Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Friday: Biking into the Apocalypse

I fell asleep Thursday night to a campground symphony of firecrackers, stereos, screaming children, and barking dogs. Five hours of tossing and turning and ear-plugging later, a sharp cry from a nearby campsite wrenched me out of my half-sleep. I jack-in-the-boxed out of my sleeping bag and listened: a high-pitched "cock-a-doodle-doo" pierced the dewy six-o'clock air. My alarm settled into anger...who the HELL brings a rooster to a campground?

I zombied through my morning routine: coffee-drinking, breakfast-consuming, lunch-making, tent-folding, route-planning, tire-inflating, chain-lubing. When all was done (or done enough) I grumpily mounted my bike and pedaled out of the campground and towards Detroit.

David Byrne, author of 'Bicycle Diaries' (and 'Talking Heads' frontman) says biking into Detroit is like biking into the apocalypse. It is. And, as it turns out, once inside the apocalypse the cycling is lovely...but getting into the apocalypse from the suburbs (at rush hour on a Friday) is a hellish battle against high-volume traffic, pot-holes, construction, and shoulderless roads. I jack-hammered over miles of craters and cracks in the pavement. Cell-phone wielding suburbanites driving with their knees zipped by in SUVs, inches away. I squeezed my shoulders together and rode the white line on the edge of the road like a tightrope.

In Pontiac Michigan (about thirty miles outside of central Detroit) my route put me on a 'bike trail' along an old railroad bed. The trail was paved with golf-ball sized rocks, and littered with empty beer cans, broken glass, and the occasional hypodermic needle. Dense brush and trees hid it from view of the road. Very safe. I slowly rode one bumpy mile, and then turned around, frustrated and spooked.

Once out of the 'bike path' I white-knuckled on the car road for a few more miles, but finally swallowed my biker pride and switched to the sidewalk. The sidewalks mimicked a Frank Gehry building, the cracked cement bulging and jutting at unexpected angles. Curb-cuts were mostly nonexistent, so at every street-crossing, my bike oomphed down on one side and needed to be lifted up on the other.

As I cycled on, houses shape-shifted from pristine display-model-worthy suburban McMansions to average Joe houses to caved in collections of lumber. Stores transformed from Nordstrom and Target to corner liquor stores and check cashing operations. Traffic thinned from vicious piranha mob to a few wandering fish.

I had arrived in Detroit.

Moral of the Story: There are no good bike routes into Detroit. There are no bad bike routes into Detroit. There are only god-awful bike routes into Detroit. But it is well worth tackling in order to see the city hollow itself out like a candy-shell egg and crumble to dust.

I am now in Detroit for a week of painting, drawing, and staring open mouthed at my apocalyptic surroundings.

Coming soon: paintings, drawings, and writings from the Packard Plant.

Friday's mileage: 59
Total trip mileage: 743

Below (from top to bottom):

Foreclosure billboard
Guillotine Property Management (in Detroit)
A restroom near the sketchy 'bike path'
Another restroom...
My first beer in Detroit: 'Steel Reserve' seemed appropriate (cost me $1.09)

No comments:

Post a Comment