The Meditation that is Bicycle Touring

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When people ask me “why I bicycle tour?” I often cannot articulate a satisfactory answer. If you are a bicycle tourist or endurance athlete: marathons, triathalons, rock climber, whatever…perhaps you can understand this.


My first bicycle tour was from NYC to Los Angeles and took 35 days to complete. I realized about halfway through the trip that the combination of constant pedaling, steady breathing, and the rhythmic visual pattern of a grey roadway passing underneath put me in an almost zombie like state. “This,” I thought, “is indeed a very powerful meditation!!!”

I have experimented with all sorts of structured and unstructured meditation practices. When I lived in Thailand I quizzed Monks throughout the Wats I visited where instruction was offered. Sometimes I get ideas from books or a structured yoga class. In some cases I create my own exercises. One of the best ones I have found was a relaxation excersize that I did in an improv class. I don’t profess to be a guru, yogi or whatever, I just find that I am better prepared for life after I have cleaned out the brain. I try to do so as often as possible. Normally I fail at it.

I define meditation as the complete emptying of the mind for extended periods of time. I struggle with my practice of this concept. Part of my struggle is that I, as many Thai peaople would point out, ‘think too much’. I tend to churn things around in my head. Often with the hope of preparing for every possible outcome. The practice of meditation helps to clear up the angst that comes along with ‘thinking too much’. It works, but I am a poor practitioner.

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A simple meditation I use is to close my eyes and attempt to draw a complete blank, unfocused on anything, not letting the mind race, not letting any worry creep in, staving off the unrelenting number of useless distractions that form what can loosely be defined as ‘myself’. Try this and you will agree that it is difficult even for five minutes. Especially hard for a colossal screw up like myself. As I researched general mediations and spoke to knowledgeable people I was introduced to techniques where one could focus on natural breathing patterns as a way to stave off the interference of my worldly distractions. Since we breathe involuntarily the concentration on brething is unnecessary but it prevents the mind racing off to a casual problem. Breathing deeply in and out while focusing on nothing is much more difficult than it sounds.

Being on a bicycle completely envelopes you physically. It is cyclical by name and practice, not involuntary but on a tour you don’t really have to think about pedaling. We have all had days where the riding is next to impossible and it takes everything you have inside of you to keep the pedals turning. In contrast sometimes I have days where I can pedal for hours effortlessly and on these days I experience something quite wonderful.

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My body and mind seem to separate. The repetitive action of pedaling smooth circles and maintaining a comfortable riding position seem to happen naturally without any application of cognitive resource. The breathing that goes along with my pedal cadence snaps into being without effort and my body becomes a simple motor that goes on and on without need for any awareness of what it is doing and how it is happening. My mind sits empty and I mindlessly scan for road debris. The road’s white line to my left undulates it’s imperfect path in my peripheral vision. I am truly thinking about nothing while physically exerting myself to quite a degree for hours at a time. I am no longer on a bike. I am no longer on a road. I am somewhere very peaceful. I am somewhere perfect. I am on a bicycle tour.

Sometimes I float back down to earth. I focus on the needs of finding a campsite, or food, or water, or fixing a flat, or whatever caused me to lose my focus. If I am getting back on the bike I can fall right back into it should the conditions exist. Sometimes I have a hard time recalling where I have been or what I have seen. Sometimes I look at photos and think to myself “I don’t remember being there.” The only thing I can think to explain it is in a mathematical formula.

[(the runner’s high) x 1018] = Bicycle Touring

If you haven’t participated in some type of extreme athletic event I know you are looking at this, shaking your head, and don’t have the least bit of understanding of what I’m talking about. I do know that I sleep, feel, perform, and wake up best after riding 100 miles and sleeping outside. The clarity and well being I experience while on tour are incomprehensible to me but I know they exist. I don’t get this feeling everyday while on tour and I am unable to reproduce it. It creeps upon me and all of a sudden I’m involved in something spectacular.

When it happens I certainly savor the day.