The loneliness of the long distance rider

If you’ve reading this blog for awhile, you’ve probably figured out by now that I like to ride fast. I like to ride far.

And usually, I ride alone.

It’s not that I’m antisocial. Far from it, actually. Over the years, I’ve met some great people who just happened to fall in along side me and share some dusty, lonely road or bustling city street for a few miles, or a few hours.

Some became good friends; some I never saw again. They all became a part of my life, though, if only for a moment. And in doing so, gave me a gift I can only hope I repaid in kind.

Yet at the same time, my best experiences on a bike, and the pleasure and pain that’s come as a result, have been mostly solitary. Because to me, cycling is more than just a means of exercise, entertainment and transportation.

It’s my escape. My retreat. A moving meditation that takes me away from the problems and turmoil my life, or this world, and deeper into — or sometimes, or out of — myself until those problems don’t seem to matter any more.

Chop wood, carry water.

So if my wife and I are quarrelling about something, I can sit at home and let my anger build. Or I can hop on my bike and ride until I gain a little more perspective — even if it seems like I may have to ride from here to eternity. And remember that the love we share is more than anything either of us might say or do.

Or if I’m having problems with one of my clients, I can set out on a ride plotting various means of career suicide, and return with a solution that will work to everyone’s benefit.

The day my mother died, I just started riding; I have no idea how long or how far. I don’t even remember where I went. I just rode until that ache somehow turned into a smile, and returned home missing her just as much, but remembering her laughter and love, and how much joy she’d brought to my life.

On 9/11, I spent the entire day in stunned silence, unable to look away my TV, or wipe away enough tears to dry my eyes. Then the next the 12th, I finally found the off switch and rode down to the beach, marveling at the ribbons and flags that had suddenly appeared overnight on the trees along the way. And started my life again.

When I ride, I don’t have to think about anything. Yet somehow, I seem to think more clearly, more creatively, with more insight and originality than I find anywhere else. I celebrate my victories and analyze my failures; I write headlines and stories, and quatrains and rhyme, and witty retorts I can never seem to recall once I get home.

I maintain my sanity, such as it is.

I don’t have to compete with anyone but myself and the road. I don’t have to keep up with anyone. I can ride where I want, and take the hard way home. And usually do.

Somehow, I find the same sense of solitude and peace here amid this jumble of concrete and steel that I found riding a county road high up in the Rockies, or rolling along verdant fields of wheat and corn with no one else around but the occasional combine or tractor driver.

Maybe that’s why the occasional conflict with a driver, or a pedestrian, or another rider bothers me so much. Because it jerks out of that private, peaceful world, where nothing matters but rounding the next bend or climbing the next hill. And thrusts me back into a world of conflict and anger.

So if we should meet somewhere along the way, I hope you’ll fall in beside me and share the road for a few miles, or maybe a couple of hours. But I hope you don’t mind if, after awhile, I get that urge and politely excuse myself to ride on ahead.

It’s nothing personal. That’s just who I am.

 

The Time’s Steve Lopez tries to hitch a ride, and complains about the lack of creative transit solutions — and bike paths — around here. A bike riding arsonist is arrested because he forgot to wear his spandex. Eleven cyclists were injured yesterday when a Miami cabdriver fell asleep and crashed into their ride; a local blogger attributes the incident to the same problems we face here in L.A. Will exhibits the kind of self restraint I can only hope to achieve when confronting an aggressive driver, and risks life and limb to reclaim the Ballona Creek Bikeway. A writer from Ontario, CA (no, the other one) offers advice for safe cycling, but I don’t care if the fine is $85 Canadian, I’m not putting a bell or horn on my bike when my voice is much more effective. A writer from New Milford chastises careless drivers whose actions resulted in the death of a dog, and warns that it could be a child or neighbor next time. Or maybe a cyclist.

 

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