There’s armchair quarterbacking and then there’s me watching one of my favorite cable TV shows, Survivorman. The show chronicled the survival adventures of a single Canadian outdoorsman, Les Stroud. He’d get dropped in a field or on a mountain or on a glacier or some less-than-hospitable locale with maybe a few ounces of peanut butter, a multi-tool, and a passel of video equipment, and then he’d film himself surviving for a week: eating raw witchetty grubs in Australia or half-rotten fish in Alaska, drinking Amazonian river water, and sleeping in a vine hammock to keep the biting ants off him. I loved to watch it on my overstuffed couch with the A/C on while pigging out on Jell-O and potato chips. Anyway, in one of the episodes, he’s literally marooned on a desert island and goes beachcombing to see what survival goodies he can scrounge. He finds all sorts of killer stuff, like sheets of plastic to keep the rain off him, bottles in which to boil water, fishing line, and other things of which he makes use.
The pessimist in me wanted to cry foul. “That’s all planted for the show. The producers put that there. Artifice! Fake! Bah, humbug!” But the off-roader in me knew better. The sad fact is, no matter how far from civilization I get, there’s human trash aplenty waiting to greet me. Most often it’s bottles, cans, granola wrappers, plastic energy gel packets, and small stuff. Sometimes it’s pieces of broken coolers, empty propane bottles, and expended shotgun shells. Still, other times I’ll find pieces of broken U-joints, taillight lenses, motorcycle plastics, and bigger stuff. And even smack in the middle of nowhere when I’ve gone shooting or ’wheeling I’ve stumbled across old water heaters, refrigerators, and even burned-out abandoned or stolen vehicles. Who does that? I mean, I can see a bottle accidentally falling out of your pickup bed or scattering a U-joint and not being able to find all the pieces in the dark, but really—who puts a refrigerator in the back of a rig and then drives it 15 miles from the nearest pavement to dump it? Wouldn’t it be a lot less work and a lot less illegal to just visit your local transfer station to dispose of it properly? But before I get sidetracked in a whole diatribe about “some people,” I’ll just offer up these words of advice to my fellow off-roaders, most of whom are already very responsible stewards of the outdoors. No matter how you choose to visit nature—on foot, horse, bike, motorcycle, 4x4, airboat, or spacecraft—just remove more than you bring. Even if you can’t pack out everything you find, many trailheads or markers along famous trails have collections of broken parts other off-roaders have arranged into makeshift sculptures, which for some reason I find much more palatable than a scattered mess of parts on the side of a trail.
Most of us already attend clean-up days put on by clubs and organizations, during which certain areas are targeted and scrubbed, but even if you never participate in something like that, just grab some trash that’s not yours. You don’t have to get it all. You don’t have to rent a crane and a hoist and a dumpster. Just pick up a piece here and there. It’ll help. It matters. It makes a difference. Whenever I’m out shooting, in addition to collecting all my own brass I always wind up with a few shotgun shells and casings others have left behind. Heck, I’ve got brass in my garage from calibers I don’t even own. And whenever I’m ’wheeling, I add a few pieces to my garage collection. I’ve got a pile of bomb fragments from Johnson Valley, U-joint straps from Moab, patina’d propane cylinders from Arizona, motorcycle hubs from Glamis, and other assorted stuff from across the country. Maybe one day I’ll weld them all into a little eco statue. But as off-roaders, we have a unique ability to make more of an impact because we can handle more volume. Toss some big stuff in your bed or run a receptacle like one from Trasharoo and pack ’er up before you hit the trailhead for proper disposal. Unfortunately, not everybody cares about keeping our public areas open, so keep doing your part along with the part of those less scrupulous. Keep up the good work, keep fighting the good fight, and, if your club or organization runs a clean-up, please share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org .