“When I go biking, I repeat a mantra of the day's sensations: bright sun, blue sky, warm breeze, blue jay's call, ice melting and so on. This helps me transcend the traffic, ignore the clamorings of work, leave all the mind theaters behind and focus on nature instead. I still must abide by the rules of the road, of biking, of gravity. But I am mentally far away from civilization. The world is breaking someone else's heart.” Diane Ackerman
WHAT IT'S LIKE BEING A LONG- DISTANCE BICYCLE RIDER?
What is it like being a long-distance touring rider? Is it exciting? Does it make traveling special? Why do I ride? I am asked these questions often while I'm on tour and I try to explain it to folks.
On an emotional level, it's a sensory involvement with natural forces surrounding me. It's a tasting of the wind, a feeling of the coolness, and the warmth—swirling clouds above me and grasses bending in soft breezes. Touring puts me into intimate contact with sunrises and sunsets.
Along seacoasts, I watch waves charge their white fury against sandy beaches. Touring, in its elegant silence allows me to see an eagle swoop out of the blue, and with its talons extended, grab a mouse and lift into the sky headed toward its nest. Touring allows me to see a kangaroo hop across the road in Australia. Or, I may ride into the teeth of an approaching storm.
I witness quiet and wild moments depending on nature. When I am a long distance touring rider, I get caught up in the forces that swirl around me, and I feel at peace with them. The normal everyday occurrences of life, which seem extraordinary to many people, are normal to me. Why? Because I place myself in a wilderness orbit that synchronizes with the natural, the animal world—far away from the maddening din of humanity's cities.
One of the things I enjoy as I ride along is the ease with which I move through the natural world, both plant and animal. My journey carries me through deserts, mountains, forests and plains. As I ride along, three aspects of living become important with every turn of the pedals.
Whether I ride through a country or across a continent, I meet people and see the sights. For me, the most important thing is my connectedness and a combination of what I feel is important in keeping my life in relationship with the natural world, and therefore, myself—and that is—keeping my body, mind and spirit in balance. Like on a wheel; somewhat like a freewheel! Even though I'm changing gears, whether it's the front derailleur chain rings or the seven on the back end, I'm keeping a good combination of changes and adaptations to the earth around me.
I feel that life provides a moving drama that I enjoy exploring. A friend of mine, Duncan Littlefair said that when you walk forward, it's not that you walk forward, you fall forward, you're falling forward into the unknown, and the only thing that prevents you from falling down face first is that you put your other foot out and stop your fall, yet you continue to fall into the unknown with each step.
I think bicycling replicates that metaphor. I ride into each day having no idea what's going to happen. I ride with a positive attitude. Invariably, good things happen. It's rare that I ever ride into a negative situation—because life is generally positive. Some people may complain that it's raining out today, so that's a negative.
I see it another way. Rain makes flowers bloom. A mountain rises ahead. I have to drop into granny gear. My legs must power the pedals—yet that's a positive because it's a part of the process of moving into the unknown and experiencing it. I discover what it's about. It's a lot like anyone's life as they grow toward their own fulfillment. Each day the pedals move around in a constant rhythm of adaptation to the different kinds of terrain, and so do I, with my body, mind and spirit.
Starting with the body, a long distance touring rider concerns himself or herself with health. That translates into taking care of it.
My nutritional approach is vegetarian with an emphasis on raw natural foods—vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains. I compliment them with whole breads and pastas. This nutritional stance gives my body maximum clean burning fuel to push the pedals throughout the day. It makes me capable of responding to any physical needs whether it be deserts such as the Atacama of Chile, the Outback of Australia, or a 15,000 foot pass in the Bolivian Andes. I can move through them with confidence because my body maintains a balance.
The five senses play an important part of the day on a bicycle tour. I feel everything around me. I taste, touch, hear, smell and feel nature. I taste the rain on my tongue and touch the bark on a tree. I hear an owl hooting and smell a skunk. My senses soar because I am involved with the swirling forces of nature. I sweat in the desert and get chilled in the mountains. I am wild on my bicycle with the wind blowing past me.
Touring fills my mind with expectation. Something new lies around the bend in the road ahead. It can be confusing or frustrating. Most of the time, however, it's a positive experience. If you pinned me down, I would go with the word “serene.” Nature creates inexplicable beauty. I love seeing it for the first time and my mind swallows it in big gulps.
Unfortunately, with the passing years, my mind has been forced to accept the incredible destruction wrought by humanity on this globe. Human beings destroy our natural heritage at an astounding rate. I am hopeful for a change of consciousness.
Ultimately, my spiritual being moves through the natural world. I pedal, change gears, drink water, see an eagle, watch a storm and sleep beneath the stars. These activities affect something deep down in my spirit. It's the balance in my life. It's something I can't really know, yet it seems to grow as I grow older.
It's a feeling inside me about life, which leaves me at peace with myself. When I keep my spiritual life balanced, my spirit connects with the natural scheme of nature. By keeping in balance I accept life on its terms. If I win or lose, or I'm sick or healthy or whatever, I move forward with a positive feeling toward life.
Bicycling is that beautiful vehicle that I can push forward at what that wise old bird in “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” called, "The perfect speed, and the perfect speed is being there.” I'm definitely there on a bicycle—body, mind and spirit.
Excerpt from How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty Wooldridge, publishes July 2011