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Bicycling: An Answer to the Chaos

I’m riding to work today.  I rode to work last Friday, and I’ll be riding again tomorrow, and probably until the snow flies.  I’m riding for three reasons: weight loss, getting ready for the 430+ mile RAGBRAI, but more importantly, I rediscovered the enjoyment of bike riding.

Along my six-mile route, life slows down.  Yes, it takes 35 minutes instead of 20.  But I’m not following an old person who is going too slow (I’m going to be that person someday, I remind myself).  I’m not shocked at how fast young kids drive (I was that person, I remind myself).  I don’t have to be frustrated with the people who speed through the round-abouts, perhaps trying to prove that they know how to negotiate this traffic jungle.  And usually there is a mom, clutching the hand of her three-year-old, waiting to cross, who is completely disregarded as the drivers authenticate their prowess.  And I’m not sitting at a traffic light, annoyed at yet another person who is more interested in their latest text than in the fact that the light has turned green as it only lets five cars through and I’m number five. Thinking about these scenarios I can feel my heart race, sending adrenaline, not the good kind, through my veins to exit through the tips of my toes.  

Instead of being in this modernity-induced chaos, I cruise through the residential streets, admiring people’s gardens and the colors that burst from the semi-manicured beds.  There is the pink and red of peonies, the cobalt blue of delphiniums, the gentle lavender and yellow of the graceful columbine.  The scent of Korean lilac wafts along air whose currents are just beginning to breathe as the sun pours warmth into the morning.   

I cross a heavily traveled road and turn left onto the narrow concrete path, which disappears into a tunnel that runs beneath the railroad tracks.  It meets up with the concrete Powerline Trail.  The widths of two sidewalks, the pace can pick up; there is little chance of crowding out other riders.   Aptly named, this trail follows the large transmission line overhead, and runs adjacent to the rarely used railroad tracks.  A swath of meadow on each side holds the homes and their backyards at bay.  It is late spring, so the grass is green, and tiny purple flowers run along the trail’s edge.  In a month, this space will be home to yarrow, yellow sunflowers and whatever else the birds might bring in.

This stretch of the trail is heavily used.  A gravel path runs parallel to the trail where people jog, walk their dogs, jog with their dogs, or throw Frisbee’s for their dogs.  Almost always dogs are involved, small terriers, large labs, mutts of every shape and color.  Monday through Friday the trail becomes a commuter route, slender men and women on their hi-tech bicycles riding to their hi-tech jobs on the southeast part of town.  These riders are serious riders, rarely smiling or giving any acknowledgement that we are sharing this space for a handful of seconds.  On the weekends, the trail is occupied by older riders, skateboarders, and teens on their Razor scooters.  I imagine they’re on their way to a Frisbee golf game, or a neighborhood swimming pool, or downtown to just hang out.  I turn off onto a rider-created gravel path, a shortcut where the cyclists have destroyed the vegetation, down the asphalt hill and turn left at the T; I am now on the Spring Creek Trail.

(c) Susan Harness

This is my favorite part of the trail; this is where I look for and find the humanity that is Fort Collins. Crowds of students, high school or college, throw a Frisbee at one of the nets, their laughter carried on an early morning breeze.  A bit further is a reservoir, created by a low dam, where Mallard duck pairs paddle among the woody debris, remnants from the most recent rains.  To my right, rental townhomes look over the trail.  There’s no one sitting on their patios now, but I imagine they have a stunning view in the evening of a sunset reflecting off the still water.   Then it is over a wooden bridge, and I ride past a picnic area, and past a playground where children scrabble along the equipment and race down slides, and pump their legs to make the swing go just a big higher.  If I let my gaze rest here, I become them, so many years ago, when I was an astronaut breaking the pull of gravity.  I’d wait until I was as high as the swing would go before jumping, racing the other kids to the door as the recess bell peeled in the morning sun.  But here, now, it is late spring, school is out and the children shriek their joy under the watchful eyes of young parents.   

I cross a street, peddling beyond the small medical center and health club, duck under the low ceiling of a street bridge, and then I cruise through wide meadows flanked by willows and cottonwoods.  This piece is shady and sweet, the nectar released from the willows.  Here life slows down, and so do I, listening for the coo of the mourning doves, the song of the robins, the clackity-clack of a woodpecker.  Spring Creek, for which the trail is named, tumbles over cobbles, singing a quiet song of its own.  I follow the path’s contours, gentle arcs in tall grass, over wooden bridges whose slats announce my arrival long before I actually arrive.   Here young families roam on bikes, their children in trailers; they push strollers; they are without children and walk hand in hand, a smile curved on their young faces. I was their age once.  I marvel with this thought because I don’t feel that much older.  There are older people walking their dogs, their gait slow and careful.  I will be their age, I think, and marvel at this thought because I don’t feel so much younger.  And then there is everyone else, people carrying grocery bags, texting on their phone, walking for fitness, and I imagine all of us are enjoying this swath of urban nature on a cool, late spring morning, aware that just a block away chaos is swirling.    

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