At Bikepacking Roots, our mission includes “advocating for the landscapes through which we ride.” Indigenous peoples are an integral part of the future, present, and past landscapes in U.S. America. Thus, as advocates for a healthy, vibrant, and whole Western landscape, we are responsible for communicating and educating ourselves, our members, and the riders of the routes we design in a way that progresses Indigenous liberation from colonial trauma. With that intent, we’re announcing the renaming of the 2,700-mile-long Wild West Route to the Western Wildlands Route.
Our goal in designing and naming this route was to celebrate the landscape that characterizes the Intermountain West - a landscape that consists of large swaths of public lands, large areas with minimal human development, and a diverse social landscape. Unfortunately, in choosing the “Wild West Route” for a name, we largely missed our targeted connotation that comes with a name. The Wild West in the context of United States history is strewn with a history of violence, forced removal, land theft, colonization, and attempted erasure of Indigenous existence. Thus, we now recognize that rather than inspire an appreciation of the Western landscape, the name “Wild West Route” is inspiring backwards progress in decolonizing and undoing Indigenous erasure.
Renee Hutchens, a member of the Diné (Navajo) Tribe, reached out to us and shared her perspective on why the name of this route needed to be changed. “This route was set out to be about experiencing the land through bikepacking,” says Hutchens. “But the fact is, words that are rooted in colonialism can make their way into the everyday language and how we think. Wild West shows were performed across North America and Europe from the late 1800s into the 20th century and dramatized Indian attacks on stagecoaches and cabins. One of the most popular was Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West Show’ where Native peoples were put on stage for show to enact mock battles, and the ‘savage Indian’ character was popularized while audiences watched. These shows, and related influences, inspired filmmakers to produce Western movies that romanticized the story about how the West was won. The truth is the West was actually ‘won’ through violence, forced removal, and genocide of Indigenous peoples.”
Hutchen’s lengthier, valuable, and powerful perspective is shared below - we strongly encourage everyone to take the time to read and reflect upon it.
We apologize for any harmful impact and trauma that the former name has caused. Bikepacking Roots is committed to seeking the input and voices of Indigenous peoples in the future as we name our work, write about landscapes, and advocate for lands. The new name, the Western Wildlands Route, is intended to inspire an appreciation of the entire landscape that comprises the Intermountain West, including the Indigenous stories, peoples and perspectives that shape the future, present, and past of the lands upon which we ride. And we all need to recognize that “wild” places need not be characterized by the absence of people - Indigenous groups have lived in harmony with and as stewards of these lands for thousands of years.
Please join us in celebrating the Western wildlands, including the people who first called these lands home, by adopting the new route name today.
An Indigenous perspective on the “Wild West” from Renee Hutchens
When I first read the name, the “Wild West Route” my mind went numb as I paused. This pause was so long it felt like I couldn’t move through it. I could not even finish reading the sentence or context within which it was written. In fact, I didn’t care to because whatever it was about, I wanted nothing to do with it. This is why words matter. Reading these words felt like trying to move through trauma on top of historical trauma. I immediately knew it was important to bring my experience and perspective to the attention of the Bikepacking Roots leadership. I remember saying, “as the name stands right now, I will never ride that route.” In the meantime, while I didn’t care to ride the route, others went on riding the route. I knew because I kept reading stories on social media tagged with the hashtag and stories in media outlets that celebrated bikepacker’s experience on the Wild West Route. What stood out to me in these unfolding stories was a deeply rooted colonial narrative. It became apparent that these stories reinforced narratives that continue the legacy of colonialism and remove Indigenous peoples’ voices in the discourse of bikepacking.
Wild West shows were performed across North America and Europe from the late 1800s into the 20th century and dramatized Indian attacks on stagecoaches and cabins. One of the most popular was Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West Show’ where Native peoples were put on stage for show to enact mock battles, and the ‘savage Indian’ character was popularized while audiences watched. These shows, and related influences, inspired filmmakers to produce Western movies that romanticized the story about how the West was won. The truth is the West was actually “won” through violence, forced removal and genocide of Indigenous peoples. These are the stories that played in my mind in that long pause as I read the words “Wild West Route.” I was deeply grieved to see a route with this name cross 100+ miles of my Navajo homeland. Every story I’ve read since this route was released felt like I was reading a romanticized Hollywood story about “cowboys and Indians,” but it was supposed to be about bikepacking.
Something inside of me wanted to yell, “stop reinforcing colonial narratives on sacred land.” You see, names aren’t always intended to cause harm. This route was set out to be about experiencing the land through bikepacking. But the fact is, words that are rooted in colonialism can make their way into the everyday language and how we think. To prevent harm, words and biases must be critically examined and Indigenous peoples intentionally included or engaged in discussions. It was clear the “Wild West Route” triggered something much deeper beyond some catchy words. This name conveys historical trauma, forced cultural assimilation, and a legacy of colonization that aimed to eradicate Indigenous peoples all together. I grew up near Monument Valley. My grandpa and I would go there often to visit my grandma in her hogan. I would listen to stories as she wove many rugs. I realized from a young age how much this place meant to my Diné people and our culture. People often ask me, “where’s that?” I do my best to give them geographic references and they still look at me puzzled. I finally tell them, “you know the place that appeared in all those western movies?” Immediately they nod their head. It grieves me that a beautiful and powerful place, such as Monument Valley has become narrowed down to an iconic symbol for Western cinema. It’s clear how stories, even Hollywood stories can impact the way we relate and think about the land and the peoples Indigenous to the land.
Names of routes are no different because words are what make up the power of narratives that impact our relationships to anything, anyone, or any place. I want to challenge the cycling industry to do better and be more intentional when it comes to names or words used in routes, cycling events, marketing slogans, and products. Words are powerful because they can either perpetuate Indigenous erasure or promote inclusivity of Indigenous peoples and their experiences. Unsure at first where my conversations would end up about the problematic name of the “Wild West Route,” I am glad to say they eventually led to more productive conversations, and the decision to change the name of the route.
The 2020 election is just 2 weeks away, and voting is ongoing in many states already. Over the past 4 years, the United States has been subject to leadership that has rolled back environmental protections and exacerbated social justice issues that negatively impact the health of the nation, the landscape of the U.S., the global climate, and the experiences of bikepackers.
We ask that you vote in this election; all races are important to bring leadership around the U.S. that will lead the country toward a socially and environmentally healthy landscape.
Below, we share some of the issues relevant to all bikepackers that your vote can impact.
Use your vote to elect federal and state officials who will bring Indigenous leadership to land management.
The reduction of numerous National Monuments in 2017 was one of President Trump’s first major attacks on the environment and the American people. President Obama’s 2016 designation of Bears Ears National Monument marked the first time in history that a National Monument was created in response to the voices and advocacy of the Indigenous groups who call the landscape home. The language of Obama’s Presidential proclamation that designated Bears Ears National Monument took a step toward building more inclusive land management practices by including the voice of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition in collaborating on the National Monument designation and management. The language recognizes that Native Americans still use the land today and acknowledges that Native presence isn’t just a historical fact - it’s a present-day reality of the diversity of the United States.
A critical step toward rectifying Indegenous erasure and colonialism is centering Indigenous voices and perspectives in land management. Bears Ears National Monument was a step in that direction, but that was undone by President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke.
Bears Ears is on the ancestral lands of the Hopi Tribe, Diné (Navajo), Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, and Zuni Pueblo. Artwork above by Renee Hutchens.
Use your vote to elect federal and local officials who will recognize and address the devastating legacy of uranium mining on the people and landscape of the Colorado Plateau.
There is a long history of radioactive contamination from uranium mines across the Colorado Plateau. The toxicity of uranium has caused extensive illness and death across Native communities in the Southwest. Many communities located near abandoned uranium mines have also been directly affected by groundwater contamination, and this is not a historic issue - it is very much a current one! After a legacy of uranium-caused cancer, birth defects, and death across Navajo Nation, it is unacceptable for a uranium mine to be negotiated just outside Grand Canyon National Park, where contaminated groundwater will poison the water source of the Havasupai people.
Use your vote for roadless areas in National Forests, backcountry experiences, and the Traditional Homelands Conservation Rule.
The Roadless Rule is a conservation tool to protect National Forests from road development that comes with extractive development such as logging and mining. Just last month, President Trump stripped the Tongass National Forest from the protections granted through the Roadless Rule. Not only is the Tongass the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, it provides critical wildlife habitat, resources on ancestral lands to 11 Native tribes, and world-class recreation, but the amount of carbon dioxide the Tongass can sequester makes it critical in combating climate change. None of the tribes recommended a full repeal of the Roadless Rule, and around 95% of public comments opposed complete exemption.
Unlike more restrictive conservation measures, the Roadless Rule allows for mountain biking and winter grooming in conjunction with natural resource protections. Trump’s undoing of the Tongass protection by the Roadless Rule is threatening in setting a precedent for future undoing of the Roadless Rule. In addition to the ecosystem and climate services of undeveloped forests, roadless areas provide bikepackers with more remote, less-developed backcountry experiences - a value bikepackers in our 2019 Bikepacking Community Survey highlighted as an important part of the bikepacking experience.
The Tongass National Forest is on the lands of Tlingit and Haida. Photo above of mountain biking in Idaho's Lionhead Roadless Area (photo by Will Stubblefield).
Use your vote to elect federal and state officials who will take action to address climate change and bring Native peoples into co-management of forests and wildfire.
The western US has seen record-breaking wildfire this year. Wildfires across most western states have had devastating impacts on communities, watersheds, wildlife habitat, air quality, and recreation. Healthy air, water, ecosystems, and human communities are vital to the future of the West. Climate change is undeniably contributing to these increasingly widespread and severe fires - drought, beetle infestations, and record temperatures. Coupled with climate-related factors, more than a century of fire suppression has led to unprecedented fire-prone forests that are often choked with overgrowth.
Co-management of forests and wildfire between state, federal, and Tribal leaders offers the future of the western landscape a glimmer of hope. Indigenous peoples have been practicing ceremonial and traditional burning to mitigate extreme wildfires and cultivate desired plants for harvesting and attracting game. After 200 years of banned traditional burning, allowing tribes to return to their ancestral lands to practice controlled burning is an opportunity for co-management of forests.
The Karuk and Yaruk tribes in Northern California have partnered with the Forest Service to manage lands for traditional purposes concurrently with wildfire management. This is just one example of Indigenous/Federal collaboration in land management for the future health of the landscape.
Photo above of 2020 wildfire aftermath along the Arizona Trail (photo courtesy of Arizona Trail Association).
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), Blackburn Designs and Bikepacking Roots announced a new partnership that establishes a bikepacking curriculum and traveling gear library for NICA student-athletes and coaches. Bikepacking Roots is providing the on-trail expertise and Blackburn is providing the funding and bikepacking kit for 20 riders.
“At Bikepacking Roots, we’re passionate about facilitating human-powered adventures in wild places and reducing barriers to those sorts of empowering experiences. I’ve watched the remarkable transformation new bikepackers go through in just a handful of short bikepacking trips, and I couldn’t be more excited to partner with NICA and Blackburn to create such an opportunity for kids across the United States,” shares Bikepacking Roots executive director, Kurt Refsnider, Ph.D.
The curriculum for this new bikepacking program will be created by Bikepacking Roots' education team, led by Kaitlyn Boyle, M.S. Boyle has more than a decade of experience in adventure education and curriculum design and has taught for Prescott College, NOLS, and Outward Bound.
“We’ve been looking to get more involved with the future of bikepacking for the past few years,” said Blackburn marketing manager Dan Powell. “This partnership with NICA came up after the release of a video project ‘Wild Virtue’ we sponsored, and we felt like this was the opportunity we’d been waiting for. We’re very proud to be working with these two organizations.”
Stay tuned for more later in the summer of 2020 as this partnership develops and begins getting kids out on the ground for their first bikepacking adventures!
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Bikepacking Roots is the only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, advocating for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride, and creating professional routes. We value human-powered experiences and an inclusive, engaged, and informed membership (6,000 strong) that makes a positive impact as we adventure by bike.
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