Diversion Diary – Know Your Place

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Hannah’s partner, BK, lives in the USA, and lockdown has kept them apart. Each week, she brings us some lonesome ramblings, plus a selection of internet finds. This week she’s looking at the land beyond the trails.

As much as I enjoy the adrenaline rush of a purpose built mountain bike track, for me mountain biking is more about exploring and the places it takes you. I like to meet new people and take the whole sensory spectrum of new sounds, smells and sights. For me, it’s hard to get the full local experience if all you ride is a trail centre or bike park. I want to see what the local soil is like, how the weather has shaped the landscape, how the plants differ from the ones back home.

My preference then is for more natural trails, ones that have evolved over time, with different purposes throughout their history. That might make for routes that are less rideable, less high in stoke, less flow and more effort, but for me that’s worth it.

But what of that history? What, or who, brought these paths into being? How much time do we spend learning about the people that came before us, or live there around the trails that we drop in to visit?

30 Days of Biking Packhorse Trail know your place
What made anyone go to the effort of building this, here?

All of this goes to set the scene: places have history and culture, and sometimes knowing them can make us a better and more considerate visitor. Many of the customs of indigenous peoples have developed in harmony with nature around them – like an original permaculture or sustainability. Just as (I hope) you wouldn’t go riding through a colony of ground nesting birds, or do trails style tricks off gravestones, knowing a little of the local history and culture can make our visits impact on communities in a more positive way. And on the flip side, experiencing a bit more of the world away from the bike trails might make our experience richer.

This week then, we’re doing a brief tour of some corners of the MTB world, looking a little closer at our connection with the land, and at the things you might have missed while you seek out your adrenaline rush.

Know Your Place

We don’t normally encourage you to go and read other bike media’s sites, but these two articles are so good that I think you should read them. First up is an interview from February this year which illustrates why I am a total Alexandera Houchin fangirl, and also that the controversy over the ‘Dirty Kanza’ gravel race was ongoing long before its founder was dismissed for comments about police violence last week. The second is a recent article, which I think nicely demonstrates how we can change our stance once we learn how something feels to someone else. Even if something isn’t intentionally hurtful or offensive, doesn’t mean we have to continue doing it once we know that it is.

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As most of you know by now, we made the difficult decision yesterday to mutually part ways with the founder of Dirty Kanza. On behalf of all of us and our organization, we are truly sorry for the hurt and emotional distress the events of the last few days have caused. Our cycling community is very diverse, and it’s one of the key factors that make us so unique and strong. At the same time, we stand by our decision as a company and by our vision and values that aim to ensure that everyone is accepted and supported. Those visions and values do not have a place for racism, prejudice or discrimination. We are committed to taking action to ensure these values are upheld and continue to be centered in our work both as a brand and as an event. Most of all, we are committed to listening, learning and continuing to grow. As an initial step, in the last few weeks, Life Time has launched a Diversity and Inclusion Council. This council will allow us to act and put intentional focus on changes we need to make internally so our company, clubs and events are a place for everyone. In addition, we have been working throughout this year on options for a name change. Our event name wasn’t created with ill-intent, and while we have worked with and received support from the Kaw Nation, we also understand that our name should not cause hurt. This process does take time, and we want to make this change in the correct manner. Please know that we will share progress as we work through this process. Actions speak louder than words, and we are committed to putting in the continual work to establish long-term, sustainable changes. As a leader in gravel cycling, we are also committed to being a leader in diversity within the cycling community. We acknowledge we have work to do in this regard. We are open to hearing your ideas and encourage you to share them with us. Change is never easy but it is necessary as we continue to grow and spread the joys of gravel with an even broader community. As the community of gravel grows more inclusive and diverse, it will become even more remarkable. With respect & gratitude from your DK / Life Time Team, LeLan, Kristi, Michelle, Treva and Kimo

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If you want to know who lived somewhere before you, or before you rode there, then this website maps some of the land and languages traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples across the world.

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The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler aims to preserve, grow and share the traditional culture of the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations. This video demonstrates the traditional healing uses of a plant that those Singletrack readers who don’t have perfect lawns may well recognise. Handy for mountain bike mishaps perhaps? If you explore the centre’s website, you might notice that the written forms Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh and L̓il̓wat7úl – these are the written forms of the language, that was developed in the 1970s to help preserve the traditional languages. It’s this from which bike clothing company 7MESH takes its name.

It’s worth watching this video to understand the importance of the land to the culture, history and present lives of the Squamish and Lil’wat peoples. What might they think of heli-biking, or gondolas, or international travellers from around the world coming to ride and ski in this landscape without a thought for the landscape that gives them the adrenaline hits?


Long before Moab was a mountain biking Mecca, it drew people from a wide area as it offered the only crossing point of the Colorado River for many miles. It’s probably no surprise that neighbouring Arches National Park was seen by some tribes as as place of portals in space and time – the whole area is pretty spectacularly other-worldly.

If you keep your eyes peeled you can spot petroglyphs on the canyon walls around Moab. Not so much ‘art’ as a means of communication, these are drawings chipped into the rock (painted ones are called pictographs). The rock is certainly not soft, the images would have been carved out with stone tools, and many of them are huge. I wasn’t sure whether to weep with sadness or scream with anger at the sight of some that had been used as target practice.

Fort William

If you wonder why the land around Fort William is so sparsely populated, look to the Highland Clearances for your answer. If you want a more in depth analysis of this time, check out In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg.

The Moth

Veering slightly off the theme, but it’s my column and I love The Moth, this is a story of reconnecting with your culture and ancestors. Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone’s story illustrates how traditions can be lost through repression, and the importance their revival can play in the sense of self and community. I highly recommend checking out other Moth podcasts, there’s a great variety of personal stories – dramatic, tragic, and funny.

That’s it for this week. In theory, next week should be the last Diary before BK gets here. Though with travel bans and quarantine rules popping up all over the place, I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much as I don’t know how I’d bear having them dashed. But if he does get here, I’m really looking forward to exploring my local area with the help of a fresh pair of eyes, and pausing to ask what forces have shaped the landscape around me.

If you want to explore the trails around Singletrack Towers, check out the Classic Ride in the current issue of Singletrack.

Catch up with the love under lockdown Diversion Diary:

Comments (7)

    Looking at the virus spike in the US I get the impression that BK will be a lot safer over here. FIngers crossed it all works out on schedule for you guys.

    Thanks @eddiebaby Safer here but far away from his family who are in hotspots right now. It’s not quite a lose/lose scenario but it’s not a good one.

    Thanks for the Alexandera links, much appreciated.

    The world needs more, much more, like her.

    You’ve pretty well hit on the reason I ride mtbs.

    To get into interesting places.

    As ever, I am amazed by how much effort is put into these diaries and how little I know. Thank you for enlightening me a little more this week. What an amazing and inspiring person Alexandera Houchin is.

    I do hope BK makes it over and that all is well back home so he can enjoy his stay without worry, although I think if I lived somewhere governed by DT, I’d be worried even if there wasn’t a global pandemic.

    You’ve set the bar pretty high this week, Hannah; I don’t know how the season finale can top it. No pressure 🙂

    Excellent stuff Hannah, thank you! Not so much biking related, but I’m reading the book ‘The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot’ by Robert Macfarlane at the moment and it gives a fascinating history of many of our paths – would recommend it!

    @daverallye Yes! I have virtually no memory for books but I’m pretty sure that’s the one that talks about the hollow ways? I need a holiday so I can work through the books I have by my bed – having worked with words all day I struggle to read in the evening. I have Hugh Warwick’s Linescapes sitting waiting for me, among others.

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