January 31, 2021 on the Platte River Trail in suburban Denver…
I ceased pedaling for a few seconds, allowing myself to slow down. This helped me successfully navigate around several groups of people, while anticipating the unpredictable motion of dogs, children and even a few less attentive adults. There were so many people walking side by side with their dogs, or even in large groups, likely families. This made navigating the trail, in sections, particularly challenging. On this section of the trail, pedestrians outnumbered cyclists by about 3-to-1.
After navigating the congested area, my mind began to wander onto some of the more pressing issues of our time.
I thought about those on the left, who were concerned with people not getting paid what they are worth and the amount of power employers seem to have over their employees. I thought about those on the right, concerned with inconsistency and the possible abandonment of our core culture. I even thought about my own concern about preserving our basic freedoms, and a political culture that has become both more divisive and intrusive into more areas of our lives.
I thought about the commonly heard proposed solutions and why I find them narrow, short-sighted and potentially dangerous. Most people support solutions that address the issues that matter to them, but could make other problems worse, or create new problems altogether. I began to ponder an innovative solution that addresses multiple concerns at once. Then, I began to wonder if the solutions I would come up with would be just as narrow and short-sighted as the ones that terrify me.
Before I knew it, I was once again rapidly approaching a large group of people, this one larger than the last group. I decided not to be aggressive. It is a Sunday. I’m not in a hurry. After all, we are still supposed to be “social distancing” and trying to avoid using hospital resources, which are needed for COVID patients, for avoidable accidents. I slowly navigate around the group. First, I pass the parents walking and talking, while avoiding the couple walking in the other direction. Then, I maneuver around several children in front of them using scooters. However, this time before fully clearing the group, I suddenly noticed another cyclist behind me.
“On Your Left!” he shouted before I had fully moved over to the right side of the trail. I guess every person on this trail has a different agenda for the day.
The same cycle repeated for about 12 miles. The experience of suddenly realizing a more aggressive cyclist was behind me even repeated several more times. Regardless, my mind was alternating, almost in a rhythm, between navigation mode and pondering mode. The more I pondered these grand issues, and processed my thoughts about human nature, the more pessimistic I became.
Then, suddenly, I entered a section of the trail I had never fully appreciated until now. It is in the Southern part of Cherry Creek State Park.
Cherry Creek State Park is known for a fairly large (for Colorado standards) reservoir where people swim, boat, and apparently also walk on the ice in winter.
Seriously, I don’t know if this is safe. Winters here are not consistently cold, and the temperature was around 53°F (11°C) at this time.
However, at the southern end of this park the trail winds through a large open field.
Maybe this is what happens when you finally start to feel the physical strain of a long bike ride and don’t have the energy to think about mentally taxing subjects. Or, maybe it was the inspiration of the bright sunshine and the contrast between the mountains in the distance and wide open, mostly brown, field in front of me. I just gazed at the scene. I realized that, unlike in many other situations, nobody was trying to make me think about those topics that were making me feel pessimistic. All I had to do was appreciate that on this, the last day of January, the dead of winter, I was enjoying a sunny day on my bicycle.
I felt youthful, untamed and uninhibited, which was exactly what I needed after a year that has been filled with fear, restrictions and divisiveness. There was no better place to be than on my bike, on this trail.
I rode my bike nearly 60 miles that day, finding a great stopping point with some hidden treasures.
We are facing a lot of challenges and it would be foolish to ignore them. However, it would also be foolish to allow them to consume us. No matter what anyone is going through or becomes concerned with, sometimes it is necessary to just enjoy the experience in the here and now.