October 18, 2011

Berkshire Cycling: The Landscape of Home, 1


Perhaps I somehow think that if I don't post anything new, but instead  keep my recent tour in the French Pyrenees right-up-front, first-thing-you-see, home-page-important, that my experiences in France will depart into the history of my personal world more slowly. Perhaps they will linger longer. Perhaps they will stay fresher in my memory. It is true that I don't want to let go of the trip, and that I am having a hard time letting go of it. Perhaps, though, what will happen is only that no one will continue to look at this site. So it's time to write again.

I have been riding here at home since I got back, on routes described and included in the Berkshire Rides section of this blog. And, yes, the Berkshires of western Massachusetts are  a fantastic place to live, and to ride a bike. People move here from afar to live, to enjoy the quality of life, the landscape, the cultural events. They travel here from afar to visit. Bike touring companies bring groups of people to cycle here. 

I know all this, and I try, hard even sometimes, and with attention, to see my home landscape with fresh eyes, to grab some of what I experience on a cycle in France and to experience it here. I wonder: where is the difference in the experience to be found, what is the essence of that difference, from what does it originate? Some of that difference is located simply in the fact of being elsewhere, of traveling itself, away from daily routines and habits, immersed in a different culture, a different history.

Some of the difference in cycling experience is in having a pretty good idea what to expect when riding in the landscape of home. Riding down Kirchner Road, last weekend, I was thinking about these differences in cycling experiences, specifically that here I know pretty much what to expect, what will come my way. There is state forest and a reservoir on both sides of this road, a road where there are no houses, no houses at all within a distance where someone would want ... a chair? A kitchen chair? A kitchen chair sitting on a rock above the reservoir, waiting for a sitter? To sit with her back to the reservoir, watching the road? Helped to remind me that I don't always know what to expect.

Some things, of course, are the same. Sometimes, though happily rarely, exactly the same. When I first noticed an eight-sided, red and white sign in France, indicating to drivers that they are expected to bring their car to a halt, I was flabbergasted, assuming that the very Anglo-Saxon sounding four-letter word S-T-O-P is not a word in French. But there it is, in the Larousse dictionary, approved by the Academie Francaise. Remains odd looking to me.

A fine thing about bicycle travel is that it happens at a speed that allows both close observation and measured contemplation, and these two things feed upon each other. I was thinking of these things, too, when I noticed these inky cap mushrooms at the side of the road. In France I occasionally saw walkers heading into the woods carrying rigid baskets designed, I think, for mushroom or nut gathering. These particular fungi are said to be edible, but don't look appealing to me.

I have promised myself to try to hold onto not just the insights I gained in my Atlantic to Mediterranean trip, but also to the fitness, which is not so easy with my work schedule and our ever-shortening days. So I've committed to a local gym and aerobic class. But after work today it was warm ...well, anyway it was over 40F, and sunny. My bike is still in the back of the car, so I jumped on and rode, rode hard, for an hour, instead of the gym. It was great riding, and what's more I saw two bluebirds on a wire, always a treat.

To paraphrase trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, cycling always washes away the dust of the day. The gym will wait for worse weather.



  1. I know the feeling, Susan...boy do I! Anything gets familiar with time, but luckily France (and Europe for that matter) is dense with diversity and I don't pine for greener pastures (for basically the first time in my life). Good luck with the gym!

  2. Hi Gerry,
    Indeed, some of it rests in familiarity. As much, I think, is elsewhere, in the grounds of adventure, travel, experience. Some of it danses on similar ground to that which you thought about in your posting on what makes a great ride. In any case, riding season is slipping away here in the chilly northeast.
    Cheers, Suze


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