I live in an apartment complex about half a kilometer from the Platte River, and as Colorado is famously outdoorsy there is an extensive network of bicycle and jogging trails. Quite naturally, there is one along the Platte. It seems extraordinary to me that the city should have spent so much money and effort creating such a place, but the culture of Denver and environs is very much conducive to projects of this type. The Platte trail is a lovely park with many shade trees, the delightful scummy smell peculiar to small rivers, and sunny cottonwood seeds drifting through the air.
Moreover, we passed perhaps hundreds of bicyclists in the ten miles we rode: professionals with slim thighs and advertisement-plastered shirts, the slow but game elderly, whole families matching their pace to young children, and several amputees (one of whom was performing the very exciting feat of bicycling quite fast without legs). Along the trail were gardens, bridges, highway crossings, and several signs for cafés (we are planning this weekend to visit Lucile’s Creole Breakfast Restaurant). At Nixon’s Coffee House, a mere mile from our apartment, several dozen bicyclists sat with their tiny water bottles (sometimes several apiece) and tiny saddle bags, chatting and cooling off over iced coffee.
What really struck me was that here there is a significant, cohesive bicycling culture. I think it does owe largely to Colorado’s cultural tendency to view outdoor activities as preferable, partially owing to its tourism industry, and this in turn is because of its preponderance of mountains and other sorts of gorgeous scenery. I believe it is different in this way from Utah, which suffers from a sad dichotomy: wherever there are great populated areas, there is much less exciting wilderness, and wherever the exciting wilderness is (the south) no settlements are anywhere nearby. Utah’s wilderness is inhospitable, but in Colorado it has been carefully preserved as it was settled. Here, it seems that people make more of an effort to enjoy and be part of nature. In Utah it is a pastime, but here it is just life.