The WHAT?? Imagine being on your mountain bike, navigating a burly single-track at breakneck speeds throughout a beautiful redwood forest with one of your fellow nature/cycling enthusiasts. You both carve through several big berms, huck over a few logs, and heckle each other incessantly when one comes off and executes a hilariously epic faceplant. Halfway through your breathless ride through one of the earth’s most astoundingly glorious environments, you both encounter something that makes you slam on the brakes and come to a dead stop…THWACK! That’s the sound of both jaws hitting the ground when you both see the ridiculously gargantuan pile of plastic bottles, garbage bags, plastic candy wrappers, and those ubiquitous red party cups heaped directly in the middle of the trail.
Unfortunately, this is a true story. Last year Dave and I happened upon a mountainous pile of what was mostly single-use plastic while riding a very popular Santa Cruz trail. We both felt initial despair because we simply didn’t have the capacity to haul it all away with us on our bikes, not to mention the sadness we both felt at encountering such a ghastly sight in such a stunning natural environment. What would the eco-effective enviro-athlete do? We both took out our phones and took pictures which we later loaded up on the computer and we formulated a plan as to how to address this issue and prevent it from happening again. Whenever we see trash on the trails, we pick it up. I’ve seen Dave, who pedals like the Tasmanian devil on crank, screech to rapidly scary stops mid-ride simply to grab that plastic bottle somebody thoughtlessly tossed on the ground and stuff it in his backpack. THAT, my friends, is an eco-effective enviro-athlete! He’ll do the same thing while windsurfing (honestly, if he saw a plastic water bottle floating by the dorsal fin of a white shark I still think he’d sail right on over and pluck it out of the water while deadpanning “hey dude, this doesn’t belong here” to the curious toothy creature). Ok, perhaps I am getting a bit carried away here but my point is that being an enviro-athlete takes dedication and a genuine passion not only for the sports that we love, but for the health and productivity of the natural world that we are engaging with.
What’s encouraging is that this movement is catching on. Pro volleyball players, surfers, cyclists, runners, swimmers, etc are speaking up by the thousands in support of local beach clean-ups, trail maintenance, and numerous conservation efforts all over the world. If we are going to enjoy the bounty of nature as athletes, it’s our personal responsibility to make sure we take care not to contribute to the global pollution problem. Our actions can also have a profound effect on the up and coming generation of young athletes, and we have a wonderful opportunity at this pivotal point to serve as their mentors.
Some people ask “why should I care”? Imagine a philosophical crab, perched on its several hundred million year track record of success, disdainfully reviewing our history…and thinking the same of us.
The power of one is potent. Every superlative idea started with one individual and turned into a vast collective effort. Next time you are leaping over obstacles on your bike, paddling out into the sea on your board, or hiking through the woods, stop and take a moment to breathe deeply and relish in the gift we have been given. After that moment of silence if you happen to look around and spot something like the infamous plastic bottle, pick it up and take it with you for proper disposal. It doesn’t belong there. YOU do. “The landscape belongs to the person who looks at it” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.