William Dunbar: Long, hazardous bike path

09/11/2010 2:37 AM

09/11/2010 3:47 AM

Sleep has come easily the last few weeks.

That's because riding a bicycle to and

from UC Merced is quite a workout.

First, it's a long way to campus from

town -- almost four miles from my house.

Most riders take the Lake Road path to campus be-

cause the bike lanes on Bellevue Road are narrow and

the cars go mighty fast.

On average, during my first year, my bike rides into town along the bike path took about 15 to 20 minutes. That's just to The Promenade. And getting to a shopping center like the mall adds another 10 to 15 minutes to the trip (if you'e fast). This is -- based on my knowledge of the bus system from last year -- significantly faster than taking the Cat Tracks bus.

But it's not just the time it takes to pedal. It's also the path itself.

Jared Stanley, professor at UC Merced and member of the Merced Bicycle Advisory Commission, is quite familiar with both the bike path and the problems associated with it. That's because he's been biking to campus from town since 2006.

"During August, September and October, the trails and paths leading to campus are full of goatheads (a yellow-flowered spiny plant), which puncture tires," says Stanley. "This is a normal occurrence, and riders should make sure that they have puncture-resistant tubes, pumps and, if possible, tire liners."

Those goatheads have been a menace to my tires, forcing me to weave my way along the trail trying to avoid them. I've had to replace my tubes several times, because tubes aren't made of lead and the goatheads can poke holes in almost anything. Though I now have special liners and quadruple-enforced tubes, I'm still careful. I can't afford to carelessly run over too many of those spiked menaces.

But sometimes it's hard to see them, especially after sundown.

My latest class ends at 7:50 p.m. In the dark, goatheads are impossible to avoid. It's even difficult to see people walking on the path until it's almost too late.

Stanley notes that the lack of lights is a major problem on the bike path into town.

"Riders should consider having good lighting if they have to come home late," he warned. There is, however, a bright side to the darkness, according to Stanley, since many of the more interesting sights while biking may occur at night: "You get to see owls."

Or in my case, freshmen girls.

The nighttime bike ride down Lake Road can be a unique experience without a bike light. Whether it be nearly riding halfway down the path into well-camouflaged first-year co-eds wearing dark clothes (who thought they could easily walk to town to see a movie) or navigating the path on a moonless night by cell phone light when I was a hapless freshman, there has always been something intriguing and interesting happening on the Lake Road path.

And in the daytime, though gusty winds can be a nuisance, blowing students off course from their destinations, the view of the peaceful pastures and the big, open sky are breathtaking.

Perhaps one day, conditions will improve so that more students will feel comfortable riding to and from campus into town. Better lights and more routes would entice more intrepid students to make their way to the shops and businesses in Merced

But because it's my only mode of transportation, I'll brave the goat heads and lack of lighting on that dusty path to make my way to and from classes. At least it'll help me get a good night's sleep.

William Dunbar, from Modesto, is an undeclared major at UC Merced and hopes to be successful someday in his future profession.

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