Category Archives: Cycling Thoughts

No Excuse

Don’t let them say
“I didn’t see him”
For even when I’m broken,
No longer more than
A Ghost
I was not invisible

Don’t let them say
“I didn’t see him”
When shattered,
I lay bleeding out
In a ditch
I was there

Don’t let them say
“I didn’t see him”
You thought I was a
Nobody
But that is no excuse

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Riding Long: The Experiential Journey

My rides often wander into the hinterlands of Michigan, the place between the coasts, unpopulated expanses where one hand can count the cars that pass in an hour and a hundred miles can pass between stoplights. Out here, the world moves at the pace of your thoughts. Nothing but a rough patch of road exists to wrench you from whatever reality you choose to enter. Into your head you spiral, plucking stray musings and absorbing sensations from the world around you.

My goal on long rides — or any other ride — is the cessation of time and distance. I seek a consciousness where progression becomes measured in experiences — fording a flooded road, passing through a dying town, waving to a little boy playing in his yard, smelling another rotting raccoon carcass. In this world, the next marker isn’t inexorable, ticking time or passing miles, but is rather something unpredictable and maybe trivial. Something that gains the same significance we adhere to time precisely because I’ve given up concerns about time.

Entering this experiential mindset is one of the joys of riding long. Knowing the only thing I need to do is eat, drink, and pedal — and not get run over — for the next six or more hours allows me to escape the bombardments of life: digital devices that, unlike a book, crave attention and aren’t satisfied to wait idly until I return; a thesis; cleaning; and everything else that consumes sacred moments of consciousness. I am able to look down the road and see corn lolling in the breeze rather than remembering the remnants of the rice that I managed to yet again boil over glued to the stovetop. The time until I can take care of such things is far enough away at the beginning of a ride that there’s no point in thinking about it. Near the end of the ride, when life could potentially begin to intercede with my hazy thoughts, I’m reduced to primal urges — burritos, pizza, coffee — so normalcy doesn’t return until I’ve sated these needs, keeping the ride itself pure.

While any ride has the potential to become an experiential journey, leaving the bounds of the routine distances, the 60-, 80-, or even 100-milers, and riding long makes slipping free of the constraints of measured progress easier. Aside from knowing the ride is going to last all day, the ride itself will carry you outside your routine routes, the places you ride before, after, or — on great days — during work. Being in a new place forces you to pay attention to where you are, which means you’ll notice the names of the roads you go by — many are amusing — and will be looking for landmarks to tell you you’re where you expected to be. Or not.

Along with fresh vistas, a long ride almost guarantees the unexpected. If you spend enough time on your bike in new places, weird things will happen. I’ve accidentally filled my Camelbak with lake water and spent the next six hours feeling burpy and nauseous. I’ve encountered the same section of road flooded two months apart, the second time noticing a permanent measuring stick for the depth of the water — don’t build your road through a marsh! I’ve seen a fire-fueled sunset over the desert in Josuha Tree that made the sun seem like a dragon spewing blood across the clouds. For each of these, I don’t know the GPS coordinates or the mile marker or my wattage, instead I recall the vivid experience, the sense of being there, absorbed and engaged in the world, in the essence of existence — sensation.

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The Groundhog Rule

I am in the midst of a prolonged discussion with some friends about when to use bike lights. I always have mine on in low-light or nighttime and in bad weather, like fog or rain. If I ever feel like cars might have difficulty seeing me, the lights go on. An alternate view is for the lights to ALWAYS be on, regardless of visibility. On a bright, sunny day, having lights on seems like a waste of batteries because that light is washed out by the much stronger sunlight.

Over my past few rides, I directed a good deal of thinking towards lighting. I came up with an extremely simple rule for when to have lights on/off.

The Groundhog Rule:

If you can’t see your shadow, your rear lights should be on flashing.

Addendum: If you can’t see the road easily, rear lights should be on solid, and your front light should be flashing if day, solid if dusk or night.

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Overrun

Death is discovered on every ride. Unfortunate reminders of our ultimate fate lay strewn across the roadways in the sprawling entrails of opossums, the splatter of squirrels, and the rancid smell of a decaying deer. An unexpected bump to the hulking steel machines with whom we share the pavement becomes a visceral example of our limited mortality.

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