Elements of Bike Riding
Time and Distance - Last year I downloaded Strava for tracking my speed and distance. I wanted to do a century, so I needed to have a way to see how far I was riding. After I did the 100 mile ride, I removed the app from my phone. I tend to be obsessive. I can easily see myself tracking every mile I ride, swim and walk. I want to be more relaxed about exercise. I am also a very slow rider, so knowing my average speed of travel is a little depressing.
Emotions - When I jump on my bike, I don't leave my feelings behind. If I am sad, anxious or angry, those feelings can stay with me as I ride. If I am feeling anxious about say my health, or a mistake I made at work, that anxiety can shift to anxiety about flat tires, the weather or getting lost. Emotions flow and change, so sometimes I am anxious when I leave my house and feel better after twenty minutes of riding. Once in a while, I feel a transcendent happiness. This does not happen often, but it is always a possibility. The last time it happened was when I rode on Boro Hill Road near East Moncton. It is a dirt road with a steep hill. Behind me was a stiff breeze and I rode slowly up the hill, with almost no effort at all. It felt as if I was levitating. Pedaling with the exact force needed to keep on going kept me focused in the moment. But riding is not always joyful. On May 21st I rode from Winooski up Riverside Avenue then through the Intervale to the 127 bike path, along the Burlington bike path over the Winooski River to Airport Park and then back to Winooski by way of Mallets Bay Avenue. It was sunny and in the 70's. A beautiful evening for a ride. I took my time, and felt strong through the whole ride. I was grateful to be out on the bike on such a fine evening. Rather than joy or anxiety, I felt a quiet contentment.
Traffic -- Traffic makes a difference in how I ride. I would prefer to avoid heavy traffic but in Chittenden County that is impossible. Riding around I am amazed at how many new houses are being built. Traffic is not going to get any better unless a lot more of us ride bicycles. I prefer steady traffic with room to ride on the side of the road to intermittent traffic on roads with very little room. Time of day also makes a big difference. In late June I headed south on Route 116 in South Burlington at 3:45. Rush hour traffic had already started. It took 40 minutes to escape traffic. I finally found some peaceful riding on a back road in Williston. Dirt roads are a gift to the traffic averse. Within half an hour ride of my house in Winooski, there are plenty of dirt roads that have very few cars, even at rush hour. What a blessing! Sometimes, unreasonably, I get annoyed with traffic. Last year I was riding on East Road in Colchester on a Saturday afternoon. It is a narrow road, with little room for bikes. The traffic was heavy and fast. I thought to myself, "This is not rush hour, there should not be so many cars on the road."
What I See - Seeing is both practical and aesthetic. I keep alert for traffic, cars, and pedestrians. I observe the sky for signs that the weather is about to change. Every type of road user perceives the environment in a different way. The moment I get on my bike I start viewing the world as a bike rider rather than as pedestrian or a car driver. I actually perceive the world differently. I notice the road surface, especially potholes and grates. I also visually calculate the steepness of hills and I am constantly aware of the speed and trajectory of other moving things in the environment. I can give more attention to the countryside when I don't have to focus on traffic. In a couple of places in Chittenden County there are unexpectedly spectacular views of Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains. The top of Riverside Avenue in Burlington is a great place to view Mount Mansfield. In the afternoon, on a clear winter day, the sun in the west illuminates the snow on the mountain. The snow glows with a celestial light. It looks as if you could reach out and touch the mountain. On Duffy road in Milton there is a fine view of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. Last month I wrote about my wild flower project, and that project has continued. I post the Wildflowers on Facebook. I find that I am not willing to stop every time I see a new wildflowers, once or twice a ride is enough. I know that most flowers will be blooming for a while, so if I do not catch them on one ride, I am sure to see them on the next. Because of my interest I notice wild flowers rather than trees or birds or insects. I also document each long ride with a photo I post on Instagram. My inspiration is the artist Richard Long, who walks all over the world and takes one photograph to commemorate each walk. Last year I upgraded my iPhone, mostly because I wanted a better camera. Now, when I ride, I look for potential photographs and that changes the way I see the world.