October 23, 2011

Berkshire Cycling: The Landscape of Home, 2

Why Cycling?

Every local ride is a little more delicious now, stolen from the encroaching winter season. This week I rode most every day after work (the semi-annual change in the clock will put an end to that all too soon) and got in one flat, fast ride on Friday.

Chores took me to Northampton, in the Connecticut River Valley, and I couldn't resist riding north along the river, crossing over the bridge to Sunderland, and returning south on the east side. Unfortunately, you can only really see the river from the two bridges. The landscape in between includes a few working farms hanging on amidst the ever-encroaching suburban housing that we call North America. The land itself is very fertile farmland, but the development pressure on it is intense.

I got to thinking again about the quality of cycling experiences. One contributing element is sport, the sheer, unadulterated, physical pleasure of it. The feeling of pushing and pulling those pedals around, and around. The challenge of the hill, the speed of the descent, the pace of rolling hills or long flat stretches. The varying experiences that different weather conditions create. This physical quality is enough to keep cycling fun, engaging, an important part of my world. Similar in many ways to the role of cross-country skiing.

Also though, an element of the best cycling experience is travel. The excitement found in exploring and experiencing a new landscape and culture. That irreplaceable sense of adventure, of change, of not knowing what the days will bring, of something-new-is-going-to-happen. Traveling by cycle offers the perfect pace to experience, to see, smell, touch, interact with the landscape and culture. It provides an excellent way to meet people. All that, while still including the physical experience.

Putting traveling and cycling together is a dangerously exciting combination in my world.  Especially when the riding is really, truly, class-one, super-excellent, unquestionably great riding. And if that unbelievable riding is paired with and immersed in a brilliant, very old  culture, rich with history, art and architecture, not to mention incredible food, it can become an amazing experience. Intense, and containing the possibility of changing the person experiencing it. Certainly not replicable, but perhaps an experience that can be built and expanded on. Therein lies more of the difference in the quality of riding in my home landscape and in France.

But back to today. I was riding along at a decent pace, musing about this kind of thing, probably getting slower and slower with reflection,  when four cyclists passed me. Not so unusually, my competitive switch had been somehow left on, and I picked up my pace. Unusually though, I kept up with those riders, until it began to feel a bit rude since I wasn't sure the man in green knew I was behind him. Hello, I said, I usually ride alone and sometimes get lazy, where are you headed? Turned out he is from Spain, south and west of the Pyrenees, though lives in CT now, and the group had driven north to ride in the river valley. Some of his friends caught up, they slowed as their own conversation started, and I picked my pace up a bit more and finished out the ride.

Right now, I'm left remembering something one of the funniest, most ironic and facetious, of writers I've read said: "We can have in life but one great experience at best, and the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible." ---Oscar Wilde. Ironic as it is, I'll go for that!


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