By Chris Vargas Executive Director of the Warrior's Society
Pictures by Mary Huth and Darin Maxwell
This year has been one of great highs and great lows. I will never
forget the lowest point I reached at this year's Vision Quest and
Counting Coup; the difficulties presented by the record rains of
2004-2005 truly made me question my commitment to continue with these
events - and my commitment to put myself and my family through the
stress that begins months before them. I am truly grateful for the
support of Warrior's Society members who carried me through this time of
temporary despair as well as the love and support of my wife and son.
Although the Vision Quest and Counting Coup were indeed a trial for
me; I was heartened by the support of those that did finish these events and
expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to do so. Because of what
Mother Nature dealt us this year the Counting Coup and Vision Quest were
indeed events that tried the endurance of the participants - and all those
that supported the events as well.
I was also heartened this year by the willingness and passion of club
members to step forward with Visions of their own. One example of this was
Tim and Sherry Panttaja's creation, organizing and running of the Switchback
6-Hours of Orange County. This was the most successful new event we've
ever promoted - and Tim and Sherry deserve all the credit for their
Vision that resulted in its success.
In hindsight I have learned a lot in the past year and can now truly see
God's grace in putting me through it all. It was a year of reflection of
not only the future of the Warrior's Society, but my future as well. It
is not only our events that have presented a challenge for me, but also the
weight of responsibility to protect the mountain bike community against the
extreme anti-access wilderness and forest plan proposals of the Sierra Club,
the Center for Biological Diversity and their allies in the environmental
I beg your patience with my unyielding aggressiveness in defending our
access against the anti-access fanatics in the environmental movement - and
ask that you also look to the future...
I often question my commitment to continue, and at times have considered
stepping down; but I am driven to seek a Vision, and what better Vision
than to encourage others to achieve, through our events and through
leadership in the Warrior's Society - accomplishments they never thought
I am constantly reminded that on my shoulders lay the survival of the
Warrior's Society; and by default the defense of mountain bike access in
the Trabuco District of the Cleveland National Forest. I expect no thanks
for my involvement because it is in my nature to fight any access policy -
not based in reason - but based instead on fanaticism. For now, with your
support and advocacy, we have won the battle against the extreme anti-access
policies of the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and their
allies in the environmental movement.
Many people over the years have thanked me for our events and advocacy, and
I remind them; none of it would be possible without my fellow club members
and our passionate volunteers. Fate places me as the leader of the Warrior's
Society - and at times it has been both a blessing and a curse - but as this
year has proven I have found purpose and acceptance in both the good times
All I ask is that those of you who support the Warrior's Society
understand the accountability that comes with this acceptance. I must
not only address the present, but the future as well.
And this accountability does not only apply to the Warrior's Society,
but to my responsibilities to my family and my self-preservation as well.
It is indeed a delicate balance, and I have come to realize that it is
not only by fate I am able to accomplish it, but also by grace and the
shared Vision off all those who by their sacrifice of time have fought
passionately beside me - and not behind me.
But I am tired; like Chief Joseph I have paid a mental price for fighting
over the last 5 years to protect our freedom from the radical anti-access
wilderness bills and forest plans advocated by the Sierra Club and the
Center for Biological Diversity that would have banned us from our four
National Forests in Southern California. I wish I could say "I will fight no
more forever" but I know this not to be true; but for now - I will enjoy the
I have come to realize there comes a time when a Chief must stand upon a
hill and watch others Count Coup; that is not to say I will not lead,
but I will not deny the opportunity for others to lead and "count coup,"
nor deny them recognition for what they have accomplished by their passion
But I warn the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and their
radical anti-access allies in the environmental movement; my lance, arrows,
bow and war paint are not far away...
In the totality of our trail and riding events I have attempted to achieve
two Visions; to challenge others to achieve goals that they never thought
possible and to protect our freedom to responsibly access our public lands.
I have no quarrel with this responsibility, for I have chosen it by my own
free will. But as I previously stated I am tired of this fighting; I must
find Warrior's committed to shore up our defenses as the enemies of our
freedom to responsibly access our public lands regroup. Our events and trail
work are the key to the future protection of our access as well as the
future of mountain bike culture.
Starting this year I have delegated a lot of what I do to others and will
promote them as being responsible for whatever success the Warrior's Society
accomplishes in 2006.
Sherry Panttaja has stepped up co-lead the Society as Event Director
allowing me to focus on trail work and advocacy. She has the passion, Vision
and drive to do so. James Sladeck has also stepped up and will be director
of our Down Hill Course Construction and Events. In 2006 Our Adult Race team
will be captained by Brian Blair and Eric Williams and our Jr. Race team
will be captained by Matthew Nourmohamadian. Keith Eckstein will continue
serving in his capacity as our Trabuco District Trails Manager with the
assistance of Ken Rands and Lare-Dog; and Joe Lopez continues his reign as
our event support Communications Guru.
And I am very grateful to have Barry Wood as our dedicated web master and
chief graphic designer. Many others have stepped forward to lead our
trail construction at the Flying B as well as our trail work. It is my
hope to temper my involvement with the involvement of those helping to
lead the Society - for they will truly be the forces that lead the
Warrior's Society to success in 2006.
We have also initiated a new requirement of volunteer hours for nomination
into the Warrior's Society and to retain membership. For a person to be
considered a nominee they must contribute a minimum of 64 hours of volunteer
time at our trail work or riding events. Existing members must contribute a
minimum of 32 hours a year to retain membership. Some have questioned these
requirements as being exclusive; but as I explained to them - I beg to
The Warrior's Society of the plains Indians, on which we are based, demanded
more than the time of their members; they demanded they be willing to
sacrifice their lives to protect the tribe - and it was an honor to due so.
In deference to the advancement of civilized society - I have not demanded
anyone give up their lives to live up to the standard set by the sacrifices
of the Warrior's Societies of old; all I have asked for is the commitment of
a set amount of time to be considered members and to retain membership.
To be a Warrior demands sacrifice; to expect anything other than that
diminishes the sacrifice of those that came before us. To expect nominees to
sacrifice 64 hours of service to the public to be considered for membership
does not express exclusion, but commitment; those that lead this club
volunteer at the minimum 3 times that amount of time.
Those on the club council have all committed far more time to advance
mountain bike culture and advocacy than most club members, it would be
much easier to defer leadership and accept the minimum demands of
membership - yet they are willing to go far beyond the minimum; they
accept the additional sacrifice and responsibility of leadership. They not
only stand beside me, they are willing to go beyond me to advance our goals
of protecting our access and the culture of mountain biking in Orange
The club council sacrifices a lot to maintain our trails and also protect
our freedom to ride them; it is their sacrifice of time that determines the
base level of commitment of new club members and existing members.
It is not a question of exclusion or elitism; it is a question of commitment
to protect and maintain our public trails for the greater good.
A standard must be set; I understand that mountain biking is bliss to
many - a path to escape from the mundane life we often lead. But unless
we have those Warrior's willing to sacrifice their time to defend our access
and mountain bike culture this bliss will be but a memory. To expect a
minimum of 64 hours a year of sacrifice to be considered a member of the
Warrior's Society and 32 hours of sacrifice to remain a member is not too
much to ask of a Warrior.
Ignorance is bliss and the majority of mountain bikers seek escape in the
sport of mountain biking as well as bliss from the demands of life; but this
ignorance and bliss will be our downfall. Ultimately the reality of life and
the policies that control our access will catch up with us - unless there
are those willing to sacrifice their time for the protection of the "tribe."
That is why the Warrior's Society exists, and if it were not so, I would
find my leadership in the Warrior's Society nothing but an exercise in
futility and not of purpose and Vision.
And I find no greater inspiration than that set by the example of Jesus, the
reason many celebrate Christmas, who sacrificed not his time - but his life
- for the salvation of mankind. I also find inspiration in the hero's in our
armed forces who are putting their lives on the line fighting for the
freedom of the citizens of Iraq; what we do in maintaining the trails pales
when compared to their sacrifices.
I have come to realize that in all things I am bound by Gods Grace and not
by my frailty of faith - that often times leads me to the depths of
despair; I find this my greatest solace.
I am truly grateful for your support and I wish you all the best in 2006. It
is my hope that both fate and the grace of God combine to make your year one
of learning, discovery and accomplishment.
It is also my hope that in 2006 you experience the bliss of sacrifice for
the betterment of mankind; for that is the true and honorable purpose of a
Ya Ta Hey
AKA "Dances With Hornets"