Bozeman, Montana (April 1, 2009)
Ryan Jordan, Backpacking Light's founder and publisher, was surfing the Internet one day when he came across ShareTrails.org. "When I read the opening statement on the home page, 'The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national non-profit organization dedicated to preserving responsible recreational access to public lands and waters,' I was bursting with excitement, because that's our mission too!"
Jordan immediately recognized a number of parallels between Backpacking Light and the BRC:
- Both organizations participate in the process of evaluating public land management agency travel plans;
- Both organizations love trails;
- Both organizations believe that America's wild land gems should remain accessible to all humans;
"But the real harmonic potential transcends all that," Jordan said, "and we have some pretty powerful ideas for getting hikers and ORVers to use public lands in harmony."
Backpacking Light's proposals, currently being investigated in a lengthy feasibility study, include:
- The development of completely noiseless ORVs with zero emissions of any type, zero sound of any type, and zero fuel consumption. Jordan notes that Wikipedia provides great latitude in its definition of a vehicle, which opens up a number of possibilities for creating the alternative ORV of the future. He notes that some of the outdoor industry's most innovative companies are developing alternative ORVs that meet Jordan's criteria, including Inov-8, Alpacka, and Wenonah, to name a few.
- Creation of the new niche industry of "hiker-taxiing," by which ORV owners receive money from hikers for taking them on rapid tours of their favorite trails. The benefits to this program would include fewer blisters, faster reconnaissance, having to invest less time into personal fitness, and the opportunity to "hug" an ORVer by riding on the back of his (or her) motorbike. "There are serious risks of increasing conflict with this program, but the rewards of intimacy could lead to long-lasting partnerships. Opposites attract, and we can't fight that," says Jordan.
- Being mentored by the BRC in a new partnership with EA Sports to develop a series of video games to promote hiking. "ORVers have forged incredibly successful relationships with video gaming companies, and we want a piece of that action too," says Jordan, who won the 1982 Donkey Kong tournament at the El Dorado Casino Hotel in Reno, Nevada, and hikes a lot too. "It's time that the hiking community is recognized for their intensity and excitement among our screen-addicted youth, but we can't do it without those who've paved that road ahead of us." Jordan will model the new game series after PlayStation's MX World Tour, but focus less on riding motorcycles and more on doing things motorcycle people could never do, like hike through a forest of blowdowns or haul all your stuff out to an island camp at the middle of an alpine lake using just a Therm-a-Rest and some duct tape. "Hey, we have a lot to offer too. Just give us a chance to rock your XBox, OK?"
Because these are long term projects that provide significant logistical, philosophical, and political challenges, Jordan is eager to promote harmony out of the gate with more realistic short-term endeavors. For example, Jordan advocates distributing earplugs at multi-use trailheads from minimum-impact dispensing machines disguised as permit kiosks. He hopes this project will lead to a complete virtual-reality sensory equipment package that will deaden all senses to surrounding ORV activity, including vision, hearing, smell, and the general awareness of the surrounding environment. Jordan noted that some pretty sophisticated devices are already on the market, with manufacturer Bell and others leading innovation in this area. The goal here is less about creating harmony and more about eliminating the awareness of each other. Jordan says that this may be a "unique first step to a long term solution because right now, we're pretty much total aliens to each other. We don't even drink the same brands of beer."
Jordan hopes that a BPL-BRC partnership is forged on the horizon soon. "The opportunity to maximize the enjoyment of wild lands for all is too good to pass up and now is the time to make it happen."
The tides of change may indeed be rising. A few weeks ago, as snow began to melt from Montana's trails, Jordan encountered an ORVer and BRC member - walking - back to his car on a muddy trail. "What happened, are you OK?" Jordan asked.
"Yeah," the teenage biker said, "my bike broke down a few miles back, and I got a raging blister from walking in these stupid boots." As Jordan and the young man departed, Jordan's guilt overwhelmed him. He turned, and said, "Hey kid." When the biker turned around, Jordan tossed him his New Balance 802's and a Lara Bar. The biker choked back a tear and muttered a simple "Thanks."
The Blue Ribbon Coalition is a non-profit ORV advocacy group that supports the establishment of Congressionally designated backcountry where motorized use can co-exist with ... other recreational uses as well as other management activities while still preserving the backcountry character of the landscape.
Backpacking Light is a media company that publishes a weekly online magazine about lightweight hiking, backpacking, and other human powered sports. Backpacking Light recognizes that the intention of the Wilderness Act of 1964 was to preserve existing and identify continuing opportunities for wilderness land protection in the United States, and that environmentally sensitive backcountry areas should be closed to motorized use. In addition, Backpacking Light recognizes that the preservation of the "backcountry character of the landscape" is difficult in the absence of agreement on the definition of "backcountry character."