Sally Shivnan on the B&A Trail in Maryland.
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More Trail Tales
In the Spring 2008 issue of Rails to Trails, we asked our readers: Do you use rail-trails for a "greener" commute? The responses—from two bicycle commuters—explore the unique sensations of traveling through a city on a combination of streets and trails. For one, the marvel is how physically and philsophically satisfying bike commuting can be. And for the other, the reward is getting in close touch with a city's sites and sounds.
Both readers agree: pedaling to work in the morning is a wonderfully energizing way to begin the day.
Sally Shivnan of Annapolis, Md., writes:
It's a patchwork, but maybe a lot of good commutes are. First I scoot a few miles in my car on a road that's too traffic-intense to be a fun ride, then I park at the B&A Trail and get going.
B&A stands for Baltimore and Annapolis and harkens back to a single-track railroad that once carried people and goods through the pastoral expanses between those cities. Now it carries me, north, through suburban Maryland, past leafy backyards, past the turtle pond, past the concrete pilings that are all that is left of old Elvaton Station, catapulting me over a freeway and around a shopping mall, until I'm at the T-intersection with the trail around BWI airport.
I hang a left, swooping through a woodsy park, the thwak of tennis balls in my ears; I hop a two-lane road and dive into trees with an interstate flying by on my left—a curious feeling, to be invisible to those speeding cars as I slip along on two wheels on my smooth asphalt ribbon. A driving range appears, for an instant—a wide green field full of tiny white golf balls—and then the trees close around again as planes roar in overhead, aiming for runways just out of sight.
I reach, at last, the train station, where I roll up to my bike locker and tuck my trusty steed away. Then I'm on a bus on giant freeways for ten minutes, still in my clunky clipless-pedal shoes surrounded by men and women in suits. The bus is free, a service of the university where I teach, and it's the final piece that makes my commute irresistible.
Each way it's 13 miles, an hour of biking, and another half-hour for the motorized parts, compared to 55 minutes by car on soul-sucking freeways. The fact that these connecting, paved trails take me where I need to go, through a maze of dense suburbs and congested roads, never a hitch in my giddy-up, is a miracle to me.
And commuting feels great—it's bike riding with a purpose, biking as transportation, a satisfying hum thrumming into me from my wheels that recreational riding, fun as it is, can't match. What a way to start the day.
Sally Robertson of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., writes:
I love getting up in the early dawn and catching "The Music City Star" commuter rail to Nashville. Once I get downtown, I hop on my bike and ride the seven miles to Nashville State Community College, where I am a librarian. The last two miles are on a rail-with-trail greenway. One of the things I especially like about riding my bike to work is that I've gotten to know Nashville and its citizens a lot better than when I was driving my car—from the homeless men who sleep under the Shelby Street Bridge to the people I greet as they walk their dogs in the old West Nashville neighborhoods and on the Richland Creek Greenway.
When I ride down Music Row, I like to imagine what kind of music is being made in the studios I pass. It seems that when I ride I am more aware of all of my senses. I see the city waking up. The smells are many and varied, from the Cumberland River downtown to the scent of the grass and trees in the neighborhoods. I hear the sounds of elementary school children walking or riding their bikes to school with their parents. I enjoy saying "hi" and waving to an older gentleman who is a crossing guard. He always has a kind word and a smile. One time he even showed me a picture of himself in the third grade. "That was about 70 years ago," he told me. It's people like that who help brighten my day. Riding a bike to work is an interactive way to get to around. It puts me in touch with my surroundings.
I ride my bike first because it is fun, then because it is good for my health and the health of Planet Earth and finally because it saves gas and money. Thanks to the trails, I can feel good about my commute to work and know that I am reducing my carbon footprint on the Earth.