Commuting in Sanpete County – Mind the Cyclist, Mind the “Shoulder”

By Clara Hatcher – 

When I moved to Ephraim, Utah, for my internship at the Sanpete Messenger in Manti, I was given a bike.

“Just take it,” I was told. “You’re only here for eight weeks, anyway.”

As he spoke, Ephraim’s Alley Cat Bike Shop owner Brian Hester pointed to an ’85 Schwinn Traveler. Bright blue with original tires, the bike even came with a rack over its back wheels. It looked like it had never been ridden.

Alley Cat Bike Shop in Ephraim set Clara up on a vintage 1985 Schwinn Traveler for the commute. Photo by Robert Stevens

I bought a new, flat-black Cannondale helmet from him to make up for the lack of funds he was receiving for his generosity with the bike.

A helmet, I thought, would also be a good idea considering the roads I would be riding on to get to my work at the Messenger. My only fear was that I might get a flat on my commute.

The ride from my house in Ephraim to the paper in Manti clocks in at just over 7 miles. In the first 20 minutes of riding I realized the 2-foot-wide “shoulder” was not exactly accommodating for road bikes. That mini shoulder, scattered with potholes and the occasional dead chipmunk, lasted for the first 2.5 miles of my morning commute and the last of my afternoon ride.

Three times so far, Brian has passed me on his own bike. When I see him he waves, smiles and continues on pedaling through his morning ride.

Before I came to Utah, my impression was that it would be a generally outdoorsy state. I think of places like Zion and Moab National Parks and make connections with backpacking, hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking. Still, Brian told me to be careful on my ride when I picked up the bike. I asked if cars were generally aware and cautious of cyclists.

“They can be,” he said, simply. “Some, not so much.”

This became clear in the first day of riding. Some cars would drive by me as if unaware of my presence on the road. Some cars veer out farther than necessary, giving a comically wide berth. Three times, I have been honked at somewhat aggressively.

Unfortunately, some cars drive far too close. Once, a silver Chevy truck passed me with a foot of space. My hand would have hit the side view mirror had I reached out to try. Still, I ride through and chuckle at the “share the road” sign that signals the start of Highway 89 out of town.

Clara Hatcher commutes 7 miles each way each day from Ephraim to Manti in Sanpete County, Utah. Photo by Robert Stevens

After a few weeks, I got used to the cars. Then came the road maintenance. 

Within three weeks of riding an average of 70 miles per week, that shoulder disappeared with Highway 89’s top layer of pavement. Someone had called in to complain about the roads. As a quick fix, two half-mile-plus sections of the 2.5 miles out of Ephraim were scraped up to reveal gravel-y black tar that made riding feel like I was perpetually pedaling over highway rumble strips.

Riding on the smooth pavement following those first 2.5 miles felt like flying.

Most of the time, I love my ride to and from work. Being on my bike for an hour a day gives me more energy and time to be outside. It’s a remedy to sitting in an office at a computer for 40 hours a week. My ride takes me through the valley Manti and Ephraim rest in, with mountains and canyons on either side. I say hello to the cows behind wooden fences and politely nod to farmers and farm hands that pass on ATV tracks to the side of the road.

Some days, though, my ride feels like some kind of strange punishment I’ve assigned myself. I wake up exhausted and look up at my ceiling, thinking about the torture that is morning exercise. My legs ache for the first few miles. The higher gear that normally feels smooth feels like I am pedaling through molasses.

On those days, something changes slowly around the third mile. The songs in my head change from melancholy tunes to upbeat club music. Pedaling gets easier and I take whatever gear I can manage up the last hill into Manti.

No matter what, I have found that I am happier hopping off my bike in the morning to sit at my desk for the day. At the end of my commute home, I feel accomplished with what my body and mind have done.

There are two weeks left in my internship at the Messenger, now. After my work here is over, I will be back home in Duluth, Minnesota, and then in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to complete my final year at Marquette University. I will not be biking nearly as much and I will surely miss the time I spent cycling 70 miles a week across Sanpete County.

Clara Hatcher was a summer intern in 2017 through the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at the Sanpete Messenger in Manti, Utah, and a full-time student finishing her Bachelor’s degree in journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee. As a Minnesota native, her love of the outdoors began in Northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters and grew with environmental conservation work in AmeriCorps NCCC.

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