Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign? – Five Man Electrical Band


The morning had been damp and cool with low hanging fog in the valleys, but as the sun struggled to break free from the grip of the horizon my perspiration dripped a steady staccato onto the top tube of my bike as I pedaled through an area near Ramona, CA.  I was exploring a new section for the route of the Palomar Puzzler that I am trying to organize for later this year and the heat of the day was starting to build.  Checking my GPS at a junction, I headed down a dirt road to a point where just around the bend I expected to be united with what appeared to be a sweet looking fire road that linked up with National Forest land.  This road would eventually take me through a canyon and back up to the town of Julian on another fire road.

I was already feeling a bit frustrated as my earlier attempt to enter this area had been thwarted by a barbed wire fence along a public road that (according to my map) lay on public land, so I was hoping that this road would lead to where I needed to go.  But instead of pedaling into miles and miles of twisty riparian goodness I was instead suddenly confronted by a locked gate as I rounded the corner.  Bolted to the gate was the all too familiar sign of the times: Private Property: No Trespassing.

I thought about jumping the fence.  From where I stopped I could see the road cross an open field to where my map told me lay the National Forest boundary.  The road then began to snake its way up into the canyon beyond.  My sanctuary was within reach as within 2 or 3 minutes after jumping the fence I’d be on the consecrated ground of public land again.  Like an East German in cold war Berlin waiting for the searchlight to swivel the other direction, I stopped to consider what I should do.

California has clearly become the land of the “No Trespassing ” sign.  Be it in the more affluent coastal areas with their gated communities or here in the cheaper-to-live, more arid grasslands that dot the foothills of the mountains, access to public land has become more difficult over the years.  True, some  of these restrictions are warranted.  Many people simply do not respect the land upon which they tread and scatter beer bottles and trash all over the place.  More dangerously, others inadvertently set the tinder-dry landscape alight with sparks from stray target-shooting bullets or hot exhaust.  In fact the very area I was in was overrun during the massive fire outbreak of October 21, 2007 that burned nearly 200,000 acres and ran almost to the sea as it threatened to wipe out large areas of San Diego before the winds died down.  Maybe restricting access is the only way to save what little remains of the California dream, to protect it from itself.

Of course that is only part of the story and there are many more responsible users of our open spaces than those who are negligent and undeserving.  I neither litter nor do I set fires, so why do I have to suffer due to the actions of a few?  That’s a simple argument to make, but I must admit something else was bugging me as I stood beside the road sweating bullets and contemplating jumping that fence.  Especially since this was what I believed to be a “legal” access point to the National Forest and was my last chance before I would be forced to take a long detour in order to get to the next section I wanted to ride.

As I scoured the open ground between me and my freedom a realization began to form in my heat-addled brain. While the area in which I was scouting has a totally different feel from the more affluent areas along the coastal strip that try to restrict access to the land, there are similarities.  True, we all get annoyed by those rich people bottling up all the choice land: the tracts that contain the “view” homes (on what used to be prime singletrack) with the ornate gates and signs announcing that you are being watched on security cameras etc.  Not that I like it, but I’ve come to expect affluent people to want to keep me out of their little private nirvanas.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house, “Hey! What gives you
the right?”

What I began to realize is that this “country” area near Ramona pockmarked by smaller, more modest homes while much different, is still surprisingly similar to the snobbier, money laden estates along the coast. Everyone wants to lock up their little corner of the world. Incongruously (and this is not meant to bash those that feel they are loyal to the ideals upon which the United States was founded), this area also seems to contain many that blatantly advertise themselves as freedom-loving, God Bless America,  flag waving, “don’t tell me what to do with my life” patriotic types that cherish their life in the country.

While I do not begrudge them that right, it seems everywhere I go nowadays there are quite a few residents that feel they are entitled to stringing barbed wire up across what are labeled on maps as public roads in order to restrict access to public lands only for themselves.  Is it their right to restrict access to people based solely on their proximity to the National Forest? Of course not.

Granted I’m loosely basing my stereotype-laden observation of this area on the many pickup trucks and cars I had seen sporting bumper stickers espousing certain political inclinations that had dusted me earlier that morning, but I think the shoe (or cowboy boot) fits – and people are people no matter where they live or how much money they have.  Sadly, this attitude is clearly not a Cowboy vs. City Dweller issue and has become an overriding opinion of what passes for freedom in the “me” generation.  The prevailing opinion has become “there is freedom for me, but not for you. Why? Because your freedom bothers me.” That’s not how it works.

Back sweating in the dust confronting the No Trespassing sign, I was nearly 100% certain that the gate I was staring at had been strung across a public access point near the National Forest by local landowners to restrict people from using this area as a though-route near their land.  They just don’t want people intruding on their peace and quiet and feel that by doing this they will reduce traffic. They feel entitled to keep people out of public land in order to preserve their idea of freedom.

I really wanted to jump that fence but didn’t.  Being a law-abiding citizen I instead took one last longing look across the narrow, forbidden valley then disconsolately swigged a few drops of water before pedaling back the way I had come.

About a half mile later two men in flannel shirts and wide brimmed cowboy hats came shuffling up the road in the opposite direction raising a small cloud of dust as they carried some posthole digging tools.  “Good morning” I said in a friendly voice.

“This is a private road, dude” the lead cowboy replied like a character in a Spicoli western. I momentarily slowed to start a conversation, but decided it was futile as he walked right past me without casting an eye in my direction or breaking stride. I continued riding without uttering a word.

To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here he’d tell you to your face
“Man, you’re some kinda sinner”

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