Best Rides of 2016: Lincoln and the High Plains-April 2

April 2 was a travel day for me.  I was on my way to Utah and had driven from our home in Indianapolis to Omaha after work the previous evening.  My Specialized Hardrock was on the back of the car and I had it in my head that I’d stop and ride a little gravel somewhere out in western Nebraska before continuing on to Ogden.

As luck would have it, my hotel in Omaha didn’t have a free breakfast so I decided to detour off of I-80 and grab a bagel sandwich at Bruegger’s in downtown Lincoln.  I love Bruegger’s from our days in the Twin Cities and I hadn’t been to one in seven or eight years so why not?  It was only a few miles off the highway.

Lincoln has always intrigued me.  I don’t know why but  I think it’s because the countryside always starts to feel a little more western when I cross the Platte.  Lincoln’s on the other side…the western side, and so it just feels like I’m in the American West when I get here.

I got off of I-80 at 27th Street and almost immediately discovered that this part of Lincoln is pretty bicycle friendly. I decided to park the car and ride into town instead of driving in and hunting for a parking space.  I wasn’t worried about getting lost.  The Nebraska state capitol building is a high rise and so it was easy to keep my bearings.  I rode trails and surface streets and was downtown in no time.  Motorists were polite and gave me plenty of space.  I rode right through the heart of the city and enjoyed myself immensely.  I got my bagel sandwich, too.

Nebraska State Capitol, Lincoln

Nebraska State Capitol, Lincoln

MOPAC Trail at 27th Street.

MOPAC Trail at 27th Street.

Heading into downtown on Q Street.  Traffic was light though there was a big event going on in the heart of the city.

Heading into downtown on Q Street. Traffic was light though there was a big event going on in the heart of the city.

The Haymarket is adjacent to the University of Nebraska campus.

The Haymarket is adjacent to the University of Nebraska campus and a fun area to explore on a bike.

The Rock Island Trail runs just to the east of the University of Nebraska campus.

The Rock Island Trail runs just to the east of the University of Nebraska campus.

After that it was back in the car for the 850 mile dash to Ogden.  As planned, I stopped in western Nebraska right where Interstate 76 splits off of 80 and heads down to Denver.  From there, I was able to ride into Julesburg Colorado and then back into Nebraska on sparsely traveled US Highway 136 and a series of farm to market roads.  Everything’s on a grid and flat as can be in this part of the world, so I wasn’t worried about getting lost out here, either.

I parked on the side of Highway 136 at the state line and headed south into Colorado first.

I parked on the side of Highway 136 at the state line and headed south into Colorado first.

Julesburg was just a mile or so down the road.

Julesburg was just a mile or so down the road.

It's an extremely photogenic town.  You'd never know if you just passed by on the highway.

It’s an extremely photogenic town. You’d never know if you just passed by on the highway.

This is wheat country.

Wheat, not weed, is still Numero Uno in this part of Colorado.

And then, just like that, it was back to Nebraska.

And then, just like that, it was back to Nebraska.

Speaking of “out here,” I really enjoy riding these deserted roads on the High Plains.  I wish I would have had more time.  I’ll have to come back again.  A guy can log some serious miles out here without really trying.  That sounds like a fun challenge to me.

All told, it was a great day thanks to the bike.  My log tells me that I only went a combined 8.7 miles but it broke up the 900 mile drive nicely.  I got to check another state capital off of my list (I’ve ridden through downtown Indianapolis, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City and Denver in addition to Lincoln) and  see some new countryside. All in all, it was a great day.

Giving Thanks

I rode to the library this morning to check out a couple of books for the long weekend.  The central library in Ogden is only a few miles from our home, but it’s closed for renovation so I went to a branch library in South Ogden.  It’s about seven miles each way and there’s some climbing involved.  No big deal…it’s a nice ride and it was a beautiful morning.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-3-24-24-pm

On the way, I had a guy in a car pull out in front of me and almost hit me.  I had to take evasive action, but I did what I was supposed to do and kept the bike upright.  He stopped at the last instant but he got an earful from me.

It was totally uncalled for.  I was in the left  turn lane right where I was supposed to be.  I was wearing bright colors and easy to see.  I very clearly signaled my intention to turn.  We made eye contact.  There was no other traffic on the road.  All he had to do was wait five seconds and the way would have been as clear as the big blue sky but he pushed it like so many motorists so often do.  He thought he could beat me even though I was going about 7 mph and it was obvious he couldn’t.  Had he hit me, it would have wrecked my Thanksgiving.  His, too, by the time my wife got through with him.

I found myself thinking about this incident as I rode on.  Before heading out this morning, I read that a Utah highway patrolman who had been clinging to life for the last four days after being hit by a sixteen year old girl earlier this week passed away.  He was trying to assist traffic after coming across a low hanging power line on a two lane state highway when she ran him down.  Also this week there was the tragic school bus accident in Chattanooga that cost six children their lives.

Whenever this sort of thing happens, there’s an outpouring of sympathy accompanied by some soul searching.  We don’t search very deep, though.  Instead, we compartmentalize.  The general consensus is that these are just tragic accidents that simply cannot be avoided, but this is nonsense.  They can be avoided and they should be avoided.  It’s very easy.  Slow down.  Be patient.  Wait.

Speed is almost always a factor when people die on America’s highways and the crazy thing about it is that I don’t think the people doing the speeding even know why they’re doing it.  I don’t believe they’re saving any time.  I caught up to the guy who almost hit me at the next stop light and then I passed him as he waited behind the driver in front of him who was turning left.  He had to wait a while.  I never saw him again.

It took me thirty minutes to cover the seven miles from my home to the library this morning and it took me thirty minutes to get home.  Had I driven, I might have made it in half that time.  But that’s only part of the story.  Because I was moving at a more reasonable pace, I arrived at the library refreshed instead of stressed.  I also got in a workout, so if you factor in gym time I am way ahead.

I don’t know how to tell this story in a way that resonates with people, but it  seems so clear to me all this speeding around is not accomplishing anything.  It’s getting people killed and it’s putting others in harm’s way.  Those doing the speeding are stressed beyond all reasonable measures and they’re not even saving any time when it comes right down to it.

The idea behind Thanksgiving is to slow down, to pause and give thanks for all the many things we have in life.  It’s one of my favorite holidays.  I think it would be great if we would all choose to slow down more than one day a year.  We could save lives.  We could live healthier lives ourselves.  We could be  happier.  I can’t imagine a greater gift to give ourselves.  That’s what my bike does for me, and for that I am thankful.  My Thanksgiving wish for you is a safe and enjoyable weekend.  I hope you have a chance to get out and slow down…on a bicycle.  Peace.

Best Rides – March 13 2016: Plainfield to Downtown Indianapolis

When Jan and I lived in Aurora Colorado in the 1980s, I used to ride into downtown Denver all the time.  There were bike paths and roads into the city from the suburbs that made the trip a breeze.  It was fun.  There’s something exciting about being in the middle of a major city on a bicycle.

I had wanted to ride to downtown Indianapolis since I first got back on the bike in 2013, but from where we lived on the west side of town there was no good route into the city.  Every possible route required me to travel stretches of crumbled, narrow, shoulder-less  two lane roads where cars tend to travel at high speeds.   It wasn’t attractive and so I put it off.

Sunday morning March 13 dawned cold and wet.  The wind was blowing out of the east and I didn’t relish a long ride out west into the countryside where I’d have to fight that wind coming home.  Instead, I left home and drifted east towards the city although it wasn’t necessarily my destination.  I worked my way through Plainfield and out onto US 40, the National Road.  Traffic was light and there was a shoulder and although it was littered with debris I felt safe enough here.  I was able to gain Perimeter Road around Indianapolis International Airport and things just sort of “took off” from there.

I knew I could get past Interstate 465 on Minnesota Street and I could utilize the city’s grid to get downtown from there.  I didn’t have a particular route in mind, but I’ve discovered that I really love trips like this.  Route finding turns these journies into adventures.

Once I crossed under 465, I was in a strange and foreign land.  I didn’t know this area of town and Indianapolis has a violent crime problem, but I wasn’t particularly concerned.  Our natural tendency to fear “bad neighborhoods” is mostly unfounded.  Years ago I  ran a half marathon in Houston.  It was great fun.  When I think back, the best part wasn’t the relative glitz of the trendy Montrose neighborhood or the spectacular view of the city’s ginormous skyline as we headed toward the finish on Allen Parkway, but rather the barrio just across the Elysian Viaduct that we passed through at the start of the race.  There were parrillas blazing and Norteño blaring from boom boxes.  Everybody was out and cheering loudly at sunrise.   If there’s a heaven and I end up there, I hope it’s as joyous than that stretch of Elysian Street was on a similar Sunday morning from way back when.

Plainfield to Indianapolis - 33.3 miles round trip

Plainfield to Indianapolis – 33.3 miles round trip

Minnesota Street heading into town...a bleak, surreal landscape.

Minnesota Street heading into town…a bleak, surreal landscape.  There’s crumbling pavement and no shoulder.  The 35 mph speed limit is apparently just a suggestion.

I found this awesome under construction path that led, well, nowhere. Fortunately, the Kona Rove can handle a variety of surfaces.

I found this awesome under construction path that led, well, nowhere. That’s okay.  This was an adventure and my trusty Kona Rove can handle just about anything the city throws at it.

Oliver Street. That's Lucas Oil Stadium in the distance.

Oliver Avenue and Carniceria Guanajuato #1..an awesome, always  crowded tienda Mexicana. That’s Lucas Oil Stadium in the distance.

For me, the highlight of the journey. The old GM stamping plant sat right behind Hoffa's. I'm wondering...

The old GM stamping plant sat right behind Hoffa’s. I’m guessing there’s a tie here to “that” Hoffa, but I’m not sure nor am I sure who Fatso is or was.

The remains of Indy's industrial past. General Motors stamping plant.

The remains of Indy’s industrial past. General Motors stamping plant was being disassembled and would soon be completely gone.

Heading into town across the old Washington Street bridge.

Heading into town across the old Washington Street bridge.

On the downtown canal.

On the downtown canal.

The city's new "protected" bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The city’s new “protected” bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Monument Circle.

Monument Circle.

Stuck in traffic at the state capital.

Stuck in traffic at the state capital.

On the Cultural Trail heading for home.

On the Cultural Trail heading for home.

Indianapolis International Airport...almost home.

Indianapolis International Airport…almost home.

Not surprisingly, I had no problems.  I got lost trying to follow an under construction path that lead nowhere.  I had to muscle my way along Minnesota Street for a few miles.  I passed by oil refineries and other industrial shells.   Soon enough I was in sight of downtown.  I crossed the repurposed Washington Street bridge, buzzed the state capital, did a lap around the city’s iconic center, Monument Circle and then headed back home to Plainfield.  It was a good day.

Best Rides of 2016 (What I’ve Learned)

According to RideWithGPS.com, I’ve been on the bike 409 times so far this year.  Come New Year’s Eve, I will have covered close to 9,500 miles this year.  Maybe that sounds impressive, maybe not.  If you get on the bike every day like I do, it just sort of happens.

That said, I’ve seen a lot of cool things along the way and I thought it would be fun to look back and identify my favorite rides of 2016.  I sifted through the thousands of photographs I’ve taken this year and came up with 20 absolutely memorable rides.   I didn’t plan on a top twenty list or anything like that.  It’s just the way it worked out.  I’m going to share the top ten with you before the end of the year, but for now I want to share some observations I’ve gleaned from the data I collected.  This is what those rides have taught me about my cycling…

Weather Doesn’t Much Matter To Me

A surprising number of my favorite rides were on days that most people might consider less than ideal.  I rode the Cardinal Greenway in Indiana on a chilly mid-March day with rain and snow mixed.  The same is true of my ride from Echo to Park City Utah on the Union Pacific Rail Trail.  Of my top ten rides, I got wet and/or cold on five.

Neither Does Distance

My longest favorite ride was 102 miles.  My shortest was a quick tour of downtown Lincoln that only lasted about 4 miles.   Both were great fun.  So was everything in between.

I’ll Ride Anything With Two Wheels

I don’t have a favorite bike.  Some of my rides were even on other people’s bikes.   In Pittsburgh, I was on the clunkiest rental bike imaginable and it was awesome.  In Boise, we used bike share.  If it rolls sort of straight and stops when I want it to, it’s good enough for me.

And Pretty Much Anywhere

A surprising number of my favorite rides were through the central business districts of one city or another.  Some were big, others small.  I’ve discovered that it’s easier to ride in these places because traffic moves more slowly than it does in suburbia.  I also enjoy rural two lane roads and I don’t much care if they’re paved or not.  Trails are cool, too.  I can interface from trail to road pretty well.

So…

I’ll be starting a series of posts in the next couple of days that breaks down these top ten rides.  I have an all time favorite, but rather than rank them that way I’m going to do it chronologically.  More soon.

 

 

The Canyon Exhales at Dawn

I’ve been meaning to put up a clothesline in the laundry room downstairs and today is the day.  I was up early and hopped on my bike for the 3 mile downhill run to Walmart.   There’s a hardware store closer, but it was early and they weren’t open yet.  This particular Walmart is downtown and right on the River Parkway, so it’s a little different than the average suburban big box surrounded by acres of parking.

I could have bombed down 22nd Street and caught the Parkway at Jackson, but I decided to take the Bonneville Shoreline Trail from the 22nd Street trailhead down to Rainbow Gardens.  This requires a little more climbing and a moderately technical downhill on rocks, gravel and dirt and it’s a lot of fun so why not?  It also turns the three mile one way trip into five miles which is fine with me.

Heading towards the mouth of Ogden Canyon this morning and the winds were howling.

Heading towards the mouth of Ogden Canyon this morning and the winds were howling.

It’s windy descending down into the canyon.  It’s always windy here in the morning and the wind is always blowing out.  If it’s true to form, the wind will die down long about mid-morning .

I think these canyon winds are thermally driven.  After sunset, the air far up the mountain cools off and since cooler air is heavier than warmer air, it tumbles down and out the mouth of the canyon.  As the sun rises and air warms again, the winds die down.  I’m not 100% sure that this is scientifically correct, but it makes sense to me so I’m going to run with it for now.

Our home is close enough to the canyon to feel the effect of this wind, but for whatever reason riding a bike makes it more real.  I was up here the other day during an inversion.  The air was dirty and ugly everywhere else, but it was crystal clear at the mouth of the canyon.  Our air was good.  We’re lucky.

The Lava Dome prefers bombing downhill to climbing.  Each of my bikes has its own personality.

The Lava Dome prefers bombing downhill to climbing. Each of my bikes has its own personality.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s not just the canyon.  Riding a bike makes everything more real.  Today I was on my salvaged Kona Lava Dome.  This bike is quite a bit different than my “other” mountain bike, a Surly Instigator 2.0.  The ‘Gator climbs like nobody’s business.  The Kona needs to be muscled uphill.  Coaxing won’t get ‘er done.  It’s like a mule with a mind of its own.  Downhill is another story.  It’s an absolute delight going down.    People who drive cars don’t have these adventures.  This is real.

I’ve been using a bike for basic transportation now for about eleven months. It has been a good choice.  Sure, there have been challenges but they haven’t been bad challenges.  They’ve all been learning experiences and they’ve enriched my life.  For trips further afield, I find myself using the FrontRunner commuter rail service provided by UTA more and more.  Even though I can bring my bike on the train, that’s not always a good choice.  I might get a bike locker at the train station if my schedule has me traveling into the city more next year.  It’s $70/year and that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

A combination of bike locker and station cameras should go a long way towards deterring bike thieves.

A combination of bike locker and station cameras should go a long way towards deterring bike thieves.

It feels odd for me to get in a car these days.  I’d rather not.  As I pedaled into the stiff wind coming out of the mouth of Ogden Canyon on the way home, I found myself wondering if the motorists I passed know what I do.  Ogden Canyon exhales at dawn.   You can set your clock by it.

An Innovative Approach to Safer Streets

Most visitors here already know that Portland Oregon is one of America’s most bicycle friendly cities.  Many also know that the city is committed to Vision Zero, the Swedish initiative to design and build safer roadways.  What many readers may not know is how Vision Zero is actually implemented in an effort to keep bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists safe while moving about.   I didn’t, but I know more after reading about efforts in Portland to integrate Vision Zero into urban planning and safe street initiatives.

Through data gathering efforts at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), officials here have learned that more than one half of all traffic fatalities in their city occur on just 8% of the city’s streets and intersections.  They’ve mapped this out and dubbed it the “High Crash Network.”  Here’s what it looks like on a map:

Portland's High Crash Network - Map PBOT

Portland’s High Crash Network – Map PBOT

That map was developed from data plotted from all crashes involving motor vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists from 2005-2014 using a sophisticated GIS system.  There’s a screen shot shown below.  If you want to play around with the data yourself, you can do so by following this link.  You can also pull up the data for individual classes of road users like bicyclists.

The underlying data, courtesy PBOT

The underlying data, courtesy PBOT

Portland  officials used the data and map to come up with the 30 most dangerous stretches of road and the 30 most dangerous intersections in their city.  They studied each data set individually and came up with a series of fixes geared towards each individual roadway segment.  The fixes are varied.  In some cases they are as simple as lower speed limits.  In others, turn lanes are being removed.  One short stretch of cross street is being replaced with a pedestrian plaza.   Curbs are being extended and turn lanes are being tightened to force motorists to slow down.  Bike lane connectivity is also being built.

Vision Zero is mostly about the built environment.  Here, curb extensions, a center median, warning lights and a mid-block crosswalk all add to pedestrian safety.

Vision Zero is mostly about the built environment. Here, curb extensions, a center median, warning lights+signs and a mid-block crosswalk all add to pedestrian safety.

Portland just adopted Vision Zero last year and many of these changes are still in the design and planning stages, so it’s too early to gauge how it’s  all working.  Regardless, the city’s comprehensive and common sense approach to implementation bodes well for all road users.

I’d like to think that other cities are doing something similar, but I suspect most are not.  Portland is one of only a handful of US cities that have adopted Vision Zero. What happens in Portland doesn’t need to stay in Portland, though.  Vision Zero makes sense for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists.  It also makes sense for cities who want to attract new residents, more of whom will walk and bike with the passage of time.  It’s time for the rest of America to reject the failed “there’s nothing we can do about it” mentality of collateral damage on our nation’s highways and streets.  We can save lives.  It isn’t that difficult.  If Portland officials are successful, we all win.

It’s Getting Better All the Time

I was back in Ogden today after a whirlwind 36 hour trip to Chicago. I flew there to meet my daughter and help her drive back to Utah.  My wife and I didn’t want to roll the dice and hope she made it across Wyoming alone as the weather on the High Lonesome can be quite unpredictable this time of year.  As it turned out, it was beautiful, if a little windy.  When isn’t it windy in Wyoming?

Over the last year, I’ve taken this trip four or five times now.  I’ve cycled around town in Omaha and Council Bluffs, Lincoln and Cheyenne.  I’ve also ridden on the plains around Marysville Kansas, Kearney Nebraska and Julesburg Colorado.  Most people don’t think of this as bicycle country but it is and becoming more so, it seems, every time I cross.

Take Des Moines, for example.  The city is the hub of a regional trail network that links far flung small towns with the state capital.  Iowa already has a great bicycling tradition with RAGBRAI, but it seems to be getting better all the time.

Downtown Des Moines and the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge.  Photo:  By BarbaraLN (Flickr: Skyline) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Downtown Des Moines and the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge. Photo: By BarbaraLN (Flickr: Skyline) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The same is true in Nebraska.  When I rode the Blue Ride River Trail from Marysville Kansas to the Nebraska state line last year, the Chief Standing Bear Trail was just opening.  Now you can ride all the way from the Kansas line to Lincoln on a series of dedicated trails.  Advocates are filling in the missing links between Lincoln and Omaha on the MOPAC Trail.  There’s a  new bridge open across the wide Platte River at South Bend, and  it’s inevitable that the Lincoln-Omaha route will be completed soon.  Once you get to Omaha, you can continue into Iowa across the amazing Kerrey bridge over the Missouri River.

The Kerrey bridge connects Omaha to Iowa.

The Kerrey bridge connects Omaha to Iowa.

A new bicycle bridge over the Platte between Omaha and Lincoln is now open.

A new bicycle bridge over the Platte between Omaha and Lincoln is now open.

Back in Ogden this morning, I rode through the Trackline development at the old Ogden stockyards.  This is going to be a bicycle connected business park with a spectacular river promenade.  The idea is that outdoor industry companies will locate here and their employees will choose to get to work by bicycle.

Ogden Trackline.   The stairways were used to unload cattle from railroad cars.  Now they're going to be part of a riverfront promenade connecting the business park to downtown Ogden.

Ogden Trackline. The stairways were used to unload cattle from railroad cars. Now they’re going to be part of a riverfront promenade connecting the business park to downtown Ogden.

For those of us who prefer to bicycle, it’s getting better all the time.  It’s going to continue to get better because more and more links are being created for us and, uin many cases, by us.  As they are, more and more people are choosing to bicycle, not just for fun, but also for transportation.  We are on the right side of history and state and local officials across the country are beginning to recognize it.  These are great times to be a bicyclist.  Best of all, it’s only going to get better.