I knew something was amiss today as soon as I got on my bike: I look down the driveway and two people are riding up Raleigh Street; laptops in stow, matching helmets and huge grins on their faces. "I've never seen them before - some new peeps from my street must be riding to work!" I think to myself as I cross 38th. Then another anomaly - a group of eight, in full spandex matching roadie kits waiting at a stop sign for an invisible car to cross. They are chatting it up big time. Tall guy in front is telling a joke. All of his matching followers eagerly listen. I miss the punch line but I hear the group let out a collective roar as I round the corner. Interesting. I pedal some more - the air seems lighter today or something... A pass a dude cutting his hedges at 7 am. Then a guy loading his road bike on his Audi. "Is it a holiday?" I think to myself as I pass two rockabilly hipsters on townies taking up the entire right lane. It must be one of those obscure government holidays that only non-cubical dwellers get off. Like Cesar Chavez day or Boxing day or something. Wait, that's a Canadian holiday. Is there a Summer Solstice holiday now? I feel completely out of the loop.
Then, in the span of about 5 seconds, all of this happens: a car door opens right in front of me. I swerve out of the bike lane and into traffic as a young girl wearing a pink biking helmet and pink spandex shorts steps out of her SUV. She lets out a small yelp as I squeeze between an RTD bus and her open door at about 20 miles per hour. My heart is pounding as I swerve back into the lane still on two wheels. I look back hoping to flash my look of disapproval at her but my trained look of disgust quickly turns to bewilderment as I see her start unloading her shiny bike off the top of her shiny SUV. I start trying to hypothesis why she would have driven to Tejon street, parked on the side of the road, just to ride her bike somewhere. I'm quickly out-matched by that puzzle and just give up. But two more clues to the strange holiday were upon me; first a tandem bike with color-coordinated, gray-haired operators; then a shop clerk lurching out the door carrying one of those huge barrels of ice with red bull stickers all over it. Something is definitely going on - no one rides a tandem or drinks red bull at 7 am. I actually ask myself as I cross over I-25 "is it Saturday?". I quickly realize it's not by the look of the traffic, but even the traffic seems off - it's after 7 and it's not even backed up to Speer yet?! I can't wait to get to work so I can google the mystery holiday then complain to my co-workers that we don't get it off...
I won't have to though - as I round the corner to REI, there in front of me is a feeding frenzy unlike anything I have ever seen: Hundreds of people are lined up at a dozen or so tents that line the bike path behind REI. They come in all shapes and sizes - suits, jeans, roadie kits, fluorescent wind breakers; The skinny ones tend to be wearing tight brightly-colored spandex while the bigger ones tend to be wearing the day-glo jackets - I find this odd. I've now come to a full stop because the bike path is completely blocked. In my stillness I can hear the peculiar sound of cycling shoes tap-tap-tip-tapping the cobble stone path. I slowly approach the smorgasbord; bagels, cinnamon rolls, granola, and yogurt at the first tent, coffee and OJ at another tent. An anonymous hand shoves a mini-cliff bar in my face. I take it even though I can't eat cliff bars because I know refusing will be too much work. Some people shuffle along in line with their bikes still between their legs, tires buzzing the padded butts in front of them. A bigger guy wearing a 'Giro' shirt is publicly humiliating everyone who appears to be riding without a helmet. I'm in the middle of it now - all around me people are eating something, or filling forms out, or getting free stickers, or grabbing handfuls of free energy bars, or posing for pictures with REI staff. It looks like the Pride Parade for cyclists. Even though I think I know the answer, I ask a caffeinated REI employee:
"What's going on today?"
"Well it's National Bike to Work Day of course!" she replies with a definite aire of satisfaction.
"You didn't know?" she asks, wondering why I'm straddling a bike if I didn't get the memo.
"But I ride to work every day". I exaggerate to make a point.
"Whooaaa! You should sign up for our Cliff Bar Challenge! From now until Halloween you can log miles and win $35,000 dollars for a local charity!"
She's genuinely pumped for me.
Suddenly a photog dude pops out of nowhere and is aiming a camera at me and Flo. She instantly breaks into a pose with me and my participation in NBTWD is recorded for eternity onto a tiny memory card. She points me to the challenge signup booth and I shuffle along. I grab an unnaturally soft Clementine and throw down Dixie-cup shots of OJ and watered-down coffee handed to me by anonymous hands. I dodge bikes parked on kickstands in the middle of the path, catch a wiff of an old man's morning breath, and grab a cliff challenge card just in case Flo is still watching.
As I make it past the dozens more people dismounting their bikes from the bike path I realize that the girl that almost killed me earlier had parked at the top of the hill so she could 'ride' down to REI and partake in the festivities. I can't believe it. I instantly want to search the crowd so I can expose her SUV-driving hypocrisy but common sense gets the better of me. I mount my bike near the 'free bike mechanic' tent and head over the bridge. Traffic is terrible today on the bike path. There are easily 10 times more people riding today than normal. Where I normally ride with no handlebars in the straight sections (to show off my bike skills to the bums) I am forced a white-knuckled grip as I weave in and out of people. A roadie on a carbon bike blazes by me and turns around to look at me alla Lance 2005. I try to keep up but today is his day. I'm routinely caught behind large groups riding two wide, holding starbucks coffees, with no room to pass. I pass someone with a noisy rear derailleur, shifting between two gears with every pedal. I tell her to check out the free mechanics tent at REI as I pass.
Businesses have taken advantage of the day - advertisements are set all along the bike path: "exit here for a free breakfast at Sams", "9News feed station 500 ft ahead", "Use only What you Need". That last sign reminds me of a conversation I had last night with some friends about the Denver Water Advertising Campaign. Denver water has thousands of simple orange signs with white lettering that say "use only what you need", telling us in no uncertain terms that we shouldn't waste water. Pretty obvious to me but apparently after the signs go up water use goes down 50%. And when the signs come down later in the summer water use inches back up again to the typical rates. People need to be told what to do. I didn't really believe it last night - I thought it was more of a typical Mike exaggeration - but this morning I see it's effect in full glory. It apparently takes a National multi-million dollar advertising campaign, and lots of free food and schwag to lure people out of their cars. For one day a year. This realization shocks me as I pass the 9news feeding frenzy. But there they are - hundreds of more people, eating energy bars and coffee, fueling themselves for the epic ride to work. A camera crew records the mêlée for the evening news.
I passed two more feeding stations on my way to work this morning. I admittedly stopped at the Whole Foods one because of the undeniable allure of free whole foods goodies. Hey, when in Rome I guess. I was thankful for the flax and chia seed granola, but also for the two EMT equipped bikes that I passed this morning because I guarantee there was some carnage today; like on that one blind corner under University, or those spots on the path where the retaining wall and the creek squeeze the path down to only 10 ft wide. I had some near misses, but I made it to work relatively unscathed and plus a mini-cliff bar, a super soft Clementine and a neat new perspective on people. Maybe we need to be told what to do...to do anything. Maybe 5% of the thousands of people that rode today will love it so much they will keep riding. Or maybe they will just go back to driving their BMW to work because that's what the TV told them to do. I don't really know. All I do know is that tomorrow morning, after all the tents have gone, I'll be riding with no handlebars again.
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Thread: Surprise Denver Holiday - A Rant
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