Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Bicycle as teacher


I have had a great 2010 cycling season. My bike has taught me many lessons of life. It is hard to believe that a machine can do this, but it does!

For many of my longer rides, there is a support van or a sag wagon. While these are advertised as wagons or vans to help you if you are tired, to me they are the vehicles of last resort, reserved for the infirm, the aged or the out of shape.

On the Bon Ton Roulet tour, I made the fatal mistake of stopping for lunch and having a few glasses of cool white chardonay wine made by the Blue Heron winery where I had stopped for lunch. The scenery was glorious, the wine cold and the lunch service very slow. I had a mere 30 miles to ride and a few hills and I scoffed it off enjoying the moment.

10 miles after, I started to slow down and came to a halt at the last rest stop. There was a hill and I had no more energy. My legs had become like stone trunks with no power whatsoever. Reluctantly I hailed a sag wagon.

The lady was a pleasant middle aged woman who was very kind. I was mortified. I made sure my bike was hidden by others and I slouched to make sure NO ONE I KNEW would see me. I kept shaking my head and apologizing. The other cyclist was thrilled with the ride and very chatty but I was simply devastated at my terrible performance on that day. I missed an opportunity because I was so focused on my lack of energy and shocked that this could happen.

Life is funny. I seriously considered going on but because of the wine, dehydration and plain fatigue I simply could not do it. There are times when my body says enough. I am learning to accept it.

In fact, I have learned a lot about my limitations this year with the bike as my teacher. I have learned, that I need to eat while I ride. No fuel=no power.
I have learned that I love to ride, but I also need time to enjoy what is around me. In the bon Ton tour, I stopped for a swim on several occasions. I have learned that it is not the destination that counts but the journey. The destination on our tours were always an anti climax, with the journey, the climbs and the scenery being more impressive. One of our days while cycling in Mennonite country, I had a yearning for Mennonite baking and lo and behold..there was a Mennonite horse and buggy and a stand selling fantastic baked goods!

I have learned that it is important not to overlook small things. One day on the tour before an enormous hill, there was a little girl advertising Kool aid. People were not stopping. I stopped and insisted that others stop too, threatening to jump in front of their bikes if they did not. The little girl was about 9 years old and had decided on her own to offer Kool aid to the bikers. She sat me down in her yard with a plastic table and chairs and poured me a glass of watery red kool aid. We chatted about school and sports and Canada and I thanked her and biked on. Sometimes we can get too focused on the unpleasant tasks (in this case the HILLS) and forget the joys and beauties around us.

I have learned that while going fast is a lot of fun, it is more rewarding to encourage others.

I have learned that my bike is not a horse and I don't need to carry an extra sweater, lunch options, a full tool kit, a full first aid kit, extra drinks a corkscrew and three extra inner tubes just in case! I am learning to be more of a minimalist on my rides and learn more about self sufficiency. The bike is an exercise in zen minimalism and the fundamentals of trust in yourself, in your fitness, in your abilities and in the way you interact with your world.

The bike is a great teacher because when you are riding, it is really just you and a splendid machine. There are no engines, no supports, just you and the road. You feel light and unburdened by things. You find yourself dwelling on what is present and your tensions, your worries seem to vanish like the road behind you. I love the quiet of my bike. I don't hear roars or hums just a steady whir of my feet on the pedals. I love the colours that I see, the grasses, the barns, the trees and the fact that I can go anywhere with my bike. My bike teaches me that limitations are in your imagination and that you really can think outside the box. A car is limited to the road, with a bike, you are limited by nothing but your own level of fitness.

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