Bike to Shine
Because the open road is paved with possibility
December 28, 2002

The Daily Commute.
My route from home to work is 35 miles, a long stretch of Interstate that glosses over salt marshes and rocky fields of yellow grass. As I leave the city at 80 mph every morning, the surrounding images blend together in soft lines and muted grays and I commute to work in a content daze. But beneath the freeway is a stark, glaring world that I've never seen, that's all but forgotton...

The Industrial Wasteland.
Today I decided to break out the new cycing shorts, a much-appreciated Christmas present, on a 55-mile distance ride to the Great Salt Lake marina. The late morning clouds broke out in a golden haze, sprinkling the pavement with pepper sunlight. The only through-way west of the city, besides the Interstate, is a narrow, gritty corridor called 400 South. It's a place where no one lives, no one works, no one drives. I clunk through an intricate network of potholes; no car has passed in over 20 minutes. The world that 400 South stretches through is nothing more than a mass burial ground...

A Graveyard for Urban Decay.
Mountains of twisted metal, abandoned vehicles in every state of decomposition, rusted railroad tracks, windowless buildings, smokestacks and sprawling fences. All of it, 
every last rusted scrap, is blocked by chain linked barriers and "No Tresspassing" signs so badly dented and damaged, it feels as though I'm the first person that ever read them. This is a place no one ever goes, except to discard and forget. Those who trespass are those who belong here, amid the rubble and smoke and decay.

Then, the trees.
The massive power substation nearly blocks the view, and I don't see it until I've almost ridden right past it. Beneath the massive tangle of powerlines is a small ghost town... literally. A tidy subdivision of three or so blocks... whitewashed houses, picket fences, fire hydrants, and a row of ancient maple trees, so dark and barren that even for winter, they appear dead. Overgrown bushes reveal a place that was once landscaped. Meaning somebody once lived here, but have since moved away, probably after industrial zoning encroached on them, after the smoke stacks were built, after Utah Power raised thousands of buzzing wires over their heads, and, though the company had little use for their property, bought them out, boarded up their former homes, and fenced the remnants in.

I imagine that recently,
maybe as little as 30 years ago, this was a small, rural community on the outskirts of unincorporated Salt Lake County. This subdivision was once surrounded by farmland, grazing cattle and horses, a few small patches of sugar beets and alfalfa and wild salt marshes all the way to the Great Salt Lake. But the nearby city had expanded, southward and eastward, and they sent their garbage west. 
Soon, the stench of processing metal permeated the air, plastic cups and tires clogged their canals, dark industrial buildings blocked their sunlight. But I bet they stayed. Right up until the bitter end, ranting and screaming at City Council meetings as their livestock slowly died of lead poisoning. It was all in vain. Awaiting a miracle in the face of the inevitable.... that there's was a town that didn't even have the clout to simply be swallowed up by the big city. No, they were buried. Buried and forgotton, leaving only a tombstone... the dirt gardens, cracked siding, gravelled streets so worn and faded into the bleak landscape that only a cyclist moving at 10 mph could possibly notice it as anything more than the industrial blur. Still, I mourn for it. It's beautiful, really, in the way that a crumpled leaf drifting on a winter breeze is beautiful... a bittersweet reminder of a beautiful time. 

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