Essex column: The reverie of a good bicycle commute
June 18, 2017
Colorado Bike to Work Day is next week — Wednesday, June 28.
It takes on added meaning this year because of the need to get cars off of Colorado 82 starting Aug. 14, when the existing Grand Avenue bridge closes. So Bike to Work Day is a chance, whether you ride by yourself or with a group, to find the route and just see how it goes. And, hey, you can get free breakfast.
I cannot imagine that it will be better on Aug. 15 or Sept. 8 or Oct. 10 to be sitting in a car crawling through Glenwood Springs than to be breezing along the Rio Grande or another trail, getting some exercise and negating traffic frustration.
This is not a do-as-I-say sort of column.
I love biking.
Skiing draws a lot of folks to Colorado, but I haven't been on downhill skis since my 30th birthday, oh, so long ago. I am not kidding at all, however, that one line item on the list of reasons to leave metro news in 2014 to become Post Independent editor was that I could at least some days commute by bike from Carbondale, having ridden the Rio Grande several times in the past.
I had a long test with not driving to work from 2006-11, when I worked at the Detroit Free Press and lived downtown. The walk or train ride to work let me plan, think and relax, and I discovered that not being in a car on the way home made the stress of the day drain away more quickly. I think this has to do with being more aware of our surroundings, sights and sounds, noticing other people more and being better able to be surprised.
Bike riding in western Colorado is just glorious. It's the light, the varied terrain, the low humidity, the many sunny days, the amazing views, the way the breeze feels on my skin.
It's cool in the mornings coming downhill from Carbondale, making the ride a refreshing mountain life experience. Riding to work gives me a little reminder of the chill and wonder of climbing out of a tent on a cool morning.
I've got my exercise for the day out of the way even if it turns into one of those days because of workload or weather that I don't get to ride home.
But when I do, that uphill return trip from Glenwood to Carbondale tends to quickly wring the tension out of the workday and make it easier to relax in the evening. And then there's the sun, dropping below the valley walls, still hitting Mount Sopris, creating a beacon and meditative space that reminds me how small we are, each of us equally important and equally insignificant.
You may not experience that reverie the first few times you ride, or maybe it will never be your thing. But given the imperative to thin traffic during the bridge closure and the headaches you can avoid, it's worth a try.
You don't even have to wait till Bike to Work Day.
On that day, breakfast stations in Glenwood Springs will be at the RFTA West Glenwood Park and Ride at 2302 Wulfsohn Road; at Glenwood Springs City Hall; and at Alpine Bank at 2200 Grand Ave. The stations will be open from 7-9 a.m.
RFTA will host a breakfast station at its Carbondale Park and Ride at Colorado 133 and Village Road from 7-9 a.m.
Glenwood officials point out that with last week's opening of the West Midland Trail, it's possible to ride on paved paths from West Glenwood to Carbondale — and, if you want or need, even farther upvalley. From west Garfield County, RFTA buses will be free, and you can get off on the north side of the river and bike from there.
If things go well, the trails will be busier, so etiquette is in order. Let pedestrians know that you are passing. I have a bell on my bike because I don't like to yell at people.
Runners and walkers, consider whether wearing headphones is a really great idea. (Hint: It's not.) Stay to the right; don't walk four abreast and take the whole trail.
Wear a helmet. (Little on the trail bugs me more than parents riding without helmets even if their children are wearing them. Wrong message, and think of the trauma to your kids if you crack your head open in front of them.)
As great as it is, the Rio Grande has a few dangerous crossings. In Glenwood, drivers tend to be looking past the trail to traffic at 23rd and 27th streets. The trail intersection near the FedEx terminal and the new Riverview School, which will be busier in the fall, is at an extreme angle.
Be wary and obey the signs. I truly hope you do not end up as a news item.
OK, those last few paragraphs are a bit of a downer. I do hope that a bunch of you give it a try and find even a fraction of the bicycling joy that I get out of my two-wheeled commute.
Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.