riding slowly on a bike, looking around me, enjoying myself

Half of the US on fire–unprecedented wildfires are destroying homes and businesses and live in the west. Half of the US is under water–unprecedented flooding is destroying homes and businesses and lives in the east and south. And half of the US is suffering from an unprecedented heat wave.

So I went for a bike ride.

The early part of my ride was through the woods…

For some perverse climatic reason, the local weather has been absolutely gorgeous this week. Temps in the shallow end of the 80s, low humidity, light breeze. It’s like we’re in a pocket of beautiful weather surrounded by nightmare climate change. It’s temporary, of course. I know that. Assuming the weather forecasters are correct (hush, it could happen) next week promises to be miserable.

So yeah, on Thursday I went for bike ride. Didn’t feel at all guilty about the good weather. It wasn’t a long ride. Just under 20 miles. And I took my time, stopping periodically to shoot a photo or take a drink or indulge my curiosity. In other words, it was a nice, leisurely ride. I didn’t have any destination in mind; I just wanted to be on the bike.

…and then through a semi-industrial area that was home to lots of groundhogs…

That’s my usual approach to cycling. I don’t ride for exercise or to keep fit; I don’t ride to save gas or limit my carbon footprint. I ride because it’s fun, because it makes me happy, because it makes me feel like I’m twelve years old and skipping school. That’s why I like to ride on weekdays, when all the decent, employed people are hard at work.

Riding on weekdays also means I often have the bike paths and trails all to myself. When I do encounter other cyclists, they’re usually folks like me. Relaxed, lackadaisical riders who are maybe retired, maybe unconventionally employed, maybe skipping work. Only occasionally do I encounter stern cyclists wearing spandex and riding serious road bikes, putting in the grim miles in the name of…I don’t know, physical fitness or time trials or something that is amenable to measurement. I’m confident they’re also riding for the pleasure of it, just like me–but it’s a radically different sort of pleasure. I slow down and let them zip by me.

…then into what I call the Valley of Enormous Warehouses, a favorite hunting ground for hawks…

It’s not that I believe my approach to cycling is better than the serious cyclists. Well, maybe I sorta kinda DO believe that, but only because I personally find more value in connecting with the world at large rather than focusing primarily on yourself. I’ve been a serious, spandexed cyclist; I like to think I’ve outgrown it (which I recognize is arrogant as fuck). I had a good road bike and I rode it seriously, as fast as I could, focused on the road ahead of me–sometimes just a few yards ahead of me, sometimes a more expansive view. But I gave little attention to what was on either side of me. Part of that was because of the way road bikes are designed–the rider leans forward in an aerodynamic pose, which limits your vision. It was also partly because road bikes are designed for speed, and the faster you go the more you have to pay attention to the road.

…and along a marsh, where I saw herons and red-winged blackbirds…

Then, many years ago, on a whim, I bought a mountain bike. The riding posture was more upright, which allowed me to…well, look around as I rode. And I had a moment of clarity. There was stuff happening around me as I rode. And that stuff was interesting. Birds and animals. Buildings and people. Scenery. Colors. The whole damned world, right there all around me all the time, and I’d given it no attention at all.

I started riding more slowly. I started looking around. I started smiling and laughing when I rode. Riding became more enjoyable, more fun, more pleasant.

…and I came across this abandoned building for sale; I rode around it a couple of times before stopping to peek in the windows, but some wasps encouraged me to get back on the bike…

I got rid of that road bike. Now I ride a massive fat tire electric bike. It’ll go fast if I want it to, but I’ve little interest in going fast. I generally just cruise casually along, probably around 10-12 miles per hour, looking at stuff. Sometimes I just enjoy the motion of the bike, and I’ll glide along as long as I can without stopping. Sometimes I stop fairly often. To look at something, or to sit on a bench and drink some water, or to feed peanuts to crows (yes, I have a bag of raw peanuts in a pannier for those times when I encounter crows–and yes, I also keep a crow caller in the same bag in case I don’t encounter crows but want to). Sometimes I stop to shoot a photo or buy a cupcake or pet a stranger’s dog.

…then I stopped by a pond and for a few minutes sat on a bench; I had a drink while watching an old guy fishing with (I presume) his grandson…

Frances Willard, the 19th century women’s suffragist, wrote that learning to ride a bicycle helped her find the courage and determination she needed to lead a movement. She said,

“I found high moral uses in the bicycle and can commend it as a teacher without pulpit or creed. She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.”

I agree with her that cycling is a great teacher, though I think the notion of trying to gain mastery of life is a mug’s game. Cycling is fun, but it hasn’t given me mastery of anything. What it has given me is genuine pleasure and moments of joy. There’s a certain purity in the joy and pleasure that comes with cycling. It’s unalloyed pleasure, undiluted, uncontaminated and unblemished because it’s so simple.

…and near the end of my ride, I stopped at the Wade Franck Plaza, named for a cyclist killed by a negligent driver. It has bathrooms, maps of local bike trails, a bike repair station, and fresh water.

A couple of weeks ago I rode my bike through a gaggle of Canada geese. These large birds gather around the many ponds here; they’ll casually step aside as you ride through them, but they are completely unimpressed by bikes (or cars and trucks, for that matter). As I was riding slowly through them, some of them took flight. For a moment–probably no more than six or seven seconds–the geese and I were moving at the same speed. I was surrounded by half a dozen flying Canada geese. It was glorious.

That will probably never happen again. It only happened because I was riding slowly on a bike, looking around me, enjoying myself.

9 thoughts on “riding slowly on a bike, looking around me, enjoying myself

  1. You make riding a bike sound delicious. What a glorious ride that was. Flying with geese. The beautiful woods and ponds. That big blue sky.

    It’s 69% humidity here today. I am limp and miserable. I hate humidity. We haven’t had rain for weeks and everything is brown. I love your bike rides. They refresh me.

    I looked into Radd bikes. They have to be imported from The Netherlands (I think it was) but sadly they have to be throttled for the UK market and the lower power means the heavy big bike isn’t so much fun to ride. I really fancied the fat tyres. But I would be better off getting an electric bike made for the UK market I think. One day. Perhaps when the build is over and mum has moved in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve always enjoyed riding bikes. Still, it’s sort of surprising to me that I enjoy it more NOW than I did when I was younger. I think it’s because I appreciate the world more now.

      As I understand it, ebikes sold in UK or EU markets are limited by less powerful motors, but it looks like stock versions are still capable of going just over 15 mph. Personally, I rarely ride any faster than that. And really, when you’re riding a heavy bike–and most ebikes are relatively heavy–the faster you go, the harder they are to stop. And crashing with a heavy bike is more injurious than crashing with a light bike.

      The two best things about an ebike are 1) hills are a lot less fuss and 2) if you’ve been on a long ride and you’re tired, you can increase the pedal assist to help get you home.


  2. I used a bike the police clocked at 50 km/h to get to work and back. Year later I bought a mountain bike and rod the dirt trails always pausing to take photos. A few years ago I moved to an electric bike and found it moves at 50 km/h without much effort. After the initial joy of moving fast it became far more fun to slow down, relax, take photos and love life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s pretty much my story as well. I’m much less interested in speed, a lot more interested in comfort, and even more interested in seeing the world around me when I’m riding. Ebikes are great.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The “size” of the sky in the third photo makes me wince.
    It reminds me of the first time I went back to Wisconsin after being in Los Angeles for about five years. I felt like an ant crawling on a sidewalk.
    My world here is consistently bordered and delineated by hills and mountains. Space exists in well-defined and limited amounts.
    That…. is SO FLAT. Just looking at it makes me “reverse-claustrophobic” (whatever that word might be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely understand. I’ve spent a big chunk of my life either in actual cities (like NYC or DC) or in seriously rural, hilly, woodsy places, both of which have limited (or zero) horizons. I occasionally get freaked out by how open the Midwest countryside is. It reminds me that I live on a planet, which isn’t just humbling, but kind of creepy. That’s especially true in the winter.

      But here’s a weird thing (well, maybe a slightly weirder thing): if I’m driving a car out in the country, all that sky tends to freak me out. But when I’m on the bike, it doesn’t. I can’t explain that.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You’re photos are the kind I would take here in Edmonton, Alberta. We have over 100 km of trails in the river valley. The North Saskatchewan River winds it’s way through the middle of the city. It freaks people out when they visit and see the big blue skies with over 18 hours of daylight during the summer. For me riding the trails there is a sense of freedom.

        Liked by 1 person

      • 18 hours of daylight during the summer

        It’s SO easy to forget how latitude shapes daylight and nighttime. I envy you your long summer days. And I’m glad to avoid your long winter nights. I spent a winter in Winnipeg many years ago. When I think back on it, I tell myself it couldn’t have been THAT bad and THAT cold for THAT long. But it was. I should try spending a summer there.

        Liked by 1 person

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