03 April 2011

You come too

I'm going out to clear the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan’t be gone long. You come too.
      --  Robert Frost

There are three ways to get home.

The Standard Way. The Fast Way. And The Long Cut.

In general, depending on the demands of my schedule, the weather, and sometimes the sort of bike I'm riding, I tend to pick from one of these options when heading home from work by bike.

The Standard Way
There's nothing wrong with The Standard Way.  It's just not especially interesting.  Like a cup of that what's-it-called Starbucks house-blend coffee, The Standard Way home is not especially memorable, but neither does it offend.  It is simply a well-balanced blend of bike paths, bridges, neighborhood side streets, urban trails, and short interstitial social tracks which cleverly connect here and there. The Standard Way is, in effect, just an afternoon rewind of my morning ride to work... a one-off sort of route that wouldn't make sense for anyone else unless you lived and worked precisely where I do, because it's really a point-A to point-B kind of thing.  Nevertheless, The Standard Way does take into consideration a few key factors, the most important of which is my desire to avoid car-traffic wherever and whenever possible.  This route does that well, making zero-use of main roads, major arterials, or congested signaled intersections.  The Standard Way might not be super-interesting, but it is definitely super-safe.

The Fast Way home is hardly worth discussing.  I take it when it's going to be dark soon and I've forgotten my lights.  Or when it's all snowy or rainy.  Or when it's midwinter and the trails are buried or caked in mud.  Or when I'm test-riding something unusual for a review, like a trailer or a set of skinny tires.  The Fast Way home is all roads, big cars, loud engines, exhaust fumes, and stress: red lights, stop signs, buses, crosswalks.  I hate it.  But it occasionally serves its purpose.  It's at least 50-percent faster than The Standard Way.  Fortunately, I am rarely in a hurry.

The Long Cut
Whenever my life's not in a hurry (and the woods aren't filled with snow), several days each week, I'm able to enjoy one of the great pleasures of my simple life, which is also one of the best fringe benefits of life here in Flagstaff: The Long Cut.  From a practical standpoint, The Long Cut makes no sense.  It's neither fast nor direct.  But what it does do well is wander.  And it is its glorious imprecision that I most love about The Long Cut.

The Long Cut buries the notion that a commute must be a means to an end and not an end in and of itself.  It defies the logic with which streets ever comply. It is non-linear, disordered, and unnecessarily difficult.  It is the perfect way to end any workday.  It's pretty much the way I've chosen to head home, whenever I've been able to, for the better part of the past two decades.  Because it is the best way home.

Scenes from The Long Cut
My Long Cut changed this year.  For the last 17 years or so, I rode home most days across the front side of Mount Elden along the Forces Of Nature trail system.  This year, The Long Cut takes me home via Rocky Ridge and the network of system and social trails that run along the base of Mount Elden.  Neither route is a huge ride, both are well under ten miles.  I've never taken great pains to prep for these rides; I've always just ridden home in my work clothes and riding shoes, on any one of the half-dozen different bikes that I ride regularly to work... cross bikes and mountain bikes, multi-speed, singlespeed, and fixed-gear bikes.  I carry a backpack that holds tools, tubes, and often my laptop, and sometimes I carry a partially filled Camelback holding about 20 ounces of water... though I occasionally forget to carry any water.  I try not to crash.  But sometimes I do.

Regardless, there are few things that I have found that are more centering, more cathartic, more empowering, more head-cleansing than an indirect ride home through the woods on your bike after work.  For me, it's almost always just what I need.