Wednesday, September 22, 2010

7.8 miles to work and 35 miles to get back home...

When I was a boy, driving to visit relatives in other states was how we spent family vacations. My dad being in the Air Force, we seldom lived closer to relatives than a short 12 hour drive. In my restless boy's mind, the trip home was always more than twice as long as the getting there, especially when we lived in Florida and drove up to North Carolina for a few days at a time. I-95 is monotonous, but after seeing the huge oaks and the antebellum houses in the Carolinas, the return to the drab stucco homes that waited for us in Florida removed all desire to see the next mile marker...

Tuesday morning, I had a workshop at the Region XI Educational Service Center, just a couple of exits south on I-35W from North Loop 820. My wife needed the car, so I was left to set up a last minute carpool with one of my colleagues, or attempt to cycle my way down there. I used Google Maps and plotted a bicycle route and realized that it was only 7.8 miles to the workshop if I chose the route that would take me through the Diamond Hills neighborhood. I decided to go for it, believing the hardest part of the trip would be the stretch of Blue Mound Road I'd have to negotiate with all its morning traffic.

Sure enough, Blue Mound Road was dicey. Near Saginaw High School, there's very little shoulder, and only two lanes to handle the thousands of vehicles that line up on their way to work. As the road widens to four lanes, the shoulder seems even narrower and I tucked my elbows in tightly to keep from getting snagged by a rearview mirror. Each storm drain opened like a pitfall, threatening to throw me down into oncoming traffic. Broken glass and sheet metal screws and other rough debris crunched under my road tires and I feared the flat that would slow my commute even further.

Once past North Loop 820, Blue Mound became a two lane road again, with extra wide shoulders to accomodate the occasional semi rig that needs to park on the side of the road by the many warehouse and industrial facilities. At this point in my ride, I was able to take a breath and enjoy the sun rise.

Soon, I was in the neighborhood. Some would emphasize the last syllable in the word, but despite all I've heard about the Diamond Hills neighborhood, I saw people out on the sidewalk, talking amiably to their neighbors, I saw old homes landscaped with heirloom flowers, and I saw children walking and riding bikes to school. I heard a chicken or two, and I did see a loose pit bull roaming the streets, but all-in-all, I found the morning ride pleasant and peaceful once away from the hubbub of the heavy traffic lanes.

I arrived an hour ahead of schedule, which was ample time for me to do the bird bath and paper towel rub down to try to deal with the sweat of the morning exercise, and I was energized and ready to listen to our presenter and learn the skills I was supposed to learn...

When the workshop ended, I realized that I was done about an hour earlier than I had expected, so, instead of retracing my earlier route, I took the scenic one, and ended up in Saginaw only after seeing the better part of the Trinity Trails, the Arts District, the Burton Hill area, Riverbend, Samson Park, and so forth and so on...

I'm addicted to pedaling, it seems, and when given the choice of retracing my path or blazing a new one, I always choose the latter. And like those boyhood roadtrips, I often find the return home to be twice as long as the getting there.

Friday, September 10, 2010

New daydreams

The more I pedal, the more I feel the need to.
Labor Day Weekend, I biked from Saginaw to downtown Fort Worth to pick up some coffee. Not just any coffee, but a bag of locally roasted beans I had heard folks talking about. A fellow Night Rider, Paul Allen, had roasted a bag and left it at Trinity Bicycles down on South Main. The gorgeous sunny weather and the freedom of cycling through town, across the Trinity Trails system, even down some of the less savory streets that make up part of my route, all worked together to feed my newfound addiction.

On my way to the waiting java, I started dreaming of longer trips, trekking across country, slowly digesting the miles, one bite at a time. I wondered about investing in a touring bike, and, since I was picking up my coffee at Trinity Bicycles anyway, slowly worked one of the guys into a conversation about my potential upgrade from a fitness bike to a touring bike. I'll skip the details, but I left the shop, with some bikes on my mind to check out later when I could get online.

On my way back home, I ended up on the western side of the trials, headed towards the Naval Air Station. As I pedaled along the gravel-strewn dike path, I noticed ahead of me a fellow wheeled exerciser. Instead of a bicycle, he was steadily working the wheels of a wheelchair. Muscled arms, sweaty and red with what looked like enormous effort, he approached and I offered a "good afternoon" to which he responded with equal politeness as he passed. By the distance from our crossing paths to the nearest access to the trail, I estimated that he had gone at the very least, a mile, but I suspect he had done more than that.

Seeing people like him, suffering who knows what health condition but still able to get out and enjoy the exertion, makes me all the more inspired to pursue a long bike trip next summer. I haven't made up my mind where I want to go most, but just the idea of challenging my endurance while seeing the country from the intimate perspective of the bicycle saddle just fills my imagination today.

The boys at Trinity Bicycles, having heard that my wife won't let me drop a grand on a new bike before cleaning out the garage, have offered to come up to the suburbs and lend me a hand. As soon as I get caught up somewhat on my finances, I'll give them a call and start building up my touring machine.

Until then, I'll be daydreaming over those websites that users use to gloat over their conquests (the two-wheeled conquests) as they post pictures from all over the world showing off their heavily-laden panniers and their front racks brimming with cargo.