Friday, November 23, 2012

The Red Bull Rampage

My wife likes to turn on the Today show in the morning while we have breakfast. The trivia that passes for news is usually only mildly annoying, but one story today set me on fire. Reporter Jenna Wolfe covered the “Red Bull Rampage,” an extreme mountain biking competition in what I suspect used to be a pristine Utah landscape. I am not sure which turns my stomach more: the event itself, or the fact that NBC is glorifying this destructive spectacle.

Here in Colorado Springs I see firsthand the deep gullies and gashes eroded by mountain bikes. While most of the riders are courteous and careful when it comes to sharing trails with pedestrian hikers, the damage done to the soil is appalling. I will still grant them the right to ride on trails in an urban or suburban setting, but to carry out their freewheeling in wilderness (officially designated or not)? No way. I have another solution, which I will discuss later.

Back in the day we used to call extreme sports participants “daredevils.” We could still call them that today, but the emphasis should be on “devil.” We could also call it “wreckreation,” because that is what is happening to the environment in the wake of tire treads, litter, and other negative impacts. Erosion, siltation of streams and other water courses, and destruction of wildlife habitat is what you get out of repeated abuse by trail bikes, motorized or pedaled.

In any event, you are defacing something beautiful. There is no other word to describe this competition except “vandalism.”

Then there is the scenic aspect. What was once something sculpted completely by wind, water, and geologic upheaval is now scarred permanently in the name of “sport.” I find it ironic that this is billed as a dangerous sport, yet people with pick-axes and shovels carve out “routes” for the bikers to use in the Red Bull Rampage. In any event, you are defacing something beautiful. There is no other word to describe this competition except “vandalism.” You might as well ride over the paintings in the Louvre. It is just as disrespectful an act, if not moreso, to scribble permanent tracks over a landscape eons in the making.

What would I do instead? I would hold events like this in landscapes already compromised by human enterprise. Abandoned open pit mines come to mind. I can think of one in Bisbee, Arizona that would be ideal. Think about all the upsides to this. You can make a course as difficult as you like. You can have emergency medical personnel and transportation standing close by in the event of a horrible accident. Your closer proximity to a city or town would generate revenue for that municipality. Abandoned mines, old landfills, and other parcels of land already scarred by human activity abound on this planet. There is absolutely no need to exploit pristine wilderness.

I plan to write to NBC News to protest both the story on this morning’s Today show and their plan to air the Red Bull Rampage event in its ugly entirety next month. This is not sport, and we have to stop glorifying it as such. Push for alternative locations for such things. Take a piece of land that is beyond repair and hold such competitions there. Everyone can be happy if we put our minds to it. We conquered Nature long ago. What we are doing now is tantamount to torture. There are international agreements against torturing human beings. Maybe we need that kind of accord to protect Mother Nature, too.