especially if you have a race going on. You have moved their cheese, their schedule is off. granted the later person I described is the minority.
It is just not Gravel. We shall talk on the podcast. I will dip my toe into politics a skoosh, but for a group of environmentally friendly minded people (Cyclists), I was amazed at the amount of litter I saw. Granted I am stereo typing with that comment, but the amount of litter I saw this weekend was astonishing.

Chris McQueen said...

Thanks for the practical points! It's hard sometimes to "just be cool" when you don't see or have experience from the other person's point of view. These are the stories that we need to share so that we don't repeat mistakes.

It's the beginnings of the Gravel bible/torah/confucius five books, etc. :-)

teamdarb said...

In reference to the trash, I think brands need to research how people are actually getting into their product packaging. I recall several years ago Cliff Bar went back and made the packaging easier to open while wearing gloves or fatigued. Still hard to open in my opinion while cycling. I see many product vaccum sealed that makes opening while cycling impossible to dangerous. What happens once we finally get into the product? The breeze takes what little corners one could tear away. Same thing happens as you go to stuff the empty into the jersey back. Thank goodness for handlebar and top tube bag until they eventually become victim of the wind, rouge open zipper, and bump. This is going to sound stupid, someone should make a retractable snack cord dispensor. Similar to that system banks use to retain their pens. Ha.

teamdarb said...

@Jon Bakker Very brave of you to tell that story. I cannot count how many times I yell at folks for taking the easy line. I shared your story with them. I have a number of rolling eyes responses. You are suppose to go straight thru the middle of a bog hole, you always have the option to walk, or turn back is my repeat.

Guitar Ted said...

@teamdarb - Someone does make a gel packet that you can rip open with your teeth while riding but the top has this extra length which is attached to the body of the packet so you don't get that part loose and flying off into the wind. I think it is Hammer Gel?

Anyway, maybe we need to return to the days when we used gel flasks which you kept in your bags after draining them. Gosh, I must have some around here yet. I used to buy Hammer Gel by the quart and mix my own flasks. Maybe runners still use those?