Road warrior

Ever since the 10th grade, when I ran over an elderly neighbor's mailbox on the way to school, I have had an aversion to driving. As anyone who has had the displeasure of being a passenger in one of my several vehicles that have met untimely demises can attest to, I'm just not that good behind the wheel (please don't tell my insurance agent.) Fortunately unlike most bad drivers (and there are more bad ones than good ones) I recognize this and try to spend as little time at the wheel as possible for my sanity as well as that of others. And, as luck would have it, I live in a town where virtually everything I need is within walking, riding or rolling distance. However, the addition of a small child often necessitates motorized travel. Between trips to day care, the grocery store, the emergency room, what not, I have found myself driving a lot more than I should.

Which is why, when gas prices reached $2 a gallon earlier this summer, I used it as an excuse to get back into the two-wheel routine. I no longer could justify driving 1 1/2 miles twice a day to day care and decided to commute via bike. Not only would it cut down on pricey trips to the pump, but it would provide a little exercise on the days when I spend 12 hours sitting at a computer. It also would help alleviate my angst on the roads and show the kid that, despite America's love affair with the automobile, there are other, less impactful ways to travel. The plan was to ride as much as we could, as long as both parties were mutually agreeable and the weather cooperated.

It was obvious my one-geared cruiser wasn't going to be the optimal commuter bike, so I retrofitted an old mountain bike with upright bars, slick tires and a cushy seat. For Baxter, I got a trailer probably nicer than most cars, with a lightweight steel roll cage, shatterproof plastic windows, extra strength Cordura walls and five-way harness system. We nicknamed it the Pope mobile.

Fortunately for Baxter, I'm a much better bike rider than I am driver. However, after our maiden voyage, I realized it's not me we should be worried about. Although for the most part the commute is a pleasure cruise through Durango's historic neighborhoods, there is one crux move: the dreaded East Third-Florida Ave.-15th Street intersection. Most locals know this intersection as the most hazardous 100 feet of asphalt in the county. And for newcomers and visitors, it is a baffling game of stop-and-go roulette. For bikers, the stakes are even higher. Heading north, they must contend with a blind curve and a narrow, crumbling bike lane. Going south, they are given a more generous bike lane, but it pinches out at the intersection, forcing them to make a sketchy last-minute lane change in order to continue on to East Third. Add to this drivers trying to set personal land-speed records, and you've got a frightening mix.

Needless to say, the boy has had an early course in Road Rage 101 and the colorful vocabulary that goes with it. And I have had a crash course in defensive bike commuting (no pun intended). I have learned to give myself a wide berth, over-exaggerate all my intentions and never make a move until I see the white of the drivers' eyes.

For the most part, it seems to work, with drivers keeping their speed in check and staying on their side of the white line. But there have been some scary exceptions. So far this summer, I've gotten up close and personal with the flat bed of a semi and have been yelled at, honked at, cut off and flipped off. Apparently, for some drivers, the yellow and purple trailer and neon orange flag isn't flagrant enough. During one p.m. rush hour, a woman in a gray mini van coming in the opposite direction decided she was feeling lucky. She jumped out of the turning lane, passed the cars in front of her, and made a left turn from the right turn lane. Suddenly, I was like a deer caught in the headlights watching in a mix of fascination and horror as she came out of nowhere and barreled straight for the trailer, all the while gabbing on her cell phone.

Can you see me now? How about now?

It must have been an important conversation, because not only did she not see us, but she also failed to see the car behind me, as it laid on its horn and came to a screeching halt. We narrowly escaped, and the mini van driver continued down 15th Street, yakking away, oblivious to everything but the phone in her ear.

That day, I came close to giving up the whole bike commuting thing forever. Trying to do something good for the world suddenly didn't seem so relevant if it meant sacrificing your first born. But in the end, I decided to pedal on. See, although I was worried about other drivers, I was even more worried about the message I would be sending to my son if I gave up. More driving is not the solution to Durango's traffic woes, and the fact of the matter is, I am probably just as susceptible to harm on a bike as I am sitting in my car.

Sure, as Durango continues to grow, there are going to be more cars, but there are also going to be more people like me, in search of a more economical, environmental and practical way to go. In a town that takes pride in its beautiful scenery and status as a biking mecca, it only seems right to put our money where our motors are. In other words, build more and better bike lanes, improve busy intersections, install crosswalks, and truly make it the bike friendly town we claim it is. And drivers can do their part, too, by sharing the road. Slow down, wake up and, most importantly, hang up.

Missy Votel




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