12 Bike to Work Days

Arvada is a wonderful place to live.  There isn’t much between my house and the foothills, although what’s there is gradually filling in with houses.  I love the rural feel of this community.  Seeing horses and other farm animals and wildlife on the way to the grocery store reminds me of my days back in Billings, Montana.  Many of the streets in this area are still two lane country roads.  All that quaintness gets tossed out the window, however, when you come to an intersection like Indiana & Leyden Road on any given school day at 7:10 AM. Those two lane roads can be backed up for nearly a mile in each direction as thousands of kids try to get to school at about the same time.  Combine that volume of traffic with sun glare and distracted drivers and it amounts to a risk that I wasn’t willing to take on my bike.  Like my daughter was counting down the days of school until she could sleep in, I was counting them down until I could ride to work!

Back in May, I set a goal to ride my bike to & from work 10 times before school restarted August 17th.  I rode to and from work once in May, five times in June, four times in July, and twice in August for a total of 12 commutes.  My mission was accomplished before August arrived.  What I didn’t expect when I started the commutes back in May was how many aggressive drivers I would experience on my 11 mile ride to Broomfield.  Here I had been thinking that the major safety concern was the volume of traffic at the intersection of Indiana & Leyden Road, when the real danger was the drivers I encountered on deserted rural roads before 7 AM.  In particular, Alkire Street between 88th and 96th Avenues and Simms Street north of Brocade Parkway to Highway 128 were where I experienced the most aggression.  I ended up calling in more drivers to the Colorado State Patrol in this two month span of time than I have in all my years of riding.  What was most frustrating about these encounters is that the majority of them occurred when there wasn’t an oncoming vehicle in sight…

Here’s the summary of my car vs. bike encounters during the last 12 weeks:

  • I was yelled at by a driver on Bike to Work day (June 27).  He informed me that I should be riding on a bike path.  When he finally took a breath, I interjected that I had every right to be on the road, to which he replied it was his right to run me over.
  • I was buzzed by a Federal Express truck driver on Simms Street just south of Highway 128.  I exchanged tweets with Fedex and like to think their drivers received a refresher on Colorado’s 3 foot law.  It didn’t happen again and there are MANY Fedex trucks in the area since they have a distribution facility right along that stretch of road.
  • I was honked at by a woman for taking the lane in order to avoid a three feet wide pothole in the road while descending at high speed.
  • I lost track of the number of drivers who insisted on sharing the narrow lane with me when there wasn’t another car in the opposite direction and they could so EASILY have given me just a few more inches. This particular behavior is most bothersome because it seems the underlying message is “I could get over, but avoiding a person riding a bike isn’t worth the energy it takes for me turn that steering wheel 2 inches.”

Surely, that’s not the case, right?  Maybe those drivers are new to the area and are unaware of Colorado’s laws; we do have lots of transplants here.  Here’s a little video that will help to educate you on the laws.  Oh, and when in doubt, give a cyclist more room than you think they need.  Sometimes we have to swerve, just like you do in your car.  Drivers don’t like it when other cars get too close to them, either.  Surely you can relate to  that?

Listen and Learn

IMG_2956One beautiful October day last fall I was out for a mountain bike ride near Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.  I was riding with my usual mountain biking buddy, JQ.  We got off to a slow start as it had rained the night before making the first section of the trail muddy and slippery.  Our pace picked up as we reached some smoother single track.  Eventually, we got very near to the amphitheater itself and the single track became very groomed and un-technical.  Maybe that was why I let my guard down.  As I crossed a road and jumped over a water bar, I landed all wrong.  As I was sent sailing over my handlebars into the air, I saw that I was headed face first toward a group of large boulders, strategically placed next to the trail as a barrier.  The only thing I had time to do as the precipice of a rock rapidly approached my face was roll my head back toward my shoulder blades.  This slight movement prevented me from breaking my face, but the full force of the impact was taken in my chest.  I was not wearing a chest protector.  And I don’t have a lot of “cushion” in that area, if you know what I mean.

I laid in the weeds wondering if this was going to be the crash that I didn’t walk away from.  As I tried to catch my breath, I began to wiggle fingers and toes.  I tried to call out to JQ to stop and wait for me, but it came out as a whisper.  I slowly sat up and continued to gasp for breath.   Eventually I stood and was shocked and pleased that everything still seemed to work.  My bike was laying in a heap about ten feet away.  It, too, still seemed to work, so I climbed on and started to pedal in the direction of JQ.  By this time she was coming back to find me.  We took the shortest route back to the cars, which was up Morrison Road.  As the adrenalin started to wear off, the scrapes and bruises started to voice their discomfort.  I had an x-ray the next day which showed a bruise to my sternum.  I was told I could ride again when I was able to do a push up.  I was back on the bike about four weeks later.

Four weeks after the crash puts us in November, and I didn’t ride the mountain bike much through the winter.  In the last couple of months, I’ve been doing more mountain biking as I gear up for summer races.  As a result of that crash, I’m a little gun shy of riding over boulders that normally wouldn’t even give me a reason to pause.  It’s so frustrating to know what you are physically capable of only to have your brain bring it to a complete stop.

JQ and I recently weexpertnt and rode at Alderfer/3 Sisters Park outside Evergreen, Colorado.  The trail system there was great because there were many shorter loops you could connect into a substantial ride.  We started on some flat trails with minor obstacles.  Normally I have to try and chase JQ down to keep up with her, but that day, she held back and talked me through lines and over obstacles.  I guess she, too, had observed my mental block on previous rides.  Before I knew it, I was rolling over boulders like nobody’s business.

It would have been easy for me to let my pride get in the way of being open to her coaching.  But I decided when I started this cycling journey that I would have to listen if I wanted to learn.  I’ve learned so many little gems along the way because of that decision.  And those lessons often come from unexpected sources.

listen