Why Why Why
You've clicked and scrolled this far so you might as well go on!
I ride my bicycle 11 miles to work almost every day. If you'd like to skip my diatribe on why the h3@#$ I do this, skip down to follow my virtual bicycle commute.
[ oooh, aaah ]... Bicycling has been my preferred method of transport for the last 10 years, even times when I had a car because:
Bicycling in Phoenix, Arizona...
...is a real adventure! This is not exactly a bicycle friendly town; bike routes, when they exist are discontinuous, drivers for the most part either:
Assume that you are invisible.. Most drivers are too busy talking on their car phones, reaching for cigarettes, reading newspapers, applying facial care, performing emergency surgery, etc to take time out to observe their surroundings.
Assume that automobiles will pull out on you, will cut you off, and will hit you. For a long time, I rode thousands of miles on a skinny wheel road bike. I had a thirst for on-the-edge living, because that's what the thrills created while riding the major thoroughfares of Phoenix.
Should I remind anyone that before this city arose from the creosote 100+ years ago, that this was a desert? that deserts are full of prickly spines? that such spines will easily pierce a tire? My first day of commuting I got a flat going in and a flat going home! Leading to:
Always carry two spare inner tubes. But don't blame only the desert! I got more from nails, glass, road rubble, screws, etc.
So I switched to riding a mountain bike with a mostly off-street route. Its one of those awful things that happens when you hit the third decade and start actually trying to be careful... (My teenage hero wrote "hope i die before i get old" but he just celebrated 50-something...hyprcritic fool) Riding a mountain bike is like being a kid again-- jumping curbs, riding through puddles, and kicking up dirt.
Shall I mention the weather in Phoenix? Lest anyone think the desert is always a blistering solar inferno, throughout the year I may be leaving my house in pitch black 35 degree drizzle or a full blazing 110 degree furnace.
Here we start, getting the trusty Trek 850 out of the shed (oops! UPDATE! That bicycle got stolen from the rack at work. If you really think that black U-Lock is invincible, I have some beachfront property to sell you! The new bike is a Schwinn Moab 2, with Judy C front shocks).
And yes, I have all the paraphenalia, the helmet, spiffy tight bike shorts, gloves all [gulp] matching colors! Yes, a true bike g-e-e-k... I can rationalize the need for all of it! My work clothes neatly bundled in my bike bag, and off we go.
The first half mile is through the residential streets of my Scottsdale neighborhood. Many will recognize Scottsdale as home to the "Rich and Famous" but believe me, our house is definitely not the home of any Hollywood ex-patriots.
Soon we drop down into Indian Bend Wash. Now to talk about this place, we need to introduce the idea of seasonal rivers here in the Sonoran desert Mostly, these dry "washes" are just that, bone-dry. However, when we get rain, it doesn't fool around, and the runoff is so intense that turbulent chocolate sand rivers burst to life. Well, a few years ago, some future sighted folks decided to invest in converting Indian Bend Wash into a greenbelt storm control channel that normally contains parks, baseball fields, and a bike path.
So we pick up the bike path through Indian Bend Wash, passing Chaparrel Lake, proudly stocked with ridiculous catfish. The bike path can be a wild ride, with senior citizens out for brisk walks, newbie inline skaters bobbing and flailing all over the place, prim homemakers walking poodles, wild-eyed skate punks. Typically, early enough in the morning, it is quiet enough to zip along.
Next, we hit the streets to ride gently uphill, just enough to downshift one gear, until we intersect the Arizona Canal which provides some great, off-the-crazy-streets riding.
Okay, another tangential side lecture. We have hear an amazing set of canals that cut through the "Valley of the Sun". Hundreds of miles to the east, way up in the 10,000 foot peaks of the White Mountains near New Mexico, a few springs trickle together forming eventually the Black and the White rivers. These wild creeks fly west through the forests owned by the White Mountain and San Carlos Indian Reservations. The 2 rivers meet forming the Salt River, which slashes through a canyon that would even make the Grand Canyon take notice. Down, down the Salt flows, until being dammed up into a series of large reservoirs, Lakes Roosevelt, Apache, Canyon, Sagura, until finally near the sprawling metropolis of Mesa, the river's flow is completely diverted into a canal system which routes water all over the Phoenix region. It should be noted that the modern canal system was built upon the plans of an intricate system built by the Hohokam civilization in the years 1000-1400. They had a thriving culture, trade system, sporting events, that seemingly vanished for speculated reasons. Check our modern confidence at the door please.
The canal system provides a fantastic of smooth bike routes that criss- cross town.
So we tool along the dirt aiming southwest toward the small red buttes near Papago Park. The canals are full of jumping fish (put there to manage algae), ducks, not to mention hundreds of shopping carts, an occaisional Porsche (oops!), and one or twice, corpses. The dirt path is rock hard; the managers of the canal cover its surface with imported shells from small clams; the combination of calcium when crushed mixes with dry soild to form a rock-hard desert soil known as caliche.
Our next stop is near two prominent streets Camelback Road and Scottsdale Road Hit the brakes! Traffic here is very heavy; most drivers will readily execute a right hand turn right into our path. Lets wimp out and cross with the light unless it is ridiculously early and we can scoot across. The canal on the other side runs along the back of the ritzy tourist-sucking shops of Fifth Avenue. Scottsdale is hoping to turn this section of the canal into some weird imitation of San Antonia Texas Riverwalk... and will probably make it un-bike friendly.
Okay, here is a rant. Scottsdale is not very bicycle progressive. Oh, they do form civic committees to plan bike routes, but they spend all the effort on short segments through parks, and do little to provide contiguous bike lines or sensible crossings at intersections. [end of rant] [for now]
Update: My "rant" was written in the late 1990s. Scottsdale has come a long way and is doing some great things with new canal paths and bike lanes. I've had great communication with their bike planners. Heck, they got a Friendly Bikeways Award (2005-07) from the League of American Bicyclists and have a nice new bike map (check it out!)
Cruising along, the canal cuts toward and then parallels Indian School Road. To our right looms the distinctive profile of Camelback Mountain. I was married at the top of Camelback, but that is another story. The obscene mansions (Does anyone really need 25 rooms?8 bathrooms?) that attempt to crawl up the mountain are more in tune with streotypes of Scottsdale life.
At 64th Street, the Arizona Canal dumps water south into the Tempe Canal and here we turn also. You can wait for the traffic light to cross Indian School Road but while waiting you may miss a birthday or receive a Social Security check. It is usually easy to "sneak across" (I can say as long as no Scottsdale traffic cops are on the web!).
It is a straight, slightly downhill shot toward Thomas Road. This is another poor place to cross the street. It is a real death-defier when darkness reigns. No matter how many lights and flashers you strap onto your bicycling body, again (see Rule 1) you are even more invisible! At Thomas, it is easier to jog over to the light and then cut back toward the canal. The stretch here is asphalt paved (but bumpy), riding along the backs of residential are on the west and some commercial areas on the opposite side of the canal.
Within another half-mile we are zooming toward McDowell Road, a major traffic for some 50 miles across the heart of Phoenix into the desert wastelands. Fortunately here, the bike planners had it right and designed tunnel which dives under the busy road. Cutting through the tunnel [look out for that weaving jogger!], you could continue straight along the canal for a nice ride that sneaks behind the Phoenix Zoo. But we cut hard right, coming up the sidewalk heading west on McDowell.
The grade picks up (Downshift you virtual bikers!), and we look across the way toward the proud American flags at the car dealers... not to see if the are exercising constitutional rights for flag burning, but to see if the wind is a friend or foe today. Up ahead, on either side of McDowell, are the orange-brown mammilarial humps of the Papago Buttes. The butte on the north is part of a fenced-in Army base, and on the south is part of Phoenix Papago Park. This park is a great area for great single-track mountain bike riding, as well as hiking and playing on the rocks. Several fools each year injure themselves trying to prove they are rock climbers on this butte.
At Galvin Parkway, we turn left onto a bike path that curves through Papago Park. On the east is the Botanical Gardens, a great place to see all the floral oddities of the Sonoran Desert. We are climbing a bit now (spin those pedals! High cadence now), passing by all the cactus and assorted green-brown veggies of the desert. In the Spring, you cannot even imagine the riotous blooming of the cacti and plants- yellow flowers of Palo Verde and brittle bush, orange globe mallow, lusty red flowers dangling from Ocotillo, etc etc ad infitium. The blooming Sonoran desert is a visual feast for the soul, and all that needs to be said about being strong yet beautiful survivors in a harsh environment.
Right now we are crusing on a great bike path is nice because it winds away from the traffic. Plus, we reach a crest, and can really begin to coast or fly madly downhill. Spread out before us is Tempe and parts of Phoenix, plus the bread loaf shape of South Mountain in the background. South Mountain is worthy of its own discussion (some other time!) being something like the largest park inside a city. It has some of the grossest knee-knashing tire shredding biking as well as some pristine hiking trails.
Often the morning light makes for spectacular views. Other times, in its effort to "grow", the Phoenix skyline is draped with brown smudge of smog. Why the quest for "Los Angelosization" of the valley? "Growth is Good" is the mantra of too many of our so-called leaders, ignoring the prognosis of cancer by the late Dr Edward Abbey, Growth for the sake of growth is the idealogy of the cancer cell). Some even call the phenomena "Californication".. Some days one cannot even see the top of the Papago Buttes from here.
Follow those nifty curves and dips in the bike path! This is a great section because you are removed from the traffic. But exercise caution once pastt he entrance to the Phoenix Zoo, because just ahead is the traffic light for Van Burean, a main east-west road into downtown Phoenix. Still staying on the east side, we crusie the sidewalk, past the Phoenix AAA baseball stadium, past the Hall of Flame museum (tribure to firefighters), and past several non-descript Salt River Project office buildings. This area, with its manicured median strips, raked pink gravel, and landscaped cacti, is often termed "Disney Desert." It looks nice, but compared to the natural desert, it is pretty damn sterile.
Next light is Washington. Love those Presidental boulevards. I think they go in order from south to north.... Somewhere in north Phoenix there is probably a "Nixon Avenue". Here we need to cross with the traffic lights over to the southwest corner, then follow the sidewalk as it climbs the bridge over the Salt River. It also crosses a whole network of freeway ramps, leading to the Red Mountain freeway, the Hohokam freeway, the the airport.
The planes that take off and leave from Phoenix Sky Harbor airport follow a trajectory directly over the Salt River. In the morning, it seems like they are coming and going every 30 seconds. Sometimes the roar of these jets can be deafening to the cyclist, or for that manner, any living organism not sitting inside a steel box. The sound vibrates your body, your head reverberates, and your teeth begin to dance.
The view from the bridge here is extensive in all directions. Too the east, you can see the hump of Tempe's A Mountain, rising above Arizona State University's stadium and the Hayden Mill that begat the first city here in the late 1800s. Even farther, if you can see above the desert dust and the glare of the morning sun, is the prowl of the Superstition Mountains east of Mesa and Apache Junction. To the west, you are now looking at the dry Salt river and the high rises of Phoenix in the distance, And if clear enough, the White Tank Mountains way off. During intense Spring rains, fueled by the snowmelt of mountains 100s of miles away, the Salt springs to life, and can be a churning wild river 100s of feet wide. Everyday I was amazed by one resistant tamarisk tree/bush that withstood the onslaught and still is rooted, even with the river now gone. Survivor, indeed.
But no time to "dawddel", biker-dudes! The south side of the bridge is a nice cruise to pick up speed. Nine times out of ten, the breeze in Tempe is completely different in direction from Scottdale. I am sure there is some sort of meteorlogical explanation, but let's leave some mystery for now. We take a right and head west on Rio Salado parkway, passign what was once an open space of sage briush but is in the process of been "developed" into green baseball fields and other recreation areas.
Tempe does have a better sense of bicycle commuting, as many of their roads are striped for bike paths. The road curves south, becoming 52nd Street, and we must pick up the pace slightly as we climb what must have been a very old river bank. This area is mostly small industry and warehouses as we approach the traffic light at University.
We cruise across going another half mile before turning right and heading
west on 14th Street. It's pretty close, so we might want to ease up
and cool down. At 2411, we turn into the friendly
office building where I work. Duck around the back entrance, so
we do not offend anyone in the lobby, where conveniently, we find a small
lockeroom to shower, and get ourselves ready for the "real" world.
And that marks the end of our virtual bicycle commute! At the end of the day, just scroll backward and do this in reverse!