I try not to be too political and I rarely if ever view my own personal political views publicly because I feel you will never change the opposite views mind, so why fight and argue? This morning though I woke up and like many American’s asked myself, “what have we done?” We just put in place a new President who could give a rat’s ass about the general public, the working class stiff, women, people of various races and the environment. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised really I mean GW won two elections, because you can never really underestimate how angry and racist many in the country are, whether openly or privately, there is still a lot of angst, fear, sexism, and racism that rules most people’s views.
What did surprise me though was the experiences I had politically this year while walking from one border of the US to the other. While politics and religion are two things you try to never discuss on trail or in town, the long days with your hiking partners does a lot itself to having some deep philosophical discussions and with an election year like this it was inevitable it would come up at times.
I walked with two Germans and they were appalled at the fact that this country would consider electing Trump. More than once a comparison was made to their old leader Hitler, and I think they could give more perspective than anyone. You see they understood that someone could rise to power by preying on the fears of the masses and use a mixture of racism and poor economic conditions to rise to the top as a logical choice for some. While Hitler blamed the Jews, Trump simply used the Mexicans and other immigrants as his punching bag, he talked of lost jobs and rising health care, and how we had lost our way and embraced a platform of Xenophobia last seen in 1930’s Germany. They gave cautionary warnings that all of our flags and banners, anthems, and patriotic songs are exactly what led to an Austrian being able to rise to power in their country’s history.
The three of us would talk of the holocaust, and they told me how the movie Schindler’s List was a great thing because it let their country heal and talk about its dark past. They explained to me that their generation more than any is resolved to never repeat such atrocities and that as a nation they understand blind nationalism leads to bad things. They warned me of a rise of Trump, but one thing they agreed is if he won the worse thing anyone could do is leave this country or just roll over. You see they feel that if more of their people had stood up and called BS on what was going back in the 1930’s, maybe some of the atrocities could have been avoided or at least mitigated. However many fled for safety in other countries leaving behind masses who would tow the party line.
As I walked north through communities in NM, CO, WY, MT, and ID that had populations smaller than my local grocery store before a snow storm, people in town and at trailheads would ask us about our thoughts on the election. We would all shy away from saying much, but these folks in rural America all shocked me when they started bagging on Trump. Not one of them supported him, even the Vietnam Vet with his ATV and .44 caliber on his hip, he really shocked me when he called Trump, “America’s Hitler”. From town to town and community along the way the message was the same from these folks, “Why does anyone think that a billionaire from NYC gives a damn about who we are or our needs?” Maybe I was lucky and just met a lot of enlightened people, or maybe these folks who work so hard each day to scrape out a living on the hardscrabble land they lived in got it, that no one that wealthy was putting their needs first. Just think how many stops did either candidate make in places like Lima, MT or Reserve, NM?
You see I set out on the CDT to not just walk through beautiful places and rugged terrain, I walked the length of the US to reconnect with America and the communities I passed through. The whole purpose of the National Scenic Trails Act was to preserve wild places and provide a path for people to take that would connect them to the communities along it. It’s a nice way to see parts of this country you never see, and I relished in visiting local museums, taking part in town events, and yucking it up with the locals whenever I had the chance. The Divide connected me to a part of US I didn’t know and restored my faith in humanity and the US.
Now the question each and every hiker, hunter, fisherman, skier, kayaker, paragliders, mountain biker, and outdoor enthusiast must ask themselves, “What does this mean for us and our wild places we love to use and roam?” Well, it doesn’t look good for us. In the past couple of years, or so a few folks in DC mainly led by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT 1st Dist) have been waging a war on federal land. They stoke the fire of Sage Brush Rebellion, thinking that federal lands controlled by the BLM, USFS and even NPS should be turned over to states to manage. They have proposed revising the Wilderness Act of 1964 to allow Mountain Bikes and other things like exploratory mining. This to me is just the start of war soon to be waged against our public lands.
I think we will see less protection in place for wild places, sweeping sell-offs of our Natural Resources to the highest bidder. Trump has already stated he thinks we should limit the reach of the EPA, invest more in domestic fossil fuels and that global warming is a myth. Ask anyone in East Glacier if Global Warming is a myth, while we sit here arguing if it’s a real thing in this country glaciers are melting and the rest of the world is trying to figure out how to deal with the very scientific warming of our earth.
As a lifelong lover of the outdoors and wilderness, this morning’s news only made my resolve to protect our nation’s public lands that much stronger. I will continue to assist organizations with advocacy to protect public lands, preserve forest and keep the Wilderness Act of 1964 just the way it is. I will stand up and fight for what is right, not shrink away to Canada or Mexico or where ever else people considering fleeing too. I’ll stay right here and be heard, and be the change to protect our public places so that others after me will have the opportunity to go on a long walk in the wilderness and embrace the small communities along their way. Don’t give up America!, be pissed and be the change, write to your Senators and Congress Members, tell them to protect our public lands as they were the greatest gift granted to us By folks like Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir.
While many will you tell you now is the time for our country to heal, the realist in me says, “nawh never going to happen, we are way too divided.” Now is the time more than ever to stand up and fight for what you believe and fight for the places and land you love to use. If this was a boxing match the bell just tolled from round one and we are still standing, so get ready for a fight upon round two because whether you are from one party or the other, I bet you use public lands for recreation and you better start paying attention before there is a drill rig next to Old Faithful Lodge.