For five years, I was a competitive cyclist—not competitive against Lance Armstrong, but I trained for hundreds of hours a year, joining a community of amateur athletes that spent more money on bicycles than cars. It was a thoughtful community. Certainly part jock, but also part philosopher: probably because on long rides there’s little to do but debate and think. Over the years, cycling became a big part of my identity.
Then at a race I received a flyer denouncing protections for California’s wilderness. People I’d known for years were claiming that wilderness protections were discriminatory because mountain biking isn’t permitted in wilderness, thus excluding mountain bikers.
But I believe that I am more than my bike; that my identity cannot be confined to any one activity that I conduct.
You see, during this same period, I hiked the John Muir Trail, covering all 211 miles of its wildness alone. I explored canyons, watched wildlife, and just hiked along, discovering who I am.
But because most of the trail is protected as wilderness, I was away from my bike for three weeks. If I were to view the value of wilderness only from my perspective as ‘cyclist,’ then I might not be able to get past the fact that more wilderness means fewer places to ride.
But I am not my bike. I am also attorney, brother, professor, lover, Chaldean, and many other things that can’t be captured in a pithy perspective. Wilderness nurtures each of these other parts of me.
There are things we can’t do in wilderness, but in wilderness is preserved not only the world, but also ourselves: it provides opportunities to explore portions of our identity that the civilized world is too busy or callous to care for.
If I allowed cycling to subsume my identity, I might view wilderness designations as a restriction of my personal freedom, and demand that wilderness be redefined. But I’ve learned that the restriction in this relationship is not imposed by wilderness, but by constructing a singular identity. Such a constrained view of self threatens wilderness, degrades who we are, and impedes our ability to be truly free.
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