On the right path

Talk about a dead end. I had just gotten into my groove and hit a steady pace when the pavement abruptly stopped. “It must pick up again on the other side of the street,” I thought as I crossed the busy thoroughfare. But I was wrong. Instead, I found myself standing, bewildered and lost, in an empty lot behind a gas station. I continued northward, seeking the trail’s extension in vain, bushwhacking around dumpsters and through used car lots that backed up to the river. Eventually, as I found myself wandering along Camino del Rio at rush hour, I gave up, feeling a little self conscious of my skimpy running attire and obvious gaperdom.

Being new to Durango, I considered getting lost a necessary yet unpleasant faux pas of acclimation. Sort of like when you move to a new place and immediately are drawn to the worst tourist trap of a restaurant because you don’t know any better. It’s the kind of mistake you make only once.

Eager to save myself from the Camino del Rio walk of shame on my next outing, I asked around on where the proper route was. And that’s when I learned the implausible but sad truth. There was no link for the Animas River Trail through downtown. Along with this news, I also began to notice I was not the only one oblivious to this information. Periodically, I would see that befuddled and perturbed look on other trail users’ faces as well, as they stumbled along Camino del Rio, squinting into the sun in search of something that wasn’t there.

Coming from two previous towns where river trails served as bustling, alternative travel corridors, I was a little perplexed that in Durango, pedestrians and bikers were forced to commingle with cars, buses and trucks (and locomotives in the case of the daring yet highly illegal railroad bridge crossing of yesteryear). The trail was coming, I was told, but these things take time. So, as the city plodded ahead with the arduous task of procuring private land for public use, I, and other local trail users learned the train’s schedule by heart and patiently huffed fumes on Main.

Eventually, over the ensuing years, the section through town was piece-mealed together, a couple hundred feet here, a new foot bridge there. Of course, the pièce de résistance, the Main Avenue underpass, was finished recently and will be officially unveiled to much fanfare this Tuesday (don’t even think about poaching – just because everyone else in town has, it doesn’t mean you should, too). For those of us who have played median chicken one too many times, the completion of the underpass comes as the best news since finding out that coffee and chocolate are actually good for you. It also serves as a convenient excuse to never climb the E. Second Ave. hill behind the Smiley Building ever again.

Yet, I know there are still some who see the trail as a selfish land grab or unnecessary frivolity. To those, who, perhaps begrudgingly, gave up their land for use by the masses, on behalf of every stroller-pusher, dog walker and sprocket head, I can only offer my undying gratitude. I’ve also heard the argument that the trail is merely a ploy to funnel more people to the palace of plastic at its other end. As far-fetched as the idea of people actually riding their bikes to the super center may be, we should be so lucky.

Then, of course, there’s that faction of folks who don’t even consider the river trail, period. Just the other day I was reminded of this by a young child at a local park. Noting my bike and the attached trailer, he asked if it was mine. I told him yes, expecting a child of his age to remark on how “cool” it was or something to that effect. Instead, he registered a look of confusion and suspicion. “Why didn’t you just drive?” he asked.

Now, being the guardian of a small child, I am used to being caught off guard by such blatant questions, like “Why are you pregnant?” or “Why doesn’t the sun set in Alaska?” Typically, I refer these things to another adult and quickly exit. But this one really threw me for a loop – and I wanted to make sure I answered correctly, after all the very future of civilization was hanging in the balance. I quickly debated my options: an overview of worldwide economics and gas prices; a scientific lecture on global warming and the environment; or a talk on the health benefits of regular exercise. But in the end, I decided to go with something I knew would hit directly home with the under-5 crowd.

“Because it’s fun,” I replied.

He looked skeptical, so I dug deeper. “Why drive when you can ride your bike?”

Finally, he seemed content with my answer – either that or his 5-year-old attention span had abruptly expired – and he happily wandered off.

Whether my message sunk in or not, I’ll never know. But what I do know is that as traffic worsens and gas prices surge into uncharted territory, more and more people will come to know and understand the real beauty of that trail. And with plans to expand, particularly to points east with the Smart 160 project, it is safe to say that no longer will the trail be a dead end, but the path to our future.

– Missy Votel