January 1, 2012

Berkshire Cycling: The Landscape of Home, 5

 Why Tour?

A FOY on the 1st of the year. That is to say, my first ride of this year happened today, on the first day of the year. It was also the first time ever I've enjoyed an outdoor ride in the Berkshires in January. Today it was mostly sunny,about 42.  Moreover, it was a great ride, more than 20 miles, with plenty of climbing, first down to the nearest major road, then back north and up to the top of my local mountain. This does not look like January in western New England. Maybe more like late April. Hope late April does not look like January.

There were a number of horses in fields or paddocks on the side of the roads. Some wear coats, some do not. I don't know why.

As I so often do, especially when cycling in familiar landscapes, I got to thinking about the differences in cycling experience. The differences between day rides and touring, the differences between riding here and in France. I love riding here, this is a fabulous place to live and ride. And I loved day riding in France. But what I really really love, what could become, well maybe it has already, quite addicting, is travelling on a bicycle. That is to say, touring. Here's why.

Whether day rides or touring,  I love the physicality of it, the speed and ability to cover more distance than walking, long uphills followed by equally long descents. Just moving the pedals around and feeling the relation between the steering, the ground, myself. That bird-like feeling of whooshing around a downhill curve, the awareness of breath when working uphill.

The speed of cycling feels very right, cultured and human to me, largely I think because there is only a very small layer of separation from the terrain you are traveling through. Much less than by train or car. When cycling I can smell the world I'm passing through, whether the herbs or flowers in bloom at the side of the road or cooking odors coming from kitchen windows. There is time to stop to look at a plant, or over the side of a bridge, talk with other people,  watch the sky, feel a rock, look for fish in a river.

It offers a chance to participate right at hand, personally, at the same time, in nature and culture. And that is more true, I think, in France, where the palimpsest of time and human culture has endowed the cities, towns and villages with the patina of age and usage. Certainly there are more cafes, markets, ancient buildings, art and architecture there, a far longer history, a different culture and way to live. The chapel pictured here is a great, fabulous community resource in our area. Here, it is old, built at the turn of the 20th century. That is a different experience.

Finally, I love the adventure and independence found in solo cycle touring. The humdrum and routine of daily existence is just gone.

When these aspects come together they reach a different kind of experience, in which the passage, the measurement and concept, of time is radically different than usual, and the decisions to be made and the things to be learned are so different that it becomes an entirely different way to live. That is where the deepest attraction, for me, is found. And that is why cycle touring, not racing, not mountain biking or cyclocross, not staying in one place and riding new loops, is so appealing. And it is also why it is so appealing in a different culture, one with a very old history, where I can speak enough of the language to communicate.

So with the start of the New Year, I'll put that question away. At least for a while. Happy New Year.

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