Hucking in the Beehive State|
Monday, September 06, 2004
|Photo by Mike Calabro|
|Is this enough air to win...|
Instead of "the beehive state," perhaps Utah should be called "the four-letter word state." After all, it is one of only three states whose name is a four-letter word. Its capital, Salt Lake City, consists of three four-letter words, and any mention of the state is typically followed by a flurry of four-letter words. What better place to hold a free riding competition called the Shit Talkers Showdown? Or, maybe not.
The event was mostly inspired by two local riders from Moab who had been bragging around town about their riding skills. Aaron Day, who is good enough to have been the only local rider to compete in the Red Bull Rampage, had recently been claiming that the Guinness Book of World Records was going to document his attempt of a world record 92 foot cliff jump near Green River, Utah.
Unfortunately, he says he broke his bike the day before they were to arrive, so the jump had to be postponed. As if that wasnít inspiration enough, another local, Squeaky Bike Mike, was overheard at a local bar claiming to be the best rider in town only seconds before falling off his bar stool and landing on his face. Alas, The Shit Talkers Showdown was born. Or, was it?
Actually, this event was doomed from the start. Maybe it was because the event was a competition which centered on another four-letter word: huck. In fact, the motto of the competition could have been "Go Huck Yourself!".
The object was to huck yourself and your bicycle off of the most impressive and dangerous rock formation possible. Word of the event had spread throughout the free riding community, and many well known riders were rumored to be interested in competing. It was scheduled to be held at Bartlett Wash, just outside of Moab on Bureau of Land Management land. A competitive use permit from the BLM was required to officially hold the event, but it was denied because of concerns over safety and environmental damage. The BLM owns and manages about 42% of the total land in Utah. Last year, revenues collected from uses of BLM land in Utah topped $80 million. This permit would have cost $80 or $4 per contestant, whichever was greater. This was not exactly a potential windfall for the BLM. They could surely do without this annoyance and possible liability.
Hucking is inherently dangerous, and the BLM, being a government agency, must be particularly sensitive to the safety of its constituents. There is a pamphlet somewhere that says they have to. However, the environmental protection aspect of their argument is laughable. While they and everyone else should be legitimately concerned about protecting sensitive cryptobiotic soils which exist in the surrounding area and throughout the southwest deserts, it seems that they measure their concern against a ruler with dollar signs on it. After all, Moab is a Mecca for off-road ATV enthusiasts who destroy sensitive soils at a rate only dreamed of by bicyclists. Furthermore, the BLM has recently (Bush administration) been bending over backwards to accommodate 52,000lb thumper trucks trampling across cryptobiotic soils and rocking the desert with 64,000-pound bursts of pressure in an effort to seismically probe the substrata for oil and gas deposits to be donated to various Texas oil tycoons. These trucks leave huge ruts in the soil, which take decades to recover, and the BLM has actually been sued multiple times for not only allowing this but helping to cover up the extent of the damage.
|Photo by Mike Calabro|
|Letting it rip ...|
Yet, somehow, they consider jumping from one rock formation to another on a bicycle particularly destructive to the soils that do not even exist there. I can only assume that this is because the competitive use permit required for this particular competition would not have even come close to paying for the wages of officers assigned to protect the contestants from themselves.
News of the lack of a permit scared away most of the riders, but a core local group was determined to hold it unofficially. About 50 riders showed up along with at least 8 BLM officers. There were signs posted stating that anyone who rode in the contest would be arrested. Rather than staging a 60ís style protest and ending up in jail, everyone told the officers that they were just there to ride their bikes, which is not yet against the law. Ironically, the officers had been handcuffed by their own bureaucratic regulations. Because there were no applications to fill out or a predetermined course to ride, it did not qualify as a competition as described by BLM guidelines. The officers suddenly found themselves transformed from terminators into paid spectators.
Notably absent among the riders were Aaron Day, Squeaky Bike Mike, and a few other well known riders who were rumored to be coming. There was no official winner, but a local named Monty Henry was pretty proud of his run: a trials hop onto the mushroom followed by a sweet drop off the side. No one had ever pulled this off before. However, in my opinion, and that of most of the contestants, the winner was actually a dog.
While some riders were scoping out a drop, Roxie, the Wundermutt, found an ever bigger drop right next to them. She was easing herself along a cliff line when everyone started yelling in fear that she was going to fall. She panicked and almost slipped then suddenly pointed, launched, then landed a sick 25-foot vertical jump. The landing was far from graceful, and everyone who saw it was shocked when she shook it off and began wagging her tail. She walked away with a bloody chin.