Modern roughriders take the trail!

Area Hummer enthusiasts find a new route from the distant suburbs to Downtown

A Hummer sport-utility vehicle speeds down the former American River Parkway bike trail, no doubt en route to an important meeting at the state Capitol. Bicyclists and joggers have been banned from the trail.

A Hummer sport-utility vehicle speeds down the former American River Parkway bike trail, no doubt en route to an important meeting at the state Capitol. Bicyclists and joggers have been banned from the trail.

Photo Illustration by Larry Dalton

“I can’t believe this,” the wiry, well-manicured man with the red Gary Fisher road bike muttered.

The incredulous cyclist was leaning against the frame of his bike, glaring at a padlocked levee gate on a dead-end street off American River Drive. Through the chain-link gate, a forest-green Hummer H2 could be seen fishtailing past what used to be Mile 11 of the bike trail, headed toward downtown, a massive dust cloud trailing in its wake.

It was the first unseasonably warm Friday morning of late winter, and the fair-weather bicycle enthusiast was looking forward to his maiden ride of the season—a nice jaunt up past Folsom Dam, then down to Old Sacramento and then back to his starting point just upstream of the Watt Avenue bridge. He’d made the same sojourn many times every spring, summer and fall, weather permitting, since he moved to Sacramento in the late 1980s. Now he was squinting through a gate at a cloud of dust. Momentarily, another Hummer H2 raced by.

“This just …” He stalled, grasping for the right word. “This completely sucks.”

Indeed, area bicyclists were quite shocked at the beginning of the year, after the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors announced that there no longer was enough money to keep their beloved American River Parkway open to the bicycling and jogging public. Surely, someone would juggle some numbers and find enough spare cash to keep the parkway open, cyclists believed.

And when a February 10 deadline passed, and rescue did not materialize, the bikers were crestfallen.

Meanwhile, another group was quite energized.

Out in the newly tamed wilds east of Folsom, where developers jam steroid-enhanced stucco impressions of Thomas Kinkade cottages into newly gated enclaves among the sun-baked hillsides and savanna, one of the most popular vehicles found parked in the driveways of the area’s nascent McMansions is the Hummer H2. The large, overly square General Motors sport-utility vehicle has become a status symbol in the capital—especially among the corn-fed young political staffers who have blown into town since late last fall, taking their cues from the new governor, whose heroic victory lured them here. For them, driving an H2 is a fresh, counterintuitive middle-finger salute to that hoary old California cliché, environmental protection.

So, when the county announced it was closing the American River Parkway to bicyclists and foot traffic, area Hummer enthusiasts saw a golden opportunity.

“Highway 50 sucks ass,” one of them, a pink-faced Pillsbury doughboy look-alike in a gray Brooks Brothers suit, sneered from the pilot’s seat of his dusty black H2. The driver, a 30-something political operative who would only give his name as “Franz,” said he recently moved to suburban Folsom after the recall and found that sitting in stop-start traffic while commuting from home to his office near the Capitol was an extremely frustrating experience. He was desperate for an alternative. “So, one night, I was talking with some other Hummer owners,” he said, “and someone came up with the idea of taking the parkway downtown instead.”

After several meetings at a private brewpub, where plans were drafted for the exclusive four-wheel-drive commuter use of the parkway, and then after an executive order quietly but quickly slithered its way through the appropriate channels, the parkway soon moved from fantasy to reality.

“It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” Franz said. “Highway 50 commuters will find that traffic now moves more quickly, and those of us with Hummer vehicles get to take a new, more adventurous route to work.”

Some of the new group of four-wheel-drive commuters wanted to rename the parkway “the Schwarzenegger-Hummer Interurban Throughway,” in honor of the governor, but Franz and a few other cooler heads were able to convince them that such nomenclature might not be a good idea. “First, the proposed name’s acronym is slightly problematic,” Franz said. “And, second, even though many of us appreciate an in-your-face gesture, sometimes it’s better to fly under the radar with something slightly more benign, something that won’t inflame the opposition.” Hence, the old parkway now will be known as the Folsom-Capitol Trail.

The Hummer H2, which might prove P.T. Barnum’s dictum about unsightly vehicles and the people who buy them—if Barnum had cared about cars and trucks.

Photo Illustration by Larry Dalton

Although the original proposal for the new throughway included the Jedediah Clampett Recreational Trail, an area under federal jurisdiction that runs from Folsom Dam down to Nimbus Dam at Hazel Avenue, that section was abandoned—for very practical reasons. The pathway gets very narrow along a length of mud cliffs east of Lake Natoma. “We didn’t want anyone going into the drink,” Franz said, “especially because some of our people can be quite aggressive in their driving habits.”

So, instead, the new trail begins at the fish hatchery, on the south bank of the American River just west of Hazel Avenue. Hummer drivers pass through a gate, manned by private security, and proceed west toward downtown.

The drive is bumpy but relatively uneventful. A few chokepoints still remain—“the passage under Sunrise Boulevard can get a little tight,” Franz stated—but other problems have been eliminated. “There was a nice little forest between Miles 18 and 19,” Franz said, “but it proved to be too hazardous to drivers. So, we brought in some timber-removal specialists, who widened the passage.”

A similar area in what used to be Goethe Park in Rancho Cordova had its forest acreage improved by the judicious removal of offending trees and foliage. But the Hummer owners did not waste any of the resulting lumber; it was donated to one of the area’s private golf and country clubs, which will build a new clubhouse and party deck with the wood.

Just past Mile 14 at Goethe Park, the trail crosses the American River. The bridge eventually will be widened, as will another bridge near Mile 3, which connects the trail with Midtown. The money for bridge and trail improvements most likely will be transferred from atrophying state programs that won’t need the funding, such as higher education, or health programs for needy senior citizens.

Because there are certain logistical problems—the trail is too narrow at points to accommodate two-way traffic, and Hummer drivers tend toward the kind of uncivil, self-centered behavior patterns that require extensive (and expensive) policing—it was decided that traffic would be one way only. From dawn until noon, traffic on the trail moves west; after closing for an hour, it is reopened at 1 p.m., with the direction reversed, until dusk.

After a week of test runs, three major problem areas developed. First, because the Hummer owners decided that the presence of law enforcement was a violation of libertarian principles, it was agreed that all traffic disputes would be settled by the involved parties via early-American-style duels—with the survivor responsible for the decedent’s immediate interment near the point of his demise on the trail, and the notification of his family afterward.

Second, although the Hummers have large gas tanks that can be filled outside the trail area, convenience is important. Rustic-style “petrol depots” will be situated at two-mile intervals along the trail, as soon as the construction agreements can be sorted out between Bechtel and Halliburton, the two corporations competing for the no-bid contracts to build them.

And third, the area’s large indigenous wildlife population, specifically mule deer, feral cats and squirrels, was found to present a hazard to drivers. Such decomposing “roadkill” might have developed into a real problem, until one of the Hummer owners decided to open a fashionable theme restaurant, Unkle Snuffy’s Varmint Shack, in a converted warehouse on the new R Street corridor. The eatery, slated to open by midsummer, will serve West Virginian and related Appalachian cuisines and is targeted to cater to inebriated young professionals and other “hipster” types. (Until Unkle Snuffy’s opens, any driver whose vehicle runs over any unfortunate animal is encouraged to deliver the meat to a walk-in refrigerator that has been rented downtown or to store it in a freezer at home.)

Though the Folsom-Capitol Trail appears to be a success, not everyone is enamored of its existence. Bikers and joggers, for example, remain livid. However, another group is amused by the Hummer drivers’ antics.

“Those damned Hummer H2s are a joke,” remarked a Jeep enthusiast who calls himself Rubicon Bob, pointing out that the $50,000 vehicle is, mechanically, a Chevrolet Suburban with uglier sheet metal. “You wouldn’t drive your wife’s Suburban to work on the American River Parkway, would you?” he asked. “What makes you think your manly-man H2 is up to the task?”

The longtime Jeeper pointed to a video (viewable as a Windows Media video file at in which a Hummer H2 tries to navigate a mountain dry wash and snaps what appears to be a tie rod in the process. “Yeah, the old bike trail isn’t as demanding as some higher-elevation climbs,” he said. “But it’s still too rough for something that’s better suited to going on grocery runs to Raley’s. Not a good idea to use an H2 as your daily driver on the trail.

“Wait a month,” he added wryly. “We’ll be driving our Jeeps in there to tow those dead Hummers out.”

The Hummer drivers, however, angrily dispute those allegations. “I’ll put my Hummer up against any piece of DaimlerChrysler crap,” Franz snarled. “Ask ‘Rubicon Bob’ about the time my good friend Arnold and I took him to the hospital—after we found him wandering naked at Lake Natoma, claiming that ‘grays’ from Zeti Reticuli installed a top-line Blaupunkt audio system in his rectal cavity that was playing Hootie & the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View CD on permanent repeat. We drove him there—in a Hummer. Ask him about that!”

According to Franz, that incident happened last April 1, exactly a year ago from today.