Such an opportunity came my way recently, or at least it appeared to.In early June, we had just posted the new Zephyr and I had been away from the canyon country for way too long. So I headed west to my hideaway in San Juan County. My plan was to avoid the computer altogether and get back into the red rocks. There were a few secret places I hoped to re-visit.But on June 3rd, I foolishly fired up my PC anyway. Waiting for me was an email from a man I had never heard of, Rob Story. He said he was a Zephyr “longtime listener/first-time caller” and his inquiry took me by surprise. He was contacting me on behalf of BIKE magazine, of all things, and was, in fact, its founding editor. Now he was putting together its 20th Anniversary Issue. Story made an offer that appealed to me on a couple levels. He wrote:“I assume you might have ambivalent feelings toward mountain bikers, but we’d really like you to contribute to BIKE Magazine’s 20th Anniversary Issue. We want to run a short feature on how Moab has changed/improved/Mormonized/
A few weeks passed and I’d heard nothing more so I sent Story an email on June 26. “Can I see a final edit before it goes to press?”No reply. Still, for reasons that now escape me, I trusted Story enough not to worry. Finally, more than a month after I sent the finished piece, an email showed up. He wrote, “There have been many changes with this Moab story.” Story explained that, “While I thought your first draft was solid, the other editors here at the magazine didn’t like it at all. They said, somewhat predictably, that it was way too anti-bike for an issue that’s dedicated to celebrating the past two decades of our sport. I eventually agreed.”Story apologized (I’ll give him that) but completely caved to his younger co-editors. “The other editors wanted to kill your piece altogether,” he wrote, “ and assign it to another writer, but I denied this request.” If he wasn’t in control to begin with, I wondered, how was he able to “deny” anything? For the first time he explained to me, “Not sure if I mentioned this before, but I’m only guest editing the 20th, not working here full time.” While Story didn’t seem to have much use for his younger peers (he called them “mawkish and gooey.”), they won him over to their point of view. Their perspective, he explained, “doesn’t jibe with the piece you submitted.” Instead, Story took a working vacation to Moab himself and in his words, “cobbled together a new piece that uses a few hundred words of your original copy.” My story was to be called “Oh for an Insuperable Moab,” a reference to a poignant passage by the 19th Century writer Henry James that describes the way America was destroying itself, even then.
Indeed a week’s worth of work had been hacked to pieces. Entire paragraphs vanished. In my version, I explained the transformation of Moab in the late 80s and the pork belly housing boom that followed, when mountain bikers came to Moab to ride and left town the next day, owning four homes for less than $100K. DELETED.
My story began like this:
“Welcome to Moab, Utah, the “Mountain Bike Capital of the World. Adventure Vortex of the Universe! The Adrenalin Junkie’s Dream Destination! Wanna a take a ride? We’re spending millions to make your biking experience more pleasurable.”
When Story was done, this was the opener:
“Moab had already begun dominating mountain bikers’ daydreams when this magazine launched. Indeed, we featured the ninth Canyonlands Fat Tire Festival in Bike’s first issue. Even then, in 1993, Moab was so internationally renowned one had to wait behind brightly plumaged Germans wearing roadie jerseys on the Slickrock trail—easily the most famous path on the planet, then and now.”
I talked about the impacts of recreation and tourism on the land and included this quote from the Grand Canyon Trust’s Bill Hedden: “Industrial-strength recreation holds more potential to disrupt natural processes on a broad scale than just about anything else.” And how Greens had caved to the tourist dollars. DELETED.
Story came up with fluff like this:
“These days, you don’t even have to pedal to see that recreation has transformed Moab in ways uranium mining never could. You can tour the town with Moab Trolley Tours. You can sip Uintah Blanc at Castle Creek Winery. You can get a hot stone massage at Spa Moab. In addition to the expected bike rentals and tours, there’s also Moab Mountain Bike Instruction, which offers private lessons for just $100 per hour! We don’t know anybody who would ever pay for such a thing.”
He added little factoids like:
“According to a Colorado State University study, mountain bikers annually add $8.4 to $8.8 million to the small town’s economy. The study, released in 1997, showed that the average mountain biker stayed four days in Moab, along with 2.74 other friends. Whether hotel-dwelling gourmet or brown-bagging camper, each Moab rider spends about $200 there.”
Had I known BIKE wanted factoids, I could have provided a plethora. For example:
* An average home that sold for $30,000 in 1985 now fetches close to $300,000, making home ownership for people of modest incomes virtually impossible.
* In St. George, Utah, according to the Census Bureau, for every dollar generated in tax revenue per housing unit, each house consumed $2.70 in municipal services. Similar comparisons in the Yampa Valley, Colorado and the Madison Valley in Montana produced similar results.
* According to the American Farmland Trust, for every dollar paid in property taxes, the average U.S. urban resident uses $1.36 in public services, while the average farm uses only $.21 in similar services.
* A 2005 UN report reveals that “ tourism’s contribution to global warming was estimated to contribute between 5% and 14% to the overall warming caused by human emissions of greenhouse. By 2035, tourism’s contribution to climate change may have grown considerably.”
In the original essay, I explained the latest insult to the canyon backcountry, as a small core of Moab bike activists push to construct more single-track bike trails into wild country where no trails had existed. I described the new $10 million “Moab Hub” and the “Elevated River Bikeway.” The outrage turned to mush in the article:
“Still, mountain bikers can be fickle. Once incredible trails began popping up in other parts of the Four Corners (like Sedona, Cortez, and Fruita, to name three of the finest networks), riders started grumbling that Moab may enjoy the best sandstone riding anywhere, but it could use more singletrack.”
The backstory on the Elevated Bikeway disappeared altogether. Rob Story made one concession; perhaps the most obnoxious line in the ‘new’ piece was his absurd declaration:
“The next time someone tries to tell you mountain biking hasn’t helped Moab, laugh in his face.”
He removed the line, at my insistence and left a few of the more aggressive passages from the original. Specifically, he allowed a quote from the 19th Century novelist, Henry James, to remain. It was key to the essay and, in fact, summed up the story nicely. James wrote:
“You touch the great lonely land, only to plant upon it some ugliness (and), never dreaming of the grace of apology or contrition, you then proceed to brag with a cynicism of your own….I should owe you my grudge for every disfigurement and every violence, for every wound with which you have caused the face of the land to bleed…
“Oh for an unbridgeable abyss or an insuperable mountain.”
Now, the finished product was just plain weird. While the byline indicated the piece was co-written, it read like an essay at war with its own conscience, throwing out cheerful platitudes one moment, while grieving over the town’s loss of identity the next. As Story reminded me, it was “too late” to make changes, so all I could hope was that, at the very least, readers would come away bewildered and confused.
I thought the editing was over. I never again heard from Story or the other editors about the content of the essay. I assumed Story’s revision would at least make it to hard copy. But again, I was wrong. Without discussion, his younger, “mawkish and gooey” peers went to work with their own red pencils.
The Henry James quote, the key to the story, vanished. Other lines were deleted. Any references to Disneyland comparisons were chopped. Key words were altered. In the end, 90% of the ‘hard stuff’ in my version was deleted. A few lines slipped by their editing fingers. My guess is, either they didn’t understand the comment to begin with, or perhaps found no issue with an idea that would make some of us recoil in revulsion.
The concluding paragraph in the final cut was still a line I wrote:
“The Moab that preceded the mountain-bike phenomenon is gone. The old timers don’t really blame the bikes, or even the riders. They are merely conveyors of a consumer culture driven by an insatiable thirst for the next big thing—the next boom. It’s an American story, repeated again and again.”
Of the 1641 words I submitted to BIKE, I would hardly have expected them to find that sentiment any more palatable than the others they cut. And yet, maybe that’s the point of all this.
In their minds, is it possible that a “consumer culture, driven by an insatiable thirst for the next big thing,” is something to be desired and not loathed? Despite all that’s happened to Moab, you can still, it’s true, “sip Uintah Blanc at Castle Creek Winery”…and…”get a hot stone massage at Spa Moab.”
Is that what really makes a true community? Sad to say, in their minds, it is.
A couple of postscripts—first you’ll be hard-pressed to find the final, sanitized version of my story. BIKE Magazine is available in print where you can find it (it’s the “20th Anniversary” issue), but is not accessible online except via a paid online subscription. Editor Rob Story said it was unlikely BIKE would be interested in promoting the piece on the internet. And in the print edition, it’s buried in the back, on page 128.
(Copyright laws prohibit me from posting the version that appears in their magazine. However I retain the copyright on the original story and it is posted elsewhere in this issue.)
Despite the fact that my original version was gutted and turned mostly to mush, apparently Moab’s mountain biking elite are not pleased with the final edit. Some of the more outspoken members of “Trail Mix” have expressed displeasure with the piece, suggesting that since I don’t live in Moab anymore, I have relinquished the right to offer an opinion. Of course, they promote an industry that is 95% fueled by people who don’t live in Moab either. At least I put in my 30 years.
Finally, a couple of readers have already grumbled that since I was paid for the story, I have no right to complain about the changes.Obviously, I disagree. I took the assignment with the assurance it would be allowed to stand as I wrote it. If a painter submits a work for publication, gets paid, but then finds that the editors have graffitied his artwork with obscenities, does the artist have the right to object? Of course he does. I have already been contacted by the editor of a regional newspaper who asked why, in effect, I had sold out. She was relieved to learn I hadn’t. That’s why I felt compelled to tell the story you’ve just read and to offer the unedited, unsanitized original version–“Oh for an Insuperable Moab.”
To read the PDF version of this article, click here.
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