I got the chance to ride off road for a day. My friend and I went up to Nemadji state park. We park near the Duquette general store. They have good food made to order in the deli. They have good gas at the pumps (premium with no ethanol) that’s price at or below what you pay in the twin cities. But best of all, the people who work there are very nice and friendly. On this trip we went in for some BBQ sandwiches before we rode into the park. While we were paying for our delicious breakfast, the woman behind the counter asked if we would like a map of the Nemadji trails. I love maps, so I said yes.
The map’s a bit crude, but we used it to find lots of single track trails that are so much fun to ride on a dirt bike. Some of them we had stumbled onto on past expeditions. Others were new to us. It was a great day of riding. We had cool, but sunny weather. The leaves on the trees were just changing over to their fall colors and our bikes were running great. Both of us had taken the Dirt Bike Tech class a month ago and we were working on implementing what we had learned. Even my rudimentary brain was starting to understand the teachings of Troy and Doug. I was feeling pretty good.
We started to notice that damage to the trails was, sadly, quite common. Most likely caused by Sand People. If you’ve ever seen the movie Star Wars, there are some people, the Tusken Raiders, who wear hooded robes and goggles. In the movie, they are called Sand People. They are generally up to no good. I first ran into (almost literally) the trail riding version in Colorado. They typically ride ATVs. They don’t wear protective gear, but most of them do wear a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up and goggles with the strap on the outside of the hood to hold it in place. So I named them, Sand People.
They aren’t avid ATV riders or outdoor, camping kind of people. They ride their ATVs into beautiful places to drink beer and light camp fires. They make a terrible mess where ever they stop. Over and over again we would round a corner of the trail and see beer and soda cans heaped beside a dead camp fire. I presumed they burnt the rest of the garbage in the fire. I’m not sure why they set fire to the log home style shelters that are built at major trail junctions in Nemadji. Perhaps they didn’t know what they were built for? In their ignorance they lashed out in fear at the mysterious beings who put them there? Without the protection of helmets or riding gear, they must make sacrifices to the twin gods of Cooler and Ice that they carry around with them. It might be fire that appeases them, so the beer keeps flowing and the blood does not.
What I don’t understand is why the Sand People try to destroy the trails? If there is a low spot that’s damp, they churn away with their ATVs till it’s a bottomless bog. Mud seams to over excite them. The are compelled to fling it about like monkeys in a zoo throwing poop at their evil oppressors. Is it the trails they hate? Or is it the other people who have to follow behind them or the caretakers that have to clean up after them?
Just who are these Sand People that have no regard for others? Why do they put obnoxiously loud exhaust pipes on their bikes and ATVs? Who rides into a beautiful park like Nemadji and tosses their trash on the ground? How do we teach someone that is so self obsessed and oblivious to common courtesy about trail edict when they set fire to buildings? Can’t they see that some of the trails are closed due to the damage that they’ve caused? How many Sand People will it take to close down all the trails?
Before I go off the deep end and tell you what I’d like to do to the Sand People, I’m going to calm down and share with you one courteous thing you can do next time you go trail riding. Many of the trails are two way. That is, even though the trail may only be four feet wide, people maybe coming at you full speed from the other direction. Forget that it may be a drunken shelter burning mud flinger for the moment. For this tip, we will assume that you are riding in a group of three people on dirt bikes and the person you meet on the trail is the first of a group of four ATV riders. If you are paying attention and are aware of your surroundings (unlike the Sand People), you should catch a glimpse of the oncoming traffic through the trees. If you don’t, you most likely will be startled by the sudden appearance of the ATV coming right at you. Either way, slow down and indicate how many are in your group, so the other rider will be aware of how many people are behind you. If you don’t want to fill your pants with ammo for the monkey versus human poop throwing fight at the zoo, be AWARE and use your hand signals.
To signal the oncoming rider, hold up your hand and indicate how many riders are behind you. You being the first of three riders, would hold up two fingers to show that there are two more riders behind you. The ATV rider coming from the other direction, would hold up three fingers to signal that there are three more ATVs behind him. You don’t have to give a head count, just show how many bikes or ATVs are behind you. Each subsequent rider would indicate how many are behind them. The last rider in the group should hold up their fist, indicating that there are zero riders behind them.
May the gods of beer and fire protect us from the Sand People.