Having spent the last 25 years in New York City, the most bicycle unfriendly place in the universe, I am not a natural candidate to discuss bicycling. It is with no small sense of delight that I should find myself writing about the Flint River Trail (FRT) and its paths, bypaths and extensions, all of which I have explored.
If you are someone for whom even one mile is a literal, as well as figurative, milestone, I can recommend the FRT to anyone who wishes to get out of the house, unplug the devices and take a miniadventure. If you are a dedicated non-bicycle user, you might start using the FRT as an inexpensive way to get from your house to downtown Flint.
The recent additions to the trail, courtesy of the educational institutions like Kettering and Mott, have increased its utility value enormously. One can now easily travel from downtown Flint all the way to the shopping on Corunna Road in Flint Township. If I wanted to write a handbook on how to be poor in Flint and still have a good life, there would have to be a section on the FRT. It would be a good example of how quality of life does not have to depend on a price-tag-driven, consumerist standard of living.
The trail is better suited for mountain bikes, not because of any difficult grades, but for rough patches here and there, which makes tough tires a necessity. Recently there have been about 15 miles worth of upgrades, however, and the future looks very good indeed. Some stretches of the Kettering extension are certainly road bike quality.
Nestled in the heart of Genesee County, the FRT has progressed to the top of my list of places to introduce a first-time visitor. Despite all the bad press about tap water, the Flint River itself remains a supple ecosystem supporting plenty of wildlife, some of which you are almost guaranteed to meet along the way. Although the trail’s head begins downtown at the University of Michigan campus, as one gets acquainted, one will find numerous access points along the way, which makes it an incredible north/south path to Flint’s developing downtown scene.
Up until Utah Street, the trail runs on both the east and west banks of the river, although ultimately the westerly trail runs much farther. North of the Utah Street Bridge, the east trail terminates at some garden apartments and a basketball court.
The Friends of the Flint River maintain the following site devoted to regular social activities on the trail: http://flintriver.org/blog/calendar/. This is invaluable for those who want to ease their way into the cycling experience. Their rides are very nurturing experiences, and you might come out of the experience with some lovely new friends and acquaintances.
The Flint River Trail is a gold mine for the beginning and intermediate bicyclist. There are few grades, so the riding experience is relatively level. However, for the adventurous cyclist, willing to fully explore the trail, there are reasonable challenges. Going north of the trail head, below is a view of the downtown Flint dam from the east side of the river, just south of the bike and pedestrian bridge over to the west side trails. Amazingly, I have often seen some intrepid folks defiantly fishing here.
You get quite a number of miles that can be typified by this shot. Bike trails provide a remarkable opportunity to experience a wonderful interaction between nature and human artifice. The path invites, but it is clear that within this environ, the artificial is subordinated, if not outright besieged. The other artifice, the bicycle itself, is a relatively recent development. Consider that Europe had circumnavigated the planet with ships bearing sophisticated cannons more than a century before a bicycle was even conceived.
Within a half a mile along this stretch on the east trail, one can begin to experience detachment from our often tormented internal chatter and hear the voice of nature. Often I have found the resolutions to the petty contradictions within my own life, even as they dissolve before the ineluctable face of nature and the wonder that it educes.
Where the road ends, the rest of the trail continues.
The Utah Bridge was my introduction to the trail. Watch out for broken glass. However, I noticed something that seemed paradigmatic of Flint, and even America itself. All I had to do was turn 90 degrees and see a perspective that diminishes the blight to nothingness. The below picture was shot from the same spot.
Less than four miles north of that very same bridge, on the eastern trail, this vision awaits the cyclist. I love this view and even used this picture as the background for my soundcloud.com track, “Paradise.”
Apprehending the silence that the rush of water evokes, I am reminded that words are mere carrier waves for meanings and information transmitted by the tone of one’s voice. All this and more is lost in the digital, device-driven environment our minds seem to like to call home. There is no better time to reclaim that than now, and few places better than this.