Sunday, October 24, 2010

Turning heads

For various reasons I have made my autumn conversion from full road commutes to park-and-rides. This puts me on the Cotton Valley Trail, aka the DERT (Disappointing Example of a Rail Trail) for almost six miles each way.

The DERT was built with the rails in place. Long sections run between the rails, giving inadequate space for comfortable, safe passing when bikes meet from opposite directions. The fill varies from firm packed mineral products to loose granules that are only secure to ride on after a soaking rain gives them temporary consolidation. Numerous rail crossings challenge the rider throughout the trail's length. There have been many injuries. In spite of these statistics, the rail users responsible for its shortcomings are quite defensive of their role in its construction. Such ironies seem to make up much of life.

For me it boils down to this: I get the best use out of the path when cold weather has driven nearly all other users off it. I can deal with the crossings at my own speed and nearly never have to accommodate oncoming bike traffic. It angles away from my regular route, so it doesn't tempt me in the warmer, lighter months unless I take a fun but lengthy detour over a mostly dirt road. I used to ride that detour a lot. Now I want the time more than the pretty, traffic-free route. But in the dark and chilly end of the commuting season I can salvage bike miles and save some gasoline by resorting to the path.

Only the first mile of the ride home uses streets. For those I run the whole light array in all its flashing splendor. Once on the path, however, I don't need all the flashing lights because no motor vehicles are going to mow me down. If one does, the operator has to be pretty messed up to get on the path in the first place. The only somewhat likely candidate would be a dirt biker or someone poaching the path on an ATV.

By reducing my lights to the single head and tail light powered by the generator I present a more vehicular aspect. I've noticed cars slow way down when they're on a road that crosses the path and I'm coming up to the intersection in the dark. I wonder if I have been reported as a motor vehicle on the path. One car that slowed almost to a stop while crossing was far enough along to have passed without the slightest risk to either of us. Only the strength of my headlight drew their eye and sparked their curiosity. Coming out of a dark path where they probably expect no one at this time of year makes it particularly conspicuous.

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