Off-Highway, Off-Road, Off Your Rocker: On TREAD Lightly! and How to Deal with Those that Don’t

by Bill Burke

blazericonI have a Green Streak on my back! Most of you reading this probably have one also. Yes, I use my rig to Travel only on designated 4-wheel drive roads and get ticked off when others tend to abuse that issue. I Respect the rights of others while they recreate in the woods, even the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and Sierra Club members. I certainly Educate myself and others about regulations and compliance to barriers, oh, and I use maps and proper Leave No Trace ethics. I Avoid wet meadows, stream banks, chasing wildlife and livestock and tromping on Cryptobiotic soil at all costs. And, I Drive responsibly to protect my right to operate my motorized vehicle on roads in WILD lands and to help conserve those lands anyway I can.

That’s what TREAD Lightly! means to me. Here is how I interpret it when I am on a designated 4WD route in wild lands. The road leads down a hill on which I have done my best to keep the rig straight and keep it from hitting the closely grown Lodgepole pines. I don’t want to damage the trees and certainly do not want to damage my D-90!

Of course, I’m looking at all the cable rings on the trees from idiots winching without tree protector straps and wondering why I should care, the tree will probably die in a year or so. WRONG. My GREEN streak glows as I take some mud to fill the cuts and try to cover the broken cambium so it has a chance to heal before beetle disease sets in. This is Treading Lightly!

On down the hill I go. I get to the bottom and a beautiful meadow area. I come to a creek crossing. The main road alignment goes straight across the creek at a pretty deep crossing that looks like I might have to use my lockers and still maybe have to winch out. I take my chances and luckily the lockers and 33’s get me through with some throttle and a little steering wheel movement. My friend behind me is not so lucky. I use the strap and yank him out. We stop to stow the gear and spy some BRAIDING–alternate routes that bypass the deep hole. About four different scars show where some jerk(s) didn’t want to STAY ON THE ROAD because the creek crossing was too challenging, or they wanted to really throw some mud around, or whatever.

The point is, they tore up the meadow because they didn’t care about “THE LAND!” Treading Lightly is DEALING with the obstacle ON the road. Sure it’s muddy; sure it’s deep; sure it’s easier to go around. That’s not Treading Lightly–that’s causing road closure! My friend and I TREAD Lightly by dealing with the challenge staying on the road. If I had to winch or use the Hi-Lift jack and got all muddy doing it, so be it! That’s part of the game.

I move on. The main alignment through the meadow is very challenging. I see lots of tracks where people have tried to find the easy way out–there isn’t any. I have helped clubs build log fences to help errant drivers figure out the main route; it seems all to naught. The fences are pulled down. The signs that state, “Winch Recommended” are shot and run over. I see quad (ATV) tracks going all over the place, through the trees, up the hills, all to avoid staying on the road. Shame on them!

My green streak flares up again. My friend and I gather large, dead fall and cover the errant tracks, trying to keep the mess hidden by folding tall grass and piling leaves on the scars. Maybe the next passersby will get the point and stay on the road. I certainly do not want the Forest Service to see this mess. They might need to MAINTAIN it, then run a blade over it or fill it in and make it an RV road, or even close it! This road already has lost seven miles to logging, and I don’t want to lose even another foot of it!

I was teaching a class in conjunction with ARB near Seattle, Washington this September, and it was brought up about respecting the rights of other users. Reason being, there was a motocross event taking place and we were going to be using a small part of the same road. I talked about moving out of the faster vehicles’ way, how to signal to others how many were in the party behind, and radioing the message back. The motocross people really liked that we were willing to share the road, and even help them get by. We even helped one poor guy get his bike up and started and gave him some water.

Then we encountered some radical buffoons who happened to be on mountain bicycles. (This was an isolated incident and I do not want to disparage my fellow mountain bikers out there.) It seemed that they did not want us to pass them and kept cranking up the long, loose hill. It was deemed from one of the riders that the F***ing “Jeeps” (there was only one Jeep in the class) would just have to kiss their butts all the way up the hill. This was a good time for me to stop my class and go into my discussion about trail use, etiquette, how to read maps and compass, and what maintenance procedures are needed once back home after a day of ‘wheeling; in other words, give the bicyclists a chance to get far enough ahead of us to avoid another confrontation.

After that discussion, I figured the bikes should be far enough ahead that we could mosey up the road to the lunch spot. Well, they did get to the same lunch spot as my class was headed, and as the first vehicle started to pull into the large area, we encountered several bikes across the road blocking access to the pull-out for the lunch spot. Hmmmm!

Being the naive, inexperienced trail leader you all know about , I started to pick up one of the bikes to move it out of HARM’S way. The owner took great umbrage at that. Gee, I just want to share the football size area with you and enjoy the view of Mount Rainier. There should be plenty of room for all of us–our 8 rigs and your 6 or 7 bikes! To paraphrase one of the bicyclists, No, you jeeps are just tearing up the place and we were here first and we are not moving our bikes and you better not touch them or it’s fisticuffs!

A voice from behind me said, why not just run the bikes over like an obstacle instead of going around; wouldn’t that be Treading Lightly?

I walked up to the bike group and went into the story about shared responsibility and conservation of efforts for continued land use; how the road was actually a designated 4WD route; that there were designated bike routes; that wouldn’t it be horrible if the Sierra Club could see us mechanized vehicle users at each others’ throats; isn’t it a really nice sunny day here in the usually rainy Pacific Northwest; do you have enough water; I can call the Forest Service enforcement officer who knows I have a permit to hold a class here; and, gee thanks for moving your bikes and sharing the view with us. You folks are so-o-o nice!! I’ll tell all my buddies back home how nice you really are!!

It was a great day anyway. The north slope of Rainier was 10 miles away and there was not a cloud in the sky.

Share the road, be nice, offer water, assistance, build those karma points. Those karma points come in handy when Murphy is around the corner in organizations like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance who, as you read this, is traveling across the United States drumming up money and support to close all the Utah wild lands right across the board!

Oh, and one more thing, while you’re building those karma points, don’t forget to speak out for your rights to drive in the back country! Call your local 4-wheel drive association and ask how you can help with land use issues. If you don’t speak out now, who will?

Proper etiquette is not just using the right salad fork. When we venture forth into the back country, whether we’re hikers, dirt/mountain bikers, 4-wheelers, snowmobilers, horse riders, or llama packers, why do we sometimes leave our manners at home?

Temperatures boil. Personalities clash.

We forget that there are very diverse types of recreational forest users. No matter how much we disagree with somebody else’s way, we all have something in common. We’re there to appreciate our country’s spectacular mountain passes and to savor our “day in the woods.”