A Night on Ninth and Ninth at Nine


It’s around 9:15 in the evening on a Thursday, and I’m gearing up for a bike ride. I’m in my backyard with a couple of friends, ten blocks to the east of the 9th and 9th intersection that marks the starting point of the night’s activities. We’ve been preparing for the ride for an hour or two at this point, in a matter typical of most Thursday night regulars: a couple of cheap beers and an abundance of good vibes. The night grows darker and darker, and at 9:30 we decide it’s high time to mount up and head out. Ranging from thousand-dollar dual-shock hardcore mountain bikes to sixty-dollar beaters, our cavalry is more than ready to take on the night ahead – it’s not the bike but the rider, as they say. We charge down the hill towards the increasingly restless crowd gathering in the parking lot of Continental Cleaners, joining rank amongst the riders around 9:45. Tossing our bikes to the ground, my group fans out around the parking lot, searching for friends and drinks and making final preparations for the night ahead. 

A voice bellows from somewhere within the crowd. “Five minutes!” The call slices through the music and shouts of the riders. It’s met with cheers. I’d be lying if I said I knew whose voice made the announcement, or who was in charge of guiding this mob through the streets of Salt Lake City – a daunting task, even with a modest crowd such as the one they’re faced with on this particular Thursday. Regardless, eight or so minutes after the announcement, the flood of riders begins to flow out of the parking lot, some two hundred strong. We scramble onto our bikes and fall in line in the middle of the pack, a mass that fills both lanes of traffic as it moves south along 900 east. 

An eclectic bunch, the riders’ modes of transportation vary, with Lime Scooters, tandem bikes and roller-blades being peppered in among the bicycles. The going is slow, but everyone has a smile on their face. Wheels are wrapped in glow sticks and LED lights. A man with long hair rides a chopper-style bike, towing a massive speaker blasting anything from “Thunderstruck” to “YMCA.” The group is sure to irritate any late-night drivers that may happen to cross its path, as the sheer number of bikes turn ordinary traffic lights into mere suggestions, with the group often rolling right through them. 

Like most Thursday nights, this evening’s route is one I’ve never ridden before, heading south before looping back around to the northwest, through Liberty Park, sights set on downtown Salt Lake City. The leaders expertly guide the peloton through narrow alleyways and normally bustling city streets before coming to a stop at the Gallivan Center, in the heart of the city. We’ve arrived at the first of the “water breaks” that are customary on these Thursday night rides. Here the riders dismount and discard their bikes at the outer edges of the square, saving the middle for dancing. Chopper-bike and his oversized speaker take center stage, providing the backdrop for an impromptu party at 11 p.m. on a Thursday in sleepy Salt Lake City. 

The summer air at this point has cooled off considerably, and the mosh pit in the center of the activity moves up and down with the ferocity of a high school dance, with circles of friends radiating out in conversation from this sweaty-but-happy center. I make my way between the dancing in the middle and my group of friends on the fringe, talking and dancing and laughing with everyone else. Friends I’d made minutes before crack jokes and share drinks until a chorus of shouts from the edge of the crowd announces the departure of the leaders, the signal that it’s time to go. We hurry to our bikes and join the pack once more, weaving up and down the city streets before coming to a stop once more atop a parking structure somewhere downtown, a typical spot for the second water break of the night. Once again a party breaks loose, with music blasting from all directions. I lean against a wall of the parking structure with my group, looking out over the skyline of Salt Lake and making plans for the rest of the night. It’s past midnight at this point, and being the weary travelers we are, it’s time to eat. 

We part ways from the main group here, saying heartfelt goodbyes to the friends we had made along the past few miles and cruising down the levels of the parking garage and out onto the streets, minds set on the late-night burrito that was customary of this event. It’s nearing two in the morning by the time we leave the burrito shop, bellies full of Carne Asada and bodies ready for bed. The trek up the hill towards my house just off campus is a grueling one, with a friend and I dismounting and walking the steepest section, taking the time to catch up and shoot the breeze. Near three in the morning, I arrive back where I started, in my backyard. I lay on the grass and stare up at the stars for a spell, reflecting on the night and the surprising amount of exercise I had just gone through. With friends tucked into all available couches in my living room, I take a quick shower and fall into bed, the clock on my phone telling me it’s just past 4 a.m. 

Ninth and Ninth at Nine, or ‘the 9’ as it’s referred to by its riders, is not the type of outdoor adventure typically covered within these pages. Some may not even call it an outdoor adventure at all, but to me, it is the epitome of the Salt Lake outdoor community. Friends new and old crowd Continental Cleaners every Thursday on anything resembling a bike, with the explicit goal of enjoying themselves and their company. The peaks of the Wasatch loom in the background, but on nights like this, the foothills come alive. The streets come alive. The outdoor community present at the 9 shows all of the love and acceptance that has drawn me to it for as long as I can remember. That’s worth running a few red lights, if you ask me.