Sunday, September 21, 2008

The DERT, my guilty pleasure

When daylight gets short after summer's end I risk riding the Disappointing Example of a Rail Trail on my way out of town in the evenings. I used to call it the SERT, for Sorry Excuse for a Rail Trail, but its intentions are good. Just the execution falls far short of what can handle the kind of volume the trail can expect.

For the past couple of years, traffic has dropped way off as dusk encroaches. This year I started earlier, though, so I've had to dance past oncoming riders or wait patiently for pedestrians to clear a narrow causeway.

For now, I ride the inner section from River Street to just past the Allen A Motel. That includes the only twisty bit, where the path detours to the Allen A Beach. That was donated to the town in the 1980s. It became a destination for the path as the path supporters pushed construction out from the center of town. Now it's just one more stop on the route that extends about six miles out into Cotton Valley.

Yesterday, Arf put in a guest appearance at the shop. I persuaded him to ride out the DERT with me as part of his route home. He'd ridden his Cross Check to work. I did a double take when I saw my bike's larger twin. Arf had arrived while I was in another part of the building. I noticed he'd pulled the fenders off and put on knobby tires since the last time I saw the bike.

On this last weekend of summer, people were partying on Saturday evening. The DERT runs through back yards along Crescent Lake. People in those cottages often gather on the path itself. They seem oblivious to cyclists trying to pass through. Arf had taken the lead just before we got there. We floated through, nearly in a track stand as we wiggled among the group looking down toward some party activity closer to their cabins.

Arf took a harder line than I have with oncoming cyclists and walkers. I've been hopping right off the path to let them clear the narrow parts. Arf rode the balancing act along the right-hand rail, as I used to do. His handlebars are wider than mine. I followed in the gap.

At the fun part, Arf was still ahead. The twisty bit is a continuous series of blind S-curves. I usually wing it through there, but I hold back a little in case I meet someone. It has happened. Arf went for it like the expert mountain bike racer he used to be. I could not have held the turns at that speed on my 32 mm road tires. On the other hand, I figured I could let it rip to the limit of my traction, because Arf would hit anyone first. I would hear the screams and be able to slow down.

Luck was with us. The bendy bit was all ours. I'm tempted to put knobbies on for the last fall commutes, because I'll do more on the dirt and I won't be flying into any corners on the pavement. Not yet, though. There's about a week or ten days of open road left before I have to decide about night maneuvers.

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