For years I wished the town of Gilbert would pave the canal path from Guadalupe to Warner Road. Sometimes it’s better for wishes not to come true.
The canals in Phoenix are old. Dug by the Hohokams or maybe even a civilization before them — maybe 1500 years ago — maybe longer.
The canal past my house is newer — dug 100 years ago by the Mormons and ex-confederate soldiers who framed and farmed the East Valley.
Concrete lines the canals now to prevent water seeping back into the ground. The banks were mostly 15-foot wide flat packed dirt, so the maintenance trucks could access every inch of the canal.
About 20 years ago, the suburban towns of Mesa, Chandler and eventually even Gilbert started paving one side or the other of the banks for bikers, hikers and horses — apparently horses don’t like getting stones in their shoes either.
For a couple of decades, it’s been a patchwork of asphalt, concrete and dirt paths. A 25-mile bike ride might mean riding on 4-5 miles of dirt. Most of that dirt was in Gilbert as the town grudging gave up it’s “farm town” feel and became just another red-tile-roof suburb of Phoenix.
The dirt wasn’t terrible. Just gets the chain and gears all mucked up and covers your ass in brown streaks (from the ouside, Geno).
Paved paths were at least 10-feet wide — some 12. Plenty of room for 3 bikes across to easily slip past in either direction. Or to get around the pedestrians, kids, dogs and horses that were ambling along one side.
The last section to get paved was Elliot to Warner road. I don’t know if the town did it or they twisted the arm of a developer who built these cardboard box townhomes east of the canal. But whoever did it, fucked it up.
Concrete path is 3 feet wide. Plenty of room for one bike or one person going in one direction. Works great at 3 p.m. in July and August when it’s 110 and you are the only idiot out in the sun that day.
As soon as the temps drop below “egg-frying sidewalks”, and a second person appears, it’s a giant game of chicken.
I’ve got my skinny fucking tires (25mm or less). Going off the lip of the concrete and back onto the dirt is likely to end in a fall.
Getting back from the dirt to the concrete is worse. There’s not enough room to turn at take the lip head on. So there’s always some shitty angle calculation you have to make in your head, and hope your tire doesn’t get stuck in the crack and suck you into the ground and smash your brains on the concrete.
You can’t easily just ride on the dirt — it’s got lots of wash outs, awkward ruts and hoof prints.
Get out the way, Fucker
I’ve got one mantra in my head. “Get out the way fucker, I’m not getting off the concrete.”
Most pedestrians are pretty good about stepping off. Horses are better. Dogs are fucking idiots — you can only hope the owner will pull the leash in the right direction.
Other cyclists are the worst. They’ve got the same mantra. Sometimes these fat-tire mountain bikers are happy to jump off in the dirt and hop back on. It’s fun for them; it’s what those bikes were built for. A three-inch wide tire is not going to have a problem with a two-inch lip.
But if that other dude has skinny tires too, it’s game on.
There’s no friendly wave. We put our heads down and keep our hands off the brakes.
Fat Biker Mass
Fortunately, most of them are skinny fucks. The only advantage of being a fat biker is mass. If we collide, you are going down. I’ll probably stay up. You want to win this 21st-Century joust? You should have eaten more ice cream as a child.
Most of them hop off into the dirt and then back on the concrete once I pass.
My last joust was with an older couple on touring bikes. They’ve got the big wide handle bars and are smiling like they made the finals in a beauty contest. Completely clueless.
They don’t get off the concrete. I move to my last inch on my side. It’s the rowing scene from Ben Hur… Ramming speed. Prepare for impact.
I shift my hands to the tops so if they hit the handlebars it won’t be my fingers that get smashed.
They move to the last few inches of concrete on their side, and by some fucking miracle we pass without our handlebars tangling. I’m guessing there’s less than two-inches of clearance. Not much margin for a bunch of old farts with bad balance, bad eyesight and the reflexes of aging slouths — with the flu.
I don’t always have to go down this path. But every time I pick that route, I double my blood pressure medicine and hold my breath for the 8 minutes it takes me to cover those two miles.
I wish they had just left it 12-foot wide dirt. I’m probably going to have a stroke being the only fat biker on skinny tires trying to stay upright on this narrow fucking path.