Sunday, March 2, 2014

Continuum ...

I've been pretty bad about updating this blog so far this year, but as most of us (everywhere) know, it hasn't been exactly a ride-friendly winter. My training regimen has been basically just a lot of swimming, some yoga, and recently, some gym workouts at my new gym, Nex Level. All in all, it's been a lemonade-from-lemons kind of winter. Since this is more or less a cycling blog, there really hasn't been all that much to report this winter. I've kind of stayed away for this space for a while now but I came back to it the other night for the first time in a while and noticed something I'd missed before. Late least year, I did a post about crossing the 3000 mile mark on the SS for 2013. On Friday, I noticed a comment that had been left on that post for the first time. It read:

saw you out in the wiss satuday ruining the trails @sshat...

if you have a blog don't act like a fuckin idiot. people will recognize you and call you on your dumb@ss behavior.

The comment was made several months ago, and I'd even made a final post for 2013 a day or so after it was left, but I hadn't noticed it until just this week. My first thought when I read this was something about opinions and assholes. And part of me realizes that's really the true extent of it. I mean, insulting comments are sort of the bread and butter of the internet, right? And yet, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little pissed off being accused of something I don't believe I've ever done.

My mind went to two basic questions when I read this. On the one hand, I wondered what ride he was referring to. I ride at Wiss all the time, usually three or more times a week, so it can be a little tough to recall a specific ride this far down the line. But the post refers to a Saturday, which leads me to believe he meant December 28th. So I was able to go to myGarmin and pull my ride histories. Sure enough, there is a ride from 12/28/13. And if I assume that is the ride, there is a possibility that I can assess whether or not he was justified in calling me out here.

When I look at the ride itself, I don't really see anything that strongly supports his claim. In fact, there are two things in the report that support the opposite point of view.

First, there is a discussion in the comments between myself and my friend Josh referencing how cold the ride down from home was. Considering that, I think it's fair to say that -- at least from the start -- I had every reason to expect the trails would be solid and frozen. Of course, that doesn't imply that, as temperatures rose, the trails wouldn't soften up. (Indeed, a common practice among riders in the region -- and a typical planning element between my own riding buddies this time of year -- is to get out early so as to be done with our rides before the trails soften up.) But I think it does at least exonerate me from the intent to ride in trails conditions that were less than ideal.

But the second thing I notice suggests that conditions weren't what I would describe as "unrideable". On the ride map, notice the small out-and-back section just below the word "Glenside". That tells me that I took a trip out the Cresheim Loop on the 28th. That's a fairly new section of trail in the valley, and requires a bit of techy effort along the creek to reach it. In even slightly soft conditions, it's not a fun section to ride, and whether one cares about maintaining the trails or not, I don't really know of anyone who would choose to ride out there if there was the possibility of soft trails. It's just not worth slipping and sliding along the ridge above the creek to get there. The fact that I chose to go there suggest to me that trail conditions were solid enough to allow the trip. That leads me to conclude that, for at least the first half of my ride, I wasn't actually riding in poor conditions.

To be fair, I know that conditions at Wiss can change over from frozen to soft in sections that get enough sun when the temperatures start to climb and previous rains haven't had time to dry out. But another fact of riding Wissahickon is that there are dozens of bail-outs all over the main loop, and I always plan a contingency for a ride like the one I did on the 28th. As I've done many times before and since, had I encountered "poor conditions" as I define them at any point in my ride, I'd have simply bailed to Forbidden Drive and headed out the SRT to circle the Art Museum. That's been a standard plan of mine every winter for years. It still gives me a bunch of miles but doesn't put any trails at risk in the valley.

Ultimately, I think one phrase holds the key to all of this: as I define them. I don't believe we all agree on what constitutes "unsuitable" conditions for riding. Sure, there are almost certainly extreme instances we'd all agree on, but just as there are different conditions in different parks that define suitability (e.g., Wharton Forest is pristine at the moment while most of us have been avoiding Wissahickon for the last two months), when each of those parks are suitable to ride after poor weather is also open for debate.

If we can agree that there is a continuum of conditions in a given park -- which seems a fairly simple concession to make -- it seems reasonable to also concede that different users of that park may assess rideability differently. In the example below, a given park may on average be assessed as rideable half the time and unrideable half the time, but individual users may reasonably disagree on their individual assessments.

There is certainly conditions both Observer 1 and Observer 2 would agree on, but there is also a range over which they would not agree. Is one of them always right? Do we favor Observer 2 for his highly conservative evaluation? Or perhaps do we assume that Observer 1 has better specific knowledge of this particular park? Or do we disagree with both of them? Most importantly, do we leave room for these disagreements without feeling a need to condemn views that differ from our own?

I realize that this can be a pretty sensitive issue with a lot of nuance - the behavior of trail users now can inform the experience of future users or even impact access decisions. But that doesn't mean we all have to agree on when a trail is or is not rideable. I've been riding Wissahickon for more than 15 years, averaging about 3 to 4 rides per week over most of that time. I've ridden in every possible set of conditions, and have pulled the plug on many rides based on my own assessment of trail conditions. I think my experience has made me capable of making that decision for myself. But I don't think that it gives me the right to dictate that decision for others. If I am asked, I will give an honest opinion, but I wouldn't have the right to trash those who choose not to take that advice. And I certainly wouldn't present myself in a confrontational way, especially with people I have never met.

I think that's a big part of what bugged me about the comment when I first read it. I have never met this individual (and I don't recall interacting with anyone on the trail that day.) And yet he makes a statement (that I am "ruining" the trails) without providing a single piece of evidence to support the claim, and then implies that, because I don't share his specific view on the matter, I am an "@sshat" or a "fuckin idiot". To argue that everyone should adhere to one's own specifically held belief on a matter that could reasonably support different opinions is a form of extremism that is close-minded at best and narcissistic at worst. I realize that this is a common reality in our world today, but that doesn't make it okay. It's pretty easy to get most of our "news"  nowadays from sites we choose, and many people will gravitate toward those sites that will share their current interpretations, whether they be liberal, conservative, or anything in between. So what many of us learn and read about comes to us with a built-in slant that won't challenge our existing point of view, and that creates a feedback loop of support for that point of view. And that, I believe, risks intellectual stagnation and fosters an "us vs. them" mentality when it comes to alternative points of view. I wonder in this case if this guy even considered the possibility that I went through the same evaluation of conditions that he did and simply (and validly) arrived at a different conclusion than he did. Because the tone of his comment would imply that he did not. We don't disagree that there are situations when a trail is unrideable, only where the line may exist between rideable and unrideable. And the failure to recognize that possibility seems like evidence of a closed mind. I'm sure there are many reasons one would have to consider me an "@sshat", but I think a simple difference of opinion on where the line falls in a continuum is hardly one I'd call reasonable. I don't know if he'll read this at all and frankly I don't care. I've probably put a lot more energy into thinking about this than he ever did. But I do care about this part of my life and the places where I practice it, and it is offensive that he would either assume I didn't go through the same evaluation process he did or that I could only have reasonably arrived at the same conclusion he did. Because that's simply not true.

And with that, I think I'm done with it. At any rate, here's hoping the Spring arrives soon to let us all get out and ride instead of debating whether or not it's safe to do so. Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. i saw you cresting the monster when i was walking with my kids. i commented it was way to warm and muddy to ride you pretended not to hear me (or maybe you were honestly just to gassed from the climb to notice). it was a warm 50ish degrees when you were riding and after an overnight freeze everything had turned to soup. it was slushy with big patches of soft mud coming through in spots. you were spraying up slush and mud and it was all over your black and white kit.

    i was out with my kids and you were probably the 4th or 5th person i saw riding on a day that definitely was way to warm to be riding at that time of afternoon.

    we have never met and i am sorry if you feel the comments were rude. i still feel they were justified. and btw i feel equally bad internet stalking you but blame fatmarc. I just so happened to see your blog after seeing you out that day so i figured i'd let you know how i felt. justifed or not i'll let you decide.

    the name is max i also ride the park all the time (large red singlespeed waltworks). i just get real upset when people ride way too late in the day on days when it thaws and genereally behave like uncivilized asses in order to stretch the time they believe they are entitled to ride the park.

    sorry if i offended you; the internet is like that i guess. maybe someday we'll get to ride and share a beer together and we can talk about trail conditions and all that jazz.

    sorry to call you out, but i call em like i see em and rest assuredyou were not the only one.

    thanks for thinking about it in anyway.i'll try to be less rude and more constructive in my semi-anonymous internet shit talk in the future