City Creek Canyon 

A solitary, surprising fall bike ride

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With autumnal sunlight brushing through the box elder and cottonwood leaves and gently warming my shoulders, I steered my bike through the pedestrian walkway, past the kiosk and closed gates of upper City Creek Canyon. I set my tires on the smooth black road and pointed uphill. I had braved the city streets to come here, ignoring the noise of traffic and maneuvering past cars and trucks. The canyon beckoned—a safe haven once again for cyclists and pedestrians only.

On the evening of Sept. 30, the gates to upper City Creek closed to public automobile traffic. By the end of May they will reopen, but until then, City Creek is a paradise for cyclists and pedestrians.

I had been waiting for this moment to revisit a place that, to me, has always been quiet, wild and inviting, ever since that night when, as I child, I rode in the backseat of my family’s car down the winding narrow road, thrilled and slightly terrified at every turn. Just as it looked as though we were about to crash into a wall of branches and leaves, we would turn suddenly and safely through the next bend. In high school, I wandered up the canyon with my girlfriends on hot summer days, following the water until we found small, shallow pools to lie in and cool down. Years later, during the spring runoff when the days were still mild, I took a boyfriend up the canyon. He had lived in the city for three years, four blocks from Memory Grove, and had never been. We pedaled to a small picnic site and lounged on the tables, listening to the birds.

On this October day—another one for the memories—I rode alone past two men in plaid shirts, fly rods in their hands, who dipped under the trees to scout for fish as I passed. A group of women in pink shirts coasted down past me. A family walked slowly by, laughing, their little lab puppy tugging at his leash to growl at my tires.

As I climbed, the crowd thinned. There was a transition in the trees, conifer mixing with deciduous. Men with tight calves wearing racers suits sliced by on my left. A glint of color caught my eyes just off the side of the road: a small red apple resting against the black asphalt in a bed of yellow leaves. And above, overhead, more apples hanging. An apple tree—no, two—right there by the side of the road. Who knows how long they had grown there.

I pushed on toward canyon walls that rose higher and folded tighter. The road pressed into a narrowing ribbon. Projections of cold gray rock jutted from the mountainsides. Great branches of fir trees arched overhead. The canyon darkened; the temperature dropped. Skiffs of snow stuck to folds of dying grass and under the shadows of rocks. And yet, the road continued at an impossible slope. I would not stop even though the rough pavement and my tense legs threatened to send my over on my side.

My breath held its shape before my mouth, and I shivered despite the exertion from the climb. I should be there, I said to myself, and rose from my saddle to push up another incline. There, the curve of a cul-de-sac lay in sight. I crested the last rise and dismounted, bending to touch my numb feet and relieve my aching spine.

As I turned to leave, and reached for my bike leaning outside the crude cement outhouse, something strange caught my eye. A face with a half smirk winked down at me from atop the outhouse. A piece of art, or just a prank—a cone of cement set on the roof, topped with a Santa cap and painted with a blue tie, a nose, eyes and a smile.

I smiled back at it. Then, I grabbed my bike by the handles and turned to walk back down City Creek Canyon, slowly, ready to find more surprises along the way.

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