My bike ride to work is about twelve miles, each way. My usual shift is 7:30am to 11:30am, though I’ve been working late (with the boss’ permission, this time), so my ride to work is in the dark every morning, and my ride home in the early or mid afternoon. The ride there is in the dark, and the cold, and I’m not terribly observant because I’m still tired. This new ride takes up significant time, significant life, significant attention on my part. It’s fair to say that after the job, I spend the most time on my bike (at least during weeks when I’m able to ride, which has been maybe half or two-thirds of the time so far, and the rest of the time I ride the bus).
I always eat before I get on my bike, but I don’t eat as much as I thought I’d have to when I first got hired and committed to riding my bike 24 miles a day. For breakfast, I have two slices of toast with peanut butter. If I need to eat after I eat lunch at work, I just have a Luna bar or a Clif bar or some such. It keeps my belly from feeling empty and my legs from feeling buttery when I get home.
The first mile and a half is through my neighborhood. It’s full of stop signs (every other block, there’s a stop sign), and at 6:00 in the morning with dark deserted streets, it’s really tempting to just blow through all of them. But in the interest of not becoming bicycle pancake, I slow down and check each intersection. I’ve memorized parts of the road and can steer around potholes and chunks in the road without thinking about it. I turn right at the Catholic school, and left at the rec center, through the alley on the south side of the building. Past the basketball courts and the big central air conditioning units that I see kids hanging out on in the daytime. I cross the street, and for the next half mile or so, I’m on the sidewalk–the one and only place in Denver where I do this, and only because there are signs specifically instructing cyclists to use the sidewalk rather than the road (which is a thoroughfare through an industrial district and full of tractor-trailers, city buses, half-ton pick up trucks, and other heavy-duty things along with regular car traffic). The sidewalk is littered with broken glass and gravel, though not nearly as bad as the road is (thanks, guys who wait for the bus every day, and apparently can’t resist throwing empty glass bottles around). This is the one place on my ride that I’m most paranoid about getting a flat, and also the one place where I’ve never actually gotten one. The road dips down and travels under a set of railroad tracks, then slopes back up. When the weather was still slightly nice I slowed way down going under the tracks so as not to spook the homeless guy who slept on a cardboard pallet down there; the last thing I needed was for him to startle awake and hit my bike somehow. Since the cold has gotten bad he’s disappeared. There’s also an inordinate amount of pigeon poop under the railroad tracks that I try not to ride too close to. Past the tracks, I pass the Butcher Block Cafe, with its big windows all along its front side. I can see the rounded shoulders of drowsy bottling plant workers with their elbows on the deli counter, flannel-clad truckers, and the waitresses pouring coffee, and then I’m past, crossing Brighton Blvd, passing trucks on their way out of the plant loaded with bottles (and cans) of Pepsi. Turn right at the bottom of the hill, ride past the plant’s loading docks, then turn left onto the entrance to the bike path. Down a hill towards the river, past the benches and picnic tables that are full of homeless men in the daytime, over the first bridge, and I’m on the South Platte River Trail. For the next six miles, I’m along the river trail.
There’s no lights, so I asked my parents to give me a bright headlight for Christmas (80 lumens! So bright that I turn it away to the right when I see oncoming cyclists, and I’ve had several of them call out thanks as they go by). I found out the hard way that goose poop is hard and bumpy to ride over when it’s 20 degrees out and dark and cold and it’s been sitting on the trail for days. In the early, dark morning, I’m almost always alone on the trail (and until very recently, I was all alone on my ride home too, so that I’m still surprised when I see cyclists on my trail and sometimes forget to make space for them) except for assorted animals who wander into my headlight beam. Mostly rabbits, but one day I saw a raccoon trundling along, and early one dawn my path was crossed by a herd(?) of wild turkeys that I didn’t even know lived in Colorado. Once on my way home (in the daylight), I came out over a rise and nearly got hit in the face by a hawk of some sort (or that’s what it felt like. Really he was probably at least six feet away, falling out of the air as he got his wings under him). The river reflects whatever light I’m riding by, shining like solid obsidian, dotted with dull little bundles of sleeping ducks and geese. On my way home, I’ll watch them bob around and tip themselves face first into the water with their feet in the air; or take flight all at once. For now, they’re pretending to not be there.
The trail runs mostly north-south on my part of the trail, all the same, it has bends in it that follow the winding river. On my way to work, I mostly notice the smells: there’s horse barns and a goat barn, the Wonderbread bakery (which sometimes smells like bread, and sometimes smells like danish), a factory with a stereotypical red and white smokestack that smells like burning something horrible. And there’s a Purina dogfood factory that I can smell sometimes, and oil refinery peppered with thousands of lights and its own distinct smell. Today I finally noticed an asphalt-making place because I smelled it as I rode by. When I’m riding home in the daytime, the three major landmarks that I can see–the oil refinery, the red and white smokestack, and the Denver skyline–seem to swing along the horizon. I’m always faced the same direction, as far as I’m concerned; it’s the horizon that swivels around me. Now the smokestack is on my left, but when I get closer and eventually go by it, it’s on my right. The refinery seems far to the east, but the trail actually runs right up against its western fence. I pass over, under, and ride alongside the interstate; I pass under and ride alongside (but never go under) the train tracks; and I pass over and ride alongside (but never go over) the Platte River. The bridges are wooden slats that rattle beneath me. Ice accumulates on the underpasses where melting snow has dropped down and accumulated.
The last mile of my trail riding is along the Niver Creek trail. There must be a slight invisible incline on this part of the trail, or I hit the end of my stamina at the exact same place every day, because this is when my bike suddenly stops with the ability to pick up momentum and just grinds along in the most horrible way. It’s one thing to go up a hill–I go up a ridiculous hill a couple miles further on–but maybe it’s the fact that I can’t see this hill, and can’t see where it ends, that makes this slight one so much harder than the epic one(™) three miles down.
According to Googlemaps, when I depart the Niver Creek trail, I’m only halfway to work, which is weird because about two-thirds of my ride time is over. I pedal through a suburban neighborhood, and turn right up the Epic Hill(™) which is two blocks on and generally necessitates me shifting down to almost my lowest gear. At the top of the hill (luckily, just over the crest) is a busy light that I have to stop at. This is usually where my asthma kicks in, either because I have to stop behind idling cars or because it’s the first time I’ve stopped in twelve miles and so my breathing pattern has changed. So I breathe, and I cough, and I breathe, and I cough, and eventually the light turns green and I get to ride down the other side of the Epic HIll(™) that I just rode up. I turn right at the second light, and then take the second left, only instead of going into the loading dock of American Furniture Warehouse I turn onto another bike trail and get squeaked at by indignant prairie dogs. This trail is short, maybe 3/4 of a mile, and then I’m at an RTD Park-n-Ride (major bus stop with an attached parking lot) which is next to the interstate. There’s a walkway that goes under the interstate, and the Park-n-Ride straddles both sides of the highway, southbound and northbound buses exiting for just as long as it takes to load up new passengers and head either towards or away from downtown Denver. The southbound side of the station has a departure board on it listing the next hour or so’s worth of bus times, so I can look at the next scheduled time and tell if I’m running late for work or not. I pick up the bike trail again on the other side of the Park-n-Ride, and run parallel to the interstate for the equivalent of a few blocks (once I saw a guy get pulled over by about 5 cop cars and pulled out of his car at gunpoint), and then down a big hill, and up a big hill, cross a light, and I’m basically at work. Except for the part where I have to wait eight minutes for the last light to change because my bike doesn’t set off the sensors and the pedestrian button doesn’t work.