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Joy ride

Dozens of young faces hung out of the windows, yelling, “Faster! Faster!” Arms waved and hands reached out for my helmet, as the bus driver’s fingers and vision tightened on that narrow, winding descent.

It was one of those bizarre but unique road biking moments. How often do you come across two full-sized, fully-loaded Bluebird school buses low gearing down the backside of Coal Bank Pass? The three of us had to take advantage and let our legs push past the giant, diesel motors.

My first buddy popped out and sprinted toward the middle of the hind bus. That’s when the bus windows dropped. My other friend followed suit, drawing what seemed like a hundred young kids to the windows. When I went, the screaming and the waving started.

I’d guess I was cruising along at about 40 mph. Everything settled into a sweet blur. I mean everything – the screams, the bus drivers’ piercing eyes, Twilight Peak, my front tire, the road and even the white Pontiac that was rounding the bend just ahead of the lead bus. If my bike was doing 40 mph, that two-door grocery getter inspired me to aim for 50. The young faces starting flying past. “Faster! Faster! Faster!,” they seemed to chant in unison. As the Pontiac and lead Bluebird got closer, I moved my wheel between the double-yellow and stuck it there. At the moment of truth, the front bus driver panicked and the sound of his horn joined the screams. And for a split second, I straddled that double-yellow, a domestic sedan on my left and a giant people mover on my right. The blur ended as the tons of metal, rubber and glass dropped behind me. My bike floated back to the shoulder and into the pace with my two friends.

Who says road riding isn’t exciting?

From my first real skid on a coaster brake nearly 30 years ago to my most recent 100-miler, I’ve taken some pretty wild trips on two wheels. Not long ago, there was that gauntlet on Coal Bank. Last December, things got a little wild when a septic truck’s rubber hose hooked onto my saddle during a vacation in Hawaii. The truck took me on a 100-yard, high-speed and high-odor ride before dumping me off the shoulder and into a tangle of vines and road debris.

A month later and back in Durango, there was the look the old woman in the El Dorado flashed me when I hit black ice in the Animas Valley. Once again, the blur struck. At one moment I was riding. The next, my cyclocross bike and I were sliding down East Animas Road at high speed. Judging from the expletives, our lone spectator didn’t seem to enjoy the show.

The wildest thing I did recently was pull my ride into the mid

dle of rush hour traffic just 30 days ago. I’m happy to report that I survived the trip. After all, I was surrounded by about 80 other cyclists on Main Avenue that day. Smiles were shared all around. Libations were flowing. And nobody was yelling, “Faster. Faster.”

Nonetheless, major skepticism rose up to greet Durango’s first Critical Mass ride and from unlikely sources.

“This will not be good for local cycling,” one avid rider advised me.

Another commented glumly, “I hope nobody shows up.”

A third suggested, “This will ruin the cooperative spirit between motorists and cyclists.”

The reputation of Critical Mass as a direct action and often crude form of protest had proceeded it. People were expecting middle fingers, Molotov cocktails and motley riders weaving madly in front of cars, trucks and school buses.

What actually happened last month was one of the most genuine celebrations of the bicycle I’ve ever seen anywhere.

BMX bikes road happily alongside $3,500 Italian boutique frames. Cruisers bumped up against full-suspension mountain bikes. Wigs met helmets. Smith Sliders hung with thick gold-rimmed, convenience store shades. Jerseys rubbed elbows with aloha shirts. And everyone in attendance sported huge, glowing grins as we slowly pedaled in parade formation up one of Main Avenue’s four lanes.

The most impressive result of the ride came not from the bicycles but from the people we shared the road with. Sure, there was the occasional belch of exhaust from an unhappy commuter. But more often than not, passing motorists waved, honked in approval and wondered why they were missing out on the good time.

There are a lot of things I could be doing this Friday at 5:30 p.m. Watching the second Durango Critical Mass from a car stuck in traffic is certainly not going to be one of them. No, I plan to be back on two wheels and cruising down Main Avenue. Who knows? There could more wild times in store.

– Will Sands

 

 

In this week's issue...

July 21, 2022
Wildlife success or deal with the devil?

Land swap approved in Southwest Colorado, but not without detractors

July 21, 2022
Tapping out

The latest strategy to save the San Luis Valley's shrinking aquifer: paying farmers not to farm

July 14, 2022
Hey, good environmental news

Despite SCOTUS ruling, San Juan Generating Station plans to shut down