Betty Diaries: Bikes aren’t the problem. People are.
Last week, someone wrote a letter to The Park Record saying they were afraid to walk their dogs on the Rail Trail. “Bikes (usually road riders) and e-bikes are a problem,” they wrote.
As someone who commutes by road bike on that trail enough to be considered a local legend on Strava, I’m used to dodging unleashed, unpredictable dogs; runners zoned out on headphones; lone strollers immersed in loud Facetime chats; oblivious power-walkers taking up the entire width of the trail; a dude on a unicycle and suicidal potguts. All I can think is, can’t we all just get along?
The Union Pacific Rail Trail is one of our area’s most magnificent examples of shared use. Winding its way from Park City to Echo Reservoir, this 28-mile paved and gravel path connects us from point A to point B, to the great outdoors and to each other.
That’s the beauty of shared use trails. Yes, they reduce greenhouse gases and traffic congestion, improve real estate walkability scores and boost our local economy. Hey, there’s no place I’d rather be when I’m passing by a huge traffic jam on 248.
But shared use trails also give us a place to be alone, to be together, to unplug and to recharge our collective soul. With sweeping views of faraway purple mountain majesties to the north, and the verdant peaks of Deer Valley and Park City Mountain, still clinging to tiny bits of white, to the south, I challenge you to find a better view on your iPhone screen.
It’s about 8:05 a.m. as I approach the trail from City Park. Past the people swigging tallboys out of paper bags, past a lady scooping up dog poop, past the early-bird pickleballers.
I hang a left onto the trail, Poison Creek rushing along beside me. It’s hard to imagine these waters before the detritus of the mining industry drove out the trout population well over a hundred years ago.
I dip down through the first tunnel, painted with a mural inspired by 1920s cartoons. I don’t have a bell on my bike, but I call out a loud DING, DING! as I roll through, like Roy Kent calling out WHISTLE! on Ted Lasso.
Cruising down the trail, I give passersby a shout-out through the busiest sections. There are dog walkers, joggers, mountain bikers, stroller pushers. It doesn’t take much to give a little wave or say good morning and it feels good when it’s returned.
Just past Prospector the trail mellows out as it officially changes from Poison Creek Trail to the Union Pacific Rail Trail. That’s when I finally relax enough to notice where I am. On this trail with distant mountains and valleys. Tall, lush grasses. Rushing streams reflecting a blue sky and fluffy clouds. I think about what it must’ve been like to be on a locomotive chugging along this line, moving coal and silver ore pulled from the earth. I remember putting pennies on the tracks when I was a kid, just so some train would flatten them into copper oblivion.
Farther down, the trail crosses 248 and I give a little wave to the Mack truck and minivan that stop at the crosswalk for me. Not all drivers are so nice. That’s where the trail turns from pavement to gravel. Under a relentless sun, the path winds past rugged sagebrush, shooting straight into the horizon.
I come to the first of a series of creaky iron gates that cross the rocky path. A sign like a mother reminds trail users to PLEASE CLOSE GATE. Out here, the path is empty and quiet save for the rushing of an unexpected stream running alongside the lush grasses, even cutting across the trail at one point. Some kind soul has constructed a makeshift bridge out of weathered beams. I walk my bike over it and continue northward for about 10 miles.
Right now, nothing else matters, not even Strava. I’ve forgotten my AirPods so instead, I listen to the wind. To the water. To the gravel rolling under my wheels. My mind is a blank, filling slowly with visions of the road ahead. My bike is a shadow in the dust, my legs spinning the wheels forward, always forward. From one disappearing moment to the next. I am alive. I am here.
That’s when I have what I call an endorphany — an epiphany brought on by a sudden burst of endorphins.
On this Independence Day, I am thinking that there is nothing like the freedom of a bike. To ride your own way. And to know that you are not alone in this feeling. A potgut darts across, my front wheel missing him by a nanosecond as he disappears into the brush.
We are all on this path together.
Once upon a time, there was a town set deep inside mountains as high as the sky. Every winter, the snow would fall and it was very beautiful and white and glittery. All the tiny houses would light the night with a warm and cozy glow.
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