A response from Backcountry Discovery Routes Board of Directors

I like to update everyone who read my open letter to the Backcountry Discovery Route Board of Directors. They reached out to me earlier today and facilitated a conference call between their board and myself.

I’ll start by saying I was a little bit nervous. While I wanted to bring attention to what had happened, I also did not want to rock the boat (too much). I hoped that my desire to focus on an ideology of “Sharing the Trail” would be what people remembered most about the letter.

I’ll also say I know managing groups isn’t easy. Managing online groups less so. Managing a network of online groups across the country with a measurable degree of consistency is not at the top of anyone’s list of dream jobs.

As I said in the letter I doubted the board had any ill intent with their recent changes. I hoped it was either an unintended and unexpected consequence of their decision to renew the focus on their target demographic (adventure motorcycle riders) or a miscommunication/misinterpretation of the what was happening within the BDR facebook groups.

Without giving a word-for-word breakdown about the conversation itself, which went really well and included a lot of dialog between various board members and myself, let me get right down to the brass tacks of it:

1. It was never my intent to defame or sully the reputation of the BDR organization. While not expressed overtly I do know my open letter ruffled some feathers. Thankfully I think the spirit of my letter being about cooperation, communication, and the ideals of “Sharing the Trail,” as well as open and responsible access was heard. I think that’s what earned me a phone call rather than my letter being dismissed. A lot of respect for them being willing to talk to me directly.

2. The BDR organization, like any organization, is run by people. ECOA is the same way (I promise, I’m not a robot). People aren’t perfect. The more people and the more layers involved the more complicated communication becomes. As such, miscommunications and misinterpretations are bound to happen both internally and externally. That’s why it was so nice to have a phone call response my letter as opposed to a written response. Trust me, my biggest fear in this kind of situation is a less-than-friendly letter from a lawyer. As I said, the call went really well and was equal parts dialog from both sides.

3. The BDR organization is “by and for” the motorcycle community. I mentioned that in my letter and it was reinforced by their board, which was to be expected. That said, their goal was NOT to remove 4×4 enthusiasts such as myself from the groups. Their goal was to renew the focus and purpose of the groups to be about the routes themselves. This is a vital channel for communicating route updates to their community of riders. The groups, collectively, had become bogged down with distracting content making it hard to share the important stuff. The WABDR facebook page had gotten so bad it had to be disbanded and rebuilt from the ground up. Understandable that something needed to be done to prevent the other pages from a similar fate.

4. The common ground between what I expressed in my letter, what the various board members had to say, as well as what the ridebdr.com website says, reflected the ideals of Share the Trail and Tread Lightly. I am remiss that I did not reference their own “Ride Respectfully” program <insert face into palm>.

Slow Down
Minimize Engine Noise
Wave to People
Don’t argue with local land owners
Don’t stop or regroup near homes
Leave No Trace
Stay on BDR track and avoid private property
Yield to Wildlife
Be discrete when nature calls
Leave gates as you found them
Don’t tear up terrain or blaze new trails
Always represent motorcyclists in the best light

These 12 ideals are something universal to anyone traveling the BDR routes and something we should all aspire to no matter what path we’re traveling. Albeit that last one needs a little tweaking for us four-wheeled enthusiasts, but you get the idea. We should make sure we’re representing travel enthusiasts in the best light regardless of their chosen method.

So now what?

Since it was never their intent to remove 4×4 enthusiasts from the group, the board did extend an invitation to rejoin the MABDR facebook group. Something I am looking forward to. I also hope anyone else removed from any of the BDR groups is able to rejoin. I also hope anyone else who felt they were no long welcome is able to rejoin and is put at ease knowing that exlcusion wasn’t their intent.

Along with this they were quick to emphasize the rationale behind their content policy shift and did clarify a few things. It’s my understanding that the ultimate purpose of the facebook groups is to be about the routes themselves. This takes a load of question traffic off their site pertaining to route details as well as people looking for fellow riders. The facebook groups serve as a way for the BDR board to disseminate route updates. With that in mind I have a suggestion:

It’s a subtle change, but hopefully one that keeps the groups on topic.
I think it’s also a little more inviting and less exclusive in calling out 4×4 enthusiasts.
Obviously a more talented graphics person needs to do better than my half-assed corrections.

A small change to the graphic that started this whole mess might go a long way into keeping the groups on target. To keep the group topics lean and focused on the routes I’d suggest not allowing any tech questions or trip reports. If someone has a question about current route conditions that’s one thing. However the pages don’t need to be crowded with the same questions about bike weight and which tire to run over-and-over again (That’s what the FAQ section is for). They also don’t need to flooded with people peacocking for likes with their trip photos/videos. A weekly or monthly announcement topic for relevant trip reports can be posted by the mods. If someone does a really good trip report it can be shared by the mods. Otherwise the emphasis across the board can be, “Keep it about the route.” Meaning the focus on details about the route itself not who or what is riding it. It’s as subtle distinction, but I think that’s the ultimate goal for the groups.

Final Thoughts

As someone who has managed forums, reddit groups, and social media accounts for as long as I can remember, I know it’s not an easy task. As I said, I don’t fault the BDR board or their staff for any internal or external miscommunications and/or misinterpretations. Shit happens. As I said, I don’t believe there was any ill-intent by the board and after talking to them I am certain of it. As far as I’m concerned it’s water under the bridge at this point.

I’d like to end with an emphasis on supporting the Backcountry Discovery Route mission. As someone who has and will continue to enjoy the routes I’m so thankful for the BDR team and the effort they put into creating and maintaining the network of routes. As a non-profit the organization relies heavily on a number of volunteers from its board to its group moderators. It also relies on product sales and donations to cover organizational expenses.

  • While the routes are free to download via their site, the easiest way to show your support is buying a paper copy of the routes along with stickers and copies of the documentaries. This can be done via the STORE button on their site. As someone who loves maps, I can attest to the quality of not just the maps themselves but also all the information on the maps that’s not in the GPX files.
  • The other way to support the BDR mission and all the great work they do (not just on the routes but also the greater cause of land use advocacy) is via the DONATE button on their site. Donated funds go to operational expenses as well as donations made by the BDR organization to land use advocacy groups pertaining to the BDR routes.

Now, let’s put all this in our rearview mirror and get back to the one thing we have in common: chasing adventure!

Author’s Note: I would like to personally thank each of the board members that took the time out of their day to be on the conference all with me. Passion is something adventure travel enthusiasts share and it’s so nice to have an organization like Backcountry Discovery Routes out there facilitating adventures for so many people across the country. It was a pleasure to talk to them and I hope to see them out on the trail at some point.