If you've done any bike touring in the last couple of years, you've probably noticed that a lot of the California Hike/Bike campsites have been moved, restricted, or closed.
The two reasons given for this are budget cuts and problems with transients. I won't argue either of these points now, even though I have a lot to say about them.
But there's something wrong with the attitude that many California state parks employees have towards bike tourists. In my travels this week, it seems that every time I pull into a state beach on my bike, the people in the kiosk roll their eyes and act as if I'm a drug-addicted, homeless serial killer. Or at least a nuisance.
This really hurts because I'm a member of the California State Parks Association, I volunteer for eco-restoration projects in the parks, and I'm constantly telling everyone how much fun it is to tour the California coast by bicycle and camp out in the state parks.
Worse still, a lot of the bike tourists I meet are from other countries, and this might be their overriding impression of the United States, and of California in particular. What are we telling them about ourselves?
It used to be fine to arrive at your campsite in the early afternoon and avoid the heavy coastal winds. You could unload your bike, set up your tent, and then hit the beaches, the town, or the hiking trails.
Now most places won't let you set up until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. It's like you can only eat and sleep, but you're not allowed to enjoy the park itself. And that's not all.
When I registered at a certain campground, the ranger took it upon himself to remind me that I can only stay for one night, there's no alcohol allowed, and check-out time is 9 a.m. As I set up my tent he came by to double check that I paid the fee, and reminded me again of all the rules and policies.
As I left Pismo Beach, the woman in the kiosk demanded to see my receipt, asked me the number of the campsite I had stayed in, and wanted the names of the other people who had been there.
This suspicious attitude might be reinforced by the bad behavior of a few bikers, and possibly one or two real problems. But I suspect it's an attitude that people have overall towards bikers.
A lot of people still think that if you choose not to travel by car it means you can't afford to and that this automatically makes you a moocher, or worse.
The truth is, I've spent a lot of time picking up beer cans and other trash left behind by the "normal" people. I've seen car campers exhibit some of the worst behavior you can imagine, while us bikers quietly went about our business.
A few days ago I even watched an angry woman yell at the ranger and demand a refund because it was raining.
I've been having a great time this week, with some amazing experiences. But when I sit down to write, this anti-bike bummer is what comes to the front of my mind. Here are a few things I wish the state parks employees understood about bike travelers:
- We're generally quieter, cleaner, and leave our campgrounds in better condition than the typical visitor
- We're environmentally aware, and chances are we give a lot of our time and money to the park system, either directly or indirectly
- We help the economy by spending our travel budget at local stores, restaurants, bike shops and other businesses
- A lot of us are bloggers, reporting our experiences to the world