Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MFM Day 29: Take the Long Way Round

September 27th, 2009

Motor Free Month Day 29: Take the Long Way Round

Song of the Day: Teenage Fanclub, Take The Long Way Round

You know, it's funny; in those "epic journey" movies, like Lord of the Rings for example, it seems like 90% of the movie, if not more, is concerned with the journey out and the big event at the turnaround point. You know, like with the ring and the river of lava and all that. But scant time is typically spent on the journey back home. I wonder why that is? A few reasons, probably. One, having made the trip to the turn around point, you've proved that you can probably make it back, that you have the requisite strength and stamina to make it back home. Therefore some of the suspense is missing from the return. Additionally, there is much emphasis placed on the event, whatever it may be, that occurs at the turn around point. Might be attaining the summit of a mountain. Might be casting a ring into the fiery chasm from whence it came. There is some assumption in either case that the "turnaround event" is more important than the journey to get there and back. In that case, the journey to the event is only important because it is the thing keeping the event from happening. And the return, well, it really isn't worth mentioning much at all after the event has been concluded.

But surely exciting events can and do happen on the return journey, and truth be told, the trip, the mission is not a success until home is attained once again. Any soldier will tell you that. In fact, any mountain climber will tell you that the return is frequently more dangerous than the trip out. This is particularly true of mountain climbing, but I think any return journey could be fraught with peril and excitement.

As I got up Sunday morning and rode my bike through the now-quiet downtown Denver towards Mona's for breakfast, certainly I felt confident that I could make it back home, but I also knew that it was going to be a long day, a hot and sunny day even, and that my bike was still not working all that well, and I was probably a little more fatigued from Friday's ride than I wanted to admit. At this point I made several prescient decisions that helped to maximize my enjoyment of Sunday's ride. First of all, I resolved to get on the road early, but take my time. I had all day, and what would I rather do besides go out for a nice ride? Also I resolved to eat a great big breakfast at Mona's, which was highly recommended to me by Lou, and half the staff at REI. Lastly, I decided to avoid Lowell Boulevard, although I know she would be sad, and stick to the bike paths out of Denver, even if it meant a longer ride. All of these decisions helped to make my return journey a success. But that's not to say it was entirely peril free; and thank goodness, for what would I write about otherwise? To steal from Tolstoy: All happy bike rides are alike; every unhappy bike ride is unhappy in its own way. And therefore more interesting.

Mona's, I can tell you, is a delightful breakfast spot just there by the REI store. Do go there, but go early, apparently it gets crowded. But at 7:45 am on a Sunday I was literally the only customer in the place! I loaded up on pancakes and coffee, paid my bill, and by 8:15 I was on the Platte River trail. The day before when I was in REI stocking up on spare tubes and chain lube, I poured over a Map in the store that detailed all of the bike-friendly streets and designated bike paths in the metro area (Lowell was not highlighted on the map, for future reference). My friends Greg and Mark had both recommended the Platte River Valley trail as a good downtown ingress route. I followed the trail out of downtown with my finger, all the way to Commerce City before the Clear Creek trail joined it for a Westerly route that I wanted to take. This was certainly several miles out of my way and I debated; take the trail which is longer, or try Lowell again? Traffic certainly wouldn't be as bad on a Sunday morning, so Lowell might be quite a bit more pleasant.

But those hills, those blasted hills! And what about adventure! I already knew that Lowell was no fun, how about trying something new? The trails then, it was decided. I would take Platte to Clear Creek to Dry Creek Trail. This route would deposit me on Wadsworth and 80th st. From there I could make my way to 95th st in Boulder county, which becomes Hover in Longmont. From Longmont I had a couple of choices. This was the plan, and incredibly enough, I stuck with it. But it wasn't easy to stick with the plan, as we shall soon discover. In fact, here is another interactive map of my return journey. I had to guess at some of the bike trail stuff in Denver but it's pretty accurate.

And the bike trail was just great. Not crowded like the Cherry Creek trail. I guess the Platte River trail is not a place to see or be seen. Or it could be that Denver is just not an early-to-rise kind of town. Whatever the reason, I basically had the trail to myself. I had visions of riding through a vagrant-infested post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland, but even the Platte river trail was fairly bucolic and scenic. Amazing what a few trees will do for you, I suppose. I only saw one bum, face down on a picnic table asleep. Where are the scary parts of town now? Aurora? Perhaps. I never made it out that far this trip.

The trail kept tacking North and East, following the river, passing under the freeways; I-70, I-225, I-76. I was starting to get a little nervous like I had missed my turn to the left onto the Clear Creek Trail. I had visions of riding this bad boy all the way out to Greeley. Something about that didn't appeal to me. Probably the Greeley part. Or maybe the Brighton part before the Greeley part. But as it turned out it was pretty obvious where the Clear Creek trail turn was, so I was spared the twin delights of Greeley and Brighton this day.

I continued up the Clear Creek trail, passing now under I-25, Broadway, Pecos, and Federal. I knew that somewhere around here I was supposed to get on yet another bike path, but frankly I didn't study the map all that carefully. Those of you who know me know this is shockingly out of character from my normal behavior. And I paid for my lapse in vigilance! Somewhere after Federal and before Lowell my trail turned abruptly into a dirt road. Not dirt again! I Stopped the bike. Lost so soon, not even out of Denver! I debated on turning around. Maybe I just missed the turnoff. This looked more like a driveway than a bike path. A driveway into some backwoods and distinctly non-bike friendly abode, replete with large unleashed dogs and hicks with shotguns.

But I did see some bike tracks in the dirt. And I really hate backtracking! So I went for it. Down the dirt road. Wasn't long before I popped out right onto my old friend Lowell Boulevard! Well I had somehow missed the path but at least I wasn't lost. I could take Lowell I guess. Maybe it was meant to be. but wait, out of the corner of my eye I spied a bike path, heading under Lowell towards parts North-West. My path! I guess I wasn't lost at all. Fancy that. Funny how your mind can play tricks on you sometimes. I got on my new path which I assumed was correct, and continued on my merry way. This path turned into some sort of strange but cool storm drainage aqueduct with a bike path next to the creek drainage. Must be safe during heavy rains, huh. Luckily the sky was clear. I saw a mangled old bike in the creek. I wondered how long that bike had been there?

Super bonus Song: The Smiths, Is It Really So Strange?

Before too long the path ended and I found myself on Wadsworth, heading North. I had wanted to avoid Wadsworth due to traffic concerns, but between the wide breakdown lane and light Sunday morning traffic it really wasn't too bad. Just before Wadsworth crossed the Boulder-Denver Turnpike I turned West, into the Interlocken business park, into Boulder county. I knew I was in Boulder county because instantly I saw other cyclists! Interlocken. Named after the giant lakes that dominate the landscape here. Wait, no, that's not it. Named, uh, well named to sound vaguely pretentious and wealthy. And featuring my old office, Level 3 Communications! I took a slight detour to go see my old office building. For 5 years I worked at Level 3 and lived in Fort Collins. For 5 years I drove my car 55 miles each way to work. It took about 1 hour each way. I marveled at the sheer impossibility of commuting to Level 3 via bicycle. I mean, I was still 55 miles from home at this point! What would that take, 3, 4 hours to get home, assuming no stops? I felt fortunate to have a job so close to my home now. In fact that was one of the reasons I left Level 3. Just got tired of the commute. And it wasn't good for my fitness either, spending 2+ hours/day in the car. And yet it was fun to see the old building. They sure picked a scenic spot for it, that's for sure.

Employment reverie concluded, it was time to get on 95th street and make the big Northward bee-line to Longmont. I crossed over the Boulder-Denver turnpike just at the Flatirons Crossing mall and the giant StorageTek plant. Or what used to be the StorageTek plant. Uh, can anybody tell me what happened to the StroageTek plant? I mean, unless I was looking in the wrong spot, that place was gone. Did I miss something important here? There used to be a huge hi-tech company right here, with a giant engineering and manufacturing plant. And all I could see was three empty flagpoles and piles of dirt. Seriously; if anyone know what happened to StroageTek, please do tell. I know they got bought by Sun, did Sun move them all to their little dojo palace in Interlocken?

Anyway that was odd. But not the new little 95th street by-pass in Louisville. That was cool! I wonder why they didn't put that little by-pass in a long time ago. Guess they had to pay to put a bridge over the railroad cut to make it happen, probably was expensive to do that.

And speaking of bridges, apparently the 95th street bridge over Boulder creek was being replaced. This I did not know until I was stopped by more detour signs at the intersection of 95th and Valmont. Not again! This happened to me on the way down! Well, I thought, it is Sunday. they won't be actually doing any construction today. I could see a bunch of construction equipment a half mile down the road. I was pretty sure that it would be a 4-mile detour if I took Valmont over to Gunbarrel. I thought I saw some movement on the other side of the construction equipment. Construction workers? On a Sunday? Damn my luck. No wait, it was a cyclist in a yellow jersey. Two cyclists, actually. Hiking their bikes towards me from the other side of the bridge. So it is possible to get across!

I rode my bike down to where the pavement ended and hiked it up to the edge of the bridge. I noticed that the other bikers had turned around. I soon learned the reason why. I was able to easily gain access to the south side of the old bridge, and the bridge was still structurally sound so I was able to cross the creek with no problem. But on the other side, the bridge ended rather abruptly and I was faced with a 6-foot vertical drop to the ground! There was a ladder but someone had kicked it down, so that was no use. I don't really know how I would hike my bike down a ladder anyway, even if it was available. Well this is just peachy, I thought.

There was one possible way down. On the corners of the bridge there extended two concrete abutments. These were about 10 inches wide, and descended at a 45-degree angle from the surface of the bridge to the ground. If I could carry my bike on my shoulder and walk down the top edge of the abutment, I could make it down and continue on my merry way. It was obviously quite dangerous and stupid, but I was too stubborn to turn back now. It was meant to be, I thought. I was turned around on Friday. I will not be turned around today! And besides, I could see 95th street as it stretched to the horizon on the other side. No cars anywhere! It looked glorious!

I hoisted the bike over my left shoulder, and took one tentative step down the abutment, hoping my bike shoe had enough traction to hold to the concrete (I do have bike shoes with some semblance of a sole, by the way). It seemed to hold. I lifted my other foot off the bridge surface and took a second step down the abutment. I held my ground. Slowly, another step, a small step. Then another. I was getting close to the ground! I took a couple of larger steps as I got closer to the ground, and miraculously made it down without a scratch. Adventure!!!

I hiked my bike past the construction equipment and dirt on the other side to where the pavement began again. I had to take a break after that. Wow, that was stupid. But awesome. I wondered if I would have been able to make it from the other side, if I would have had to climb up that thing? I can see why those other cyclists turned around. After a bit another cyclist came up behind me from the same direction. "That was interesting," he said, as he clipped in and rode off. My thoughts, exactly.

The rest of the ride home wasn't nearly as eventful, thankfully. See, here I go. Spend 90% of the blog getting to the big event, and then 10% on "The return". Or I guess "The return of the return." It is the expected form for story-telling. Who am I to dispute? I can try to spice things up a bit, I suppose.

I visited my mom in Longmont and watched some football and ate lunch, and then I made a stop at Schmidt's German Bakery and restaurant in Loveland on the way home, to enjoy a cold refreshing beer and a free miniature bratwurst. Clearly I was in no hurry! Schmidt's was great. The beer was cold, the polka band was rockin', and the staff was doing the chicken dance. How's that for action? Then as I left Schmidt's I noticed that my front tire was flat again! Oh bother. I must have had another slow leak. It did last me about 60 miles I guess, so I figured it would take another 15 if I just pumped it back up. This I now did, sitting next to a statue of a guy sculpting a statue of an Indian chief. Then it was back on the road and a final push for home. I got home at about 3:30 I think, in time to see the second half of the Broncos game. 75 miles all-told. A fantastic journey home. It was satisfying to think that I could ride down to Denver and back on bike. Was it difficult? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes, particularly with the correct route now mapped out.

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