The Dark Divide: Cycling, Conservation & Indigenous Sovereignty

December 6, 2022

barry lachapelle
barry lachapelle

Call me nuts but I’m not a huge fan of bikepacking videos. They tend to make something very special to me way too available and many seem to repeat common themes with minimal fresh perspectives. Of course, this is a close-minded blanket statement and I probably need to evolve my opinions a bit. A couple of days ago when my buddy Salty Beard sent me a video called The Dark Divide and a note that simply stated “this is on the to-do list”, I knew I had to check it out. And I am so glad that I did.

The Dark Divide (from Mercator Films and Evergreen Gravel Racing) is a 30-minute video that will keep you learning and interested the entire time. It follows 10 cyclists from Olympia, Washington to Portland, Oregon over a 330 mi (517 km) route. At its core, it is a bikepacking video sure, but it feels like so much more in many ways. 

The video is cut with interview scenes of Kris Peters the council chair of the Squaxin Island Tribe, the local indigenous peoples along the route. Kris’ voiceovers are a sober reminder of how the indigenous people who lived in the area for millennia were forcibly removed and resettled from their own lands. At one point, Kris makes a fantastic point that recreation is a 'missed opportunity' to bring together conservationists, the government, local tribes, and people into one discussion. He says, “in today’s society, everything has become a resource and some people will continue to use it until it is gone”. The video then cuts to clear-cut mountain ranges that I have seen way too many times here in British Columbia as well. Fuck, humans are arrogant.

The bikepacking parts of the video manage to capture the joy and emotion I have felt so many times being on my bike in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it’s so vivid through this video as our little island is very close to the route and the terrain is similar. One quote that summarizes bikepacking so well for me comes from Ben at 12:24… "I'm feeling so fucked up mentally and physically right now but there's no place I would rather be". I give the team props on this route (RWGPS here) they set out on. It is a lot more than simple gravel roads. At many points, the group is bush-whacking through the snow and pushing through some serious elevation in the dark. This is not a route for the faint of heart and may be something you wouldn't want to tackle solo.

This is some world-class storytelling and filmmaking. Take 30 minutes and go on a trip.