Like many of you I wear different hats in life. Sometimes these various hats all align perfectly and at other times they seem to be at odds with one another. Case in point … I’m an urbanist. I teach on urban studies in the classroom on the university campus. Any yet I’m a mountain biker and even that an entrepreneur on some level having started Loam Coffee with nothing but a dream, a passion, and a lot of sweat equity. For years I’ve thought long and hard about how these seemingly disparate worlds even coexist together. There’s the part of my who wears flat-billed ball caps with plaid shirts and the other part of me in dress pants, a sports coat, and dress shoes (even with combed hair). With that said, more than ever before these two worlds are colliding.
My podcast line-up on my app on my iPhone at first seems random and disconnected. Some days I listen to The Urbanist and other days I’m listening to Front Lines MTB or the MTB Podcast. Since one of my loves and passions is tied to community economic development I’ve been more tuned into topic than ever before. I see it and read it all of the time in regard to cities, but more and more I’ve become acutely aware of how this plays out in rural areas. It is at this point where we can and should seamlessly insert mountain biking into the equation.
I understand most mountain bikers are like me. We live in cities. For example, there are 4 million people who live here in Oregon. There are 2.3 million people in the Portland metro area. Outside of that most people in Oregon live in cities like Eugene, Salem, Medford, Bend, and so on. That means there are more mountain bikers in cities than throughout the rest of Oregon. They (or we) live in hip lofts in the city center as well as mid-century ranch homes in the suburbs and everything in between. One of the questions I think about constantly is “how do city-living mountain bikers relate to both wilderness areas and rural settings?” What role or responsibility do we play in the hinterlands? Or are trails merely amenities to be consumed and experiences or thrills to be had? Is there more? If so, then what?
Each year in a class on urban cycling I teach we look at a Ted Talk by urban planning professional Jeff Speck. He makes the argument that in reality conservationists and environmentalists should be pro-cities and pro-density. There’s a poignant comment he makes when he states … “If you love wilderness area then stay out.” Not “stay out” in the sense of never hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, camping, etc, but “stay out” in the sense of cities (i.e. suburbia) sprawling farther and farther out. That to be true environmentalists we need to support urban density. Why? So we can preserve these wild places. Sprawling cities chew up valuable farm land and wilderness areas.
Every weekend city-living mountain bikers escape city life to far-flung places around the region. But that’s a great thing and to be celebrated. Get out, enjoy, ride hard, and support local economies while we’re there. Then at the end of the day drive back to the city and thus keeping wild places wild. The point? You can be pro-mountain biking, pro-environmentalism, and pro-cities all at once. They are not paradoxical nor at odds with each other. In fact, they actually do support and uphold one another.
What’s the point in all of this? The tension I’ve felt for years between my love of both cities and wild places are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are really part of the same conversation. People who live in cities need access to wilderness areas. Wilderness areas need people to not move into them. Paradoxical? Possible? Clean cut, nice, neat, and tidy? No, but it doesn’t have to be. Tension can be and is a good thing. Enjoy everything about city life. Enjoy everything about wilderness areas. You can love both (and should).
Words and photos by Sean Benesh, Loam Coffee Founder and Brand Manager.