A Lament for the Loss of the Dirt Commute

It's impossible to start the workday cranky, when you got to work by cranking on this
It’s impossible to start the workday cranky when you got to work by cranking on this.

I consider myself lucky, having been able to bike commute for the last six years. Not only have I been able to ride a bike to and from my place of primary employment, I have been able to do so on routes which are largely dirt and when not on trail, at least on city bike paths removed from traffic.

Scratch that. Luck had nothing to do with it. I worked very hard to secure a home and a place of work which are within mountain biking distance from each other. I could have purchased a newer home for less money had I not put such a premium on trail access. For me, not having to spend time in an automobile, and conversely being able to spend more time outdoors, is a huge quality of life issue. While not always possible when I was being transferred to a variety of locales as a military member, once I left the service and settled down, access to trails and minimizing my commute was a prime driver in selection of both employment and a home.


The basic morning route is approximately five miles and more down then up, so I don’t have to worry about getting sweaty in the morning. My short evening route is just shy of 10 miles, the first half flat with a stiff 800ft climb in the middle, and a wicked fun plummet back into the neighborhood. But the best part is that there are so many options on the way home, I rarely need take the same route twice, and I can up the mileage and climbing beyond my physical capabilities. The options are endless and the ride is always fresh.


Even the flat parts of the singletrack are gorgeous
Even the flat parts of the singletrack are gorgeous

The benefits of incorporating mountain biking into both mornings and evenings are truly priceless. Mountain biking is my meditation. No matter what’s going on at home, when I pedal through fields and forests on my way to work, it’s impossible to arrive at work cranky. While my colleagues show up stressed from traffic, road construction, and all the “other idiots on the road,” I arrive fresh and full of life. While they are largely unproductive until halfway through their second cup of coffee, I’m ready to rock the minute I walk through the door. Conversely, no matter what kind of a day I have at work, I arrive home refreshed and ready to be a good husband and father without carrying any unnecessary baggage.

This is just Minutes from this

In addition to the mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits my ride provides, there’s the more obvious physical benefits.  Doctors say we need 60 minutes of exercise a day. I get that just going to and from work, a time which for most Americans, does nothing more than promote the retention of calories.  Anything else I do beyond the commute, be it hiking, running, more biking, or lifting, is just icing on my fitness cake.

White Acres 1
No matter how many times I ride home this way, it never, ever gets old

I also appreciate being able to reduce congestion on the roads and avoid contributing to the consumption of fossil fuels, as well as the production of the waste and pollution those fossil fuels produce. Not only do I reap personal benefits, I generate benefits to society at large.

Construction on the freeway… Construction on the trail… But who’s backed up in the gridlock? Not the cyclist!

The benefits are also financial: zero cost for gas.  By driving fewer miles, my auto insurance is cheaper.  I’m spending a little more on bike maintenance, but a lot less on auto maintenance.  The net savings in my pocketbook have been most welcome.

Some days, things get a little frosty, but that's all part of the joy
Some days, things get a little frosty, but that’s all part of the joy

What Went Wrong

By the middle of next month, my mountain bike commute will be a thing of the past.  Am I losing my trails to development? Nope. When I picked a place to live, I studied land status and determined this area had little opportunity for growth and development, and that the open spaces were protected in perpetuity. Knowing the resources I worked hard to acquire access to would always be there was a large input into my decision. No, my home is still where it is and the trails are still open, but the third leg of my tripod, my work location, is moving. While the current location is downtown, which conveniently lies closest to the southwest sector where it live, the new office will be on the extreme east end of the city, and Colorado Springs has no viable west-east bike route, let alone one that incorporates dirt.  Lesson learned: you can do everything right and still be thwarted!

Making Lemonade

Since I won’t be riding the same group of trails every day, I’ll branch out and hit other faves like Palmer Park on the drive (ugh) home.

So how do I turn this disaster into a positive? I’m certainly not going to be mountain biking to and from work and I can never recover the time I will now spend, like most Americans, sitting on my duff behind the wheel of an exhaust-spewing vehicle. First and foremost, home is still adjacent to a hundred miles of singletrack I can access without ever getting into a car; I’ll just have to work harder to make time to hit them after work rather than just as part of my evening commute. Second, Colorado Springs has a number of great riding venues I have been neglecting due to spending every day in the same dirt as part of my commute. With minimal detour, my new driving commute will allow me to swing by an old favorite, Palmer Park, on the way home.

With a little longer detour north, there’s Ute Valley or a slight detour south, there’s Cheyenne Mountain State Park.  There’s the silver lining: the impetus to reintroduce some variety into my riding venues.  But I will always fondly remember those six years I was able to stay out of a cab and in the saddle.