So, until last week, Las Vegas was probably the bottom of the list of places I ever thought I would visit. Gambling, excess, and debauchery is not really my thing, and that’s kind of what I figured Las Vegas was all about.
And then my bitty brother bought a house there, and extolled the virtues of all the amazing access to nature (plus, did I mention he bought a house?:) and thus I found myself in the middle of the desert for about a week, totally reconfiguring my preconceptions about the place.
First of all, if you don’t go to the strip, which I didn’t, Las Vegas feels basically like any sort of giant sprawling suburb. Which is to say, not super amazing, but at least not the explicit in-your-face consumerism and garish hedonism I was expecting.
Secondly, did anyone mention access to nature and mountain biking?
Before this trip, I think I’d gone for-realz mountain biking approximately two times in my life, though I always think that it’s secretly totally my thing: biking, in nature, completely away from cars? Sign me up! What’s kept me away, other than a lack of mountain bike, is the fact that it seems like most people drive their bikes to the trailheads, which, with my lack of car, not only is an unavailable option but also an unappealing one.
But when in Vegas, do as the Vegans do? Heh. (Okay, bad pun about my dietary preference there;)
My brother and I went mountain biking twice, the first time right from the airport. How rad is it to be picked up from your flight and immediately whisked away to some super awesome mountain biking trails? Definitely a good way to wash off the airport/airplane grossness and grogginess I always feel when I travel by air. And though I definitely had some moments of frustration, mostly wrought of not being nearly as proficient as I wanted to believe I was, on the whole it was so fricken awesome. Mountain biking is amazing. Even when you launch yourself through the air and end up with a body full of road rash. Oops.
Road biking in Vegas, on the other hand, I was a little nervous about. People there drive so fast, and the roads are so humongous, and it feels a little like take-your-life-into-your-own-hands anarchy. But feeling restless and housebound and done with cars one day, I was looking to get out on my own and explore — and my brother’s girlfriend offered her roadbike for the occasion.
I don’t know what it would be like to try to bike somewhere specific, using an efficient route. For my part, I just took the streets that looked appealing and didn’t care much where I ended up — that sort of biking in Vegas is totally chill, since my route was dictated by what looked nice. If I were actually trying to get somewhere and had to take specific roads, it might not be so awesome. Especially if those roads were your typical high-speed, no-bike-lane, 6-car-lanes Vegas-style throughways.
My biking there was also punctuated by a fair amount of biking on the sidewalk, which is fun when you’re just joyriding with no particular agenda but would definitely rankle my sense of efficiency if I were trying to get somewhere fast. But for what it’s worth, even road biking in Las Vegas seemed nicer than I expected, in part because even though the roads are humongous, most of them don’t have so much traffic that people can’t easily move over to give you room (that’s one advantage to giant roads, eh?). Though I’m pretty sure if I lived there I would get annoyed pretty quickly at how fast people drove and how callous, it seems to my judgemental self, their respect for other human life is.
No matter what, though, it was pretty sweet to be able to get on some bicycles in this crazy, new-to-me city. It definitely made the place seem more familiar, more navigable, and more awesome than it would have had I driven absolutely everywhere (though we did do our fair share of driving).
It also reminded me, especially when I got on the roadbike to explore, how much my sense of freedom is tied up with biking. Driving through a city, at the whim of traffic, cramped in a seat and tied down by a belt and driven by destination does not feel like freedom. Pushing on pedals, using my muscles, feeling the wind, propelling myself where I want to go, turning on a whim and stopping on the side of the road when something catches my eye, delighting in the journey — that feels like freedom. It was fun to find that even in the midst of suburban sprawl-land.