Friday, August 18, 2006

There and Back

Joe over at Cycler's Life has an interesting post about traffic and over crowding in general. He and I were through Baltimore-Washington International airport (BWI) at about the same time but his experience was the opposite of mine. When he left the peace and tranquility of his home in Missoula to travel to Maryland, near the heart of the east coast Urban Jungle, he was reminded of a world where you almost have to use public transportation and cars to get around. Although they are about the same geographical size BWI dwarfs Missoula County Airport for traffic. I totally understand why Joe was so happy to be able to walk out of the terminal when he got home, unlock his bike and take off...**sigh**.

I left Dallas Fort Worth International and flew into BWI. Understand, at 8 miles long by 5 miles wide DFW is like a medium sized city with 1800 flights and almost 162,000 people a day going through it (more than the entire population of Montana in a week!). When I get to BWI I am greeted with a quaint, attractive little 1-square-mile facility where I am able to be in my rental and on the road in less than an hour. The loop around Baltimore had half the traffic of the Dallas Speedway loop more commonly known as the Lyndon Baines Johnson Freeway (every time I hear that it makes me think of the 'William J. LePetomaine Thru-way'). Within 45 minutes I am heading north into Pennsylvania through rolling hills where I discovered that grass really is supposed to be green in August...not brown. Who-da' thunk'!

My entire time in PA, just outside of Hershey, the weather was heavenly: upper 80's to low 90's (not the 102-plus we have had for the last month straight back home), upper 50's to low 60's at night and I was missing my bike terribly...both the TREK and the Honda. Things have changed since I was here last years ago. In the past I had always felt that people from this part of the world weren't as friendly as they were back in the Lone Star State. I was wrong. I didn't see one instance of aggressive driving, road rage, short tempers or prejudice & bigotry in people's attitudes towards each other, including my day trips to Allentown and Philadelphia. The people in the stores and restaurants and on the streets were extremely polite and pleasant to talk to. The last time I experienced a pleasant time like this while traveling was in 2000 when the company I worked for sent me to Kalispell, MT for 3 months...the people there were just as friendly and the scenery took my breath away. I dreaded coming home. When I exited the plane and felt the blast-furnace breath hit me on the jetway I said "...welcome home..."

I try hard this time of year to commute or just ride for fun but it's tough when it's over 100 by noon and still 97 at 10 pm for weeks and weeks on end. So, I've been doing most of my riding at the gym...I know, a very poor substitute but we do the best we can under the circumstances. I know that my friend Jeremy in Tucson has it hot but I'm tellin' ya! I've been to Tucson in July and August and I prefer the desert! Here we have Tucson's heat but Houston's humidity...a deadly combination.

Also it saddened me to have to come back to the horrible traffic we have here. The DFW area has a distinct lack of meaningful bike trails. There are a handful of pretty nice dedicated trails-to-nowhere but there is no provision for commuters and driver knowledge of road laws and the rights of pedestrians and bicyclists is non-existent. I don't know how many times people yell for me to 'get on the sidewalk' or I get forced off the road. Then, there's the road rage and general lack of attention to the road (talking on the cell phone while drinking coffee and looking for an address) by drivers that kind of takes some of the fun out of riding. Here everyone seems to be in a giant rush to get somewhere,then when they get there they are tired and worn out. People don't seem as friendly or as happy here as they used to be.

I don't wonder. When I was growing up here the whole DFW area only had about 1.5 million people. Now, 30 years later, that's swollen to nearly 7 million. If I were to ride like Joe on a 25-mile-out and 25-mile-back loop in ANY direction from my house I would never get out of the city...I'd have to go 40 miles north or south and about 60 east or west to see the horizon of urban sprawl.

Still, when the weather finally starts to get civil in October, it's pretty nice riding and I enjoy it along with the 10's of thousands of other cyclists in our area. Despite the traffic and terrible road conditions I am amazed at the number of dedicated road cyclists in this area. One advantage here is that we can ride comfortably from fall until some time in June without too much weather worries.

In the meantime: Thanks, Joe, for your ride logs and stories of the road. You are the eyes for many of us who don't have the same opportunity as you. Until the day I can live someplace like that I will rest in your testimony.



Blogger Joe said...

Great post. Thanks for the different view. It's encouraging that you share the roads there with so many other cyclists. I never know where the next twist will take me, but being among riders is usually being among good folks. Nice to think I'd have company even in DFW. And, I'm right with you on the wet heat. I grew up in East Tennessee and spent summers in SW Arkansas.

Keep turning those pedals around.

12:26 AM, August 19, 2006  

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