Category Archives: Bicycling Ecologies

Bike rise

I swing my right leg over the saddle, guide my shoe cleat into the pedal, and hear the affirmative click of the engagement reverberating through the quiet morning air.   I hold onto the handlebars and push on the pedal.  As I start rolling forward towards the daylight streaming in over the eastern mountains, I feel something like laughter bubbling up on the inside.  I’m headlong for adventure.   I’m off on a bike ride.

I feel the air current flowing over my wintry silhouette.  As my breathing naturally synchs with the circular motion of my legs, my consciousness moves from my head into my heart.  My heart is now guiding me and I think of the mantra chanted at the green tea ceremony in Santa Fe.  Open your heart.  Open your heart.  And there I am in the moment living a scene maybe no one sees, swooping through the currents of chilly winter air, the life inside of me shining out on this quaint street.  All seems quiet and mundane, just me and the bike rolling.

Bicycling on the campus of New Mexico’s flagship university in Albuquerque, art catches my eye

I didn’t intend it this way, but so far I’ve spent a lot of my life on the road.  Much of it moving so fast, boxed in behind windows, scenes flying by on a scale exceeding my human senses.  The bicycle has helped me relax more and enjoy being in the moment.  And much like William Safford’s poem Maybe Alone On My Bike suggests, on the bicycle, rider and poet become one.

my teammate Eli gliding up the mountain in Utah’s Crusher in the Tushars

When climbing mountains, we experience a suffering that is cathartic and brings us closer to an experience of ecstasy.  On grinds up long grades we sometimes feel bogged down.  Then we rise up out of the saddle, and call down to the engine room for more.  Sometimes we find something inside ourselves we didn’t know we had before.  Climbing mountains can be purifying in a way, as we learn to let go of negative emotions and overcome our self doubt. When I am suffering on a mountain climb I focus my mind on a singular thought:  Just keep going, keep my motor spooling, my chain connecting my drive to the wheel and to the ground.

Horses we see in Placitas remind us to be free

The bicycle shifts the normal feeling of separation we feel with motorized travel to a sensation that we are more a part of the landscape.  Cyclists are insiders looking out.  We meet nature on its own terms, with our own nature driving us forward.  Cycling connects us with life’s splendor.

On a group ride in Gutierrez Canyon in the East Mountains, which used to be a dirt road

It’s not that bicycling is the only way.  Technology has widened our perspective.  We can be immersed in the physical world, such as when we swim.  We can walk or bike and move at human scale over the earth’s surface.  Traveling in cars gives us the ability to see contrast at the landscape scale, big changes from river valleys, plains and mountains, which we traverse more easily and swifly.  Air travel gives us a kind of patchwork quilt perspective.  Space travel has given us a picture of Earth’s uniqueness in the Universe.  These five perspectives are almost like a five storied pagoda.  But as Wendell Berry wrote, “we cannon live in machines”.  When I pedal my bicycle the chuckle of the chain tells me this is a happy median to be in.  The story of the bicycle is a machine metaphor I can live with, because we are the drivers.  I marvel at our ride.

Congratulations to the Semper Porro team for their teamwork in Valley of the Sun 2019. Poetry in motion!

When people come together on bike rides, we have an entirely different experience of the city

Sometimes bicycling is more fun than you would imagine possible

onward and upward

bike rise

References:
The William Stafford poem this blog entry is based on is reprinted in this post:
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/03/all-of-us/

Wendell Berry’s quote is from his excellent The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, “The Use of Energy” chapter.  Full quote:  “The catch is that we cannot live in machines.  We can only live in the world, in life.  To live, our contact with the sources of life must remain direct: we must eat, drink, breathe, move, mate, etc.  When we let machines and machine skills obscure the values that represent these fundamental dependences, then we inevitably damage the world; we diminish life.  We begin to ‘prosper’ at the cost of a fundamental degradation.”

A professor who teaches literature introduced me to Safford and helped me engage with art. “…we do not use up the richness of our favorite texts, but rather interpret them more deeply with each encounter.”  –Scott Slovic, “Literature.”  Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology.  Eds. Willis Jenkins, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim. New York: Routledge, 2017.  p. 355-362.

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Connecting Albuquerque and Santa Fe with cycling

The way we treat the environment and the way we treat each other are intricately connected.  —Jonathan P. Thompson, “We are the environmental movement”, Colorado Sierra Club blog 

I’ve reached a couple milestones recently.  This is my 365th blog post on bike yogi.  For some reason, this has been a number I’ve had in my head as a goal since I started this blog in 2014 to write about cycling.  I also was trained as a cycling instructor this past Spring by the League of American Bicyclists.  I’ve wanted to do that for years!  And on Sunday June 17th, I connected two great cities, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, with a bicycle ride along the Turquoise Trail, through Santa Fe, and on up Hyde Park Road into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

the turquoise trail connects Albuquerque to Santa Fe through rolling high desert terrain and beautiful mountains

I woke up early on Sunday to begin my ride by 7:15am so I could meet my wife in Santa Fe at Fort Marcy Park for a picnic at noon.  Although June is an extremely hot and dry month historically in the Southwest U.S., the previous day we received a steady rain and the landscape was still wet and fragrant.  Lingering clouds dropped some showers in spots as I rode.  It felt so good to pedal and circulate that oxygenated blood all around my body, and at the same time watch that vital ingredient in the chemistry of life–WATER–flow from sky to the waiting earth.

bike art along the Turquoise Trail

The atmosphere above, the ocean below–it’s one big system.  –Sylvia Earle, “Sunken Treastures

Spooling down the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway on a bicycle is a little bit like sailing on an inverted ocean, the clouds roiling in the sky with a fluid, wave-like motion.  I feel the beauty inside of me.  We already see the roads as an artifact of our culture, and a way into the culture, history and traditions of the land around us.  In Georgia, there is a pilot project on highway to farm the roadside and make it more ecologically productive.  As part of this project rethinking what a highway can be, Georgia is building bioswales to clean the water runoff, growing wheatgrass to sequester carbon, and experimenting with asphalts to make it quieter.  This sounds exciting, but right now by cycling I already feel the way this road is improving my health, today!  Why do for people what people can do for themselves?  Cycling is an economic engine.

Hyde Park Road leads up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

The infrastructure is the landscape.  –Jonathan Thompson, “River of Lost Souls

In Santa Fe I took the most direct way through town, and started climbing up Hyde Park Road.  Due to the high fire danger most of the recreational facilities from the road are closed, so there is very little traffic, and more than half of that traffic are bicyclists.  It’s so quiet I am spooked when I here twigs breaking in the forest next to me.  I look to my right towards the sound’s source and there are two deer running up an embankment.  They were enjoying the quiet too.  After I climb “the wall”, the steep two mile pitch through the State Park, I turn around to be on time for my picnic date with my wife.  It’s delightful.  After lunch we stroll through town.  In the Plaza in the center of town where the streets are closed to motorized traffic, all I can hear is a chorus of human voices.  It’s like a hundred conversations happening all at once, something like a symphony of voices.  A beautiful sound.  The fabric of community.  We stumble upon a free concert by the Santa Fe Concert Band in front of the Court House.  We lay on the grass and listen to the songs roll–Arioso, Black Horse Troop, A Touch of Carmen, The Phantom of the Opera. We drive home to Albuquerque together, feeling restored, hoping more rain will come soon.

The Santa Fe Concert Band played a Father’s Day Concert at Federal Park

Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.  –Albert Einstein

References and Resources:

We are the environmental movement is an interview with writer Jonathan Thompson https://www.sierraclub.org/colorado/blog/2018/06/we-are-environmental-movement

Georgia DOT is farming the roadside:  https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/blogs/georgia-highway-rightofway-farming-ray-anderson

Explore New Mexico’s Scenic Byways:  http://dot.state.nm.us/content/nmdot/en/byways.html

The Sun Magazine’s feature interview each of the last five months has been incredibly inspiring:
https://www.thesunmagazine.org

Jonathan Thompson’s book River of Lost Souls is in part about converting our economy so what used to be sacrifice zones contribute more to human well-being and our sense of place.  https://riveroflostsouls.com

Loving the land

Somehow, against probability, some sort of indigenous, recognizable culture has been growing on Western ranches and in Western towns and even in Western cities.  It is the product not of the boomers but of the stickers, not of those who pillage and run but of those who settle and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.  I believe that eventually, perhaps within a generation or two, they will work out some sort of compromise between what must be done to earn a living and what must be done to restore health to the earth, air, and water.  –Wallace Stegner

I was at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic over Memorial Day weekend, and was reminded how the act of cycling restores to us a sense of our better selves.  On Saturday the road from Durango to Silverton is open only for event traffic, which consists of thousands of people cycling.  And on Sunday, in downtown Durango they build a BMX (bicycle motorcross) course on Main Street and run mountain bike, kids, and costume rides through town.  The city is designed for enjoyment.

In this economy, what is circulating is people, and more specifically people filled with curiosity, joy and excitement.  Combine the human created atmosphere with the Animas River flowing through the heart of town, quaking Aspen stands, and the La Plata and San Juan mountains flying high on the edges, and you have what feels like a healthy community.  As my wife said, “the oxygen tastes good” in Durango.

Contempt for the natural world is contempt for life.  The domination of nature leads to the domination of human nature.  —Edward Abbey, quoted in “River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed behind the Gold King Mine Disaster” by Jonathan P. Thompson

To put Abbey’s idea into positive terms, perhaps embracing our human nature helps us to appreciate greater nature.  When we get on a bicycle, our legs flow freely around in circles, the wind blows in our faces, and we breath in more of that sacred oxygen.  We feel good.  We move forward.  When I become more alive inside, I see more of the life around me.  Cycling fits here.

Cycling and walking to get our bearings

Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.  Connection is health.  And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is.  We lose our health–and create profitable diseases and dependences–by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving.  –Wendell Berry, “The Unsettling of America:  Culture and Agriculture”, 1977, Sierra Club Books

If I can bicycle there, then I can live there.  This was the mantra I came up with after my visit to Japan last year.  It was my sixth time in Japan, but the first time I bicycled.  What a difference it makes!  I felt at home on my bicycle.  Cycling has been an essential way for me to get my bearings in places since I took it up in earnest over twenty years ago.  But feeling at home in Japan was different since it had felt so foreign.  Cycling is an activity that creates connections.

Wes Jackson of the Land Institute said Wendell Berry’s book on culture and agriculture “launched the modern movement for sustainable agriculture”.  The cycling and walking movements today are doing the same thing for sustainable transportation.  There is tremendous enthusiasm in the cycling and walking communities.  We need to support that by setting up our cities and villages, and the roads connecting them together, to encourage walking and cycling.  This is what I call structural encouragement.

Structural encouragement means that we design for those travel modes.  It would naturally occur to people that we are not only welcome to bicycle and walk, but it is part of the shared experience of living in the places we make our homes.  The infrastructure we design connects people to our own capacity and powers for creating movement.  It makes a woven world.

Human movement is the most fundamental form of human action.  That is why we call “movements”–such as civil rights, women’s marches, conservation efforts–movements.  When we march together, it symbolized the power of collective community action.  We let our legs do the talking.  It is the language that preceded language.  An invisible thread connecting us.

Cycling and walking are not only a ways of moving forward, they are ways of living in place.  They allow us to tune in more to what is going on with our bodies, and the places we live in.  It is a way of paying attention.  Designing transportation systems that facilitate human powered transportation (clean, renewable, healthy, sustainable, fun human movement!) is a direct solution that creates benefits now, and future dividends.  It’s a transformative economic idea, one worth investing in.  Check out the nonprofit I founded to learn more how we can accomplish this change together and how you can help.  https://bikeinitiative.org

Man is made of the same atoms the world is, he shares the same impressions, predispositions, and destiny.  When his mind is illuminated, when his heart is kind, he throws himself joyfully into the sublime order, and does, with knowledge, what the stones do by structure.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship” from the “Conduct of Life”.

Blog posts on my Japan trip 2017:

https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/cycling-japan-lights-my-fire/
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/travels-in-japan/

The bicycle is America’s vehicle

“…we need to weave physical activity back into our culture.”  –Daniel Bornstein, in USA Today, Physically fit recruits for Army are hard to find.  

The bicycle has been around for a while, but we are only beginning to express our spirit through its forms.  By adopting a national strategy promoting cycling, we can address challenges we are facing while fulfilling more of our nation’s promise.  The bicycle pulls so many issues together–public road safety, healthy kids, a fit nation, building sustainable cities, safeguarding beautiful landscapes–and by practicing cycling, we make progress on all issues.  Like Andrew York displays through this piece on classical guitar called “Moontan”, there is still much music to be made in America on classic forms we inherited, like the guitar and bicycle.

Cycling is a way for people to participate in building a healthy nation.  Cycling literally builds a stronger, healthier America.  The US Military has an endurance sports program to support amateur athletes, endurance sports education and activities for current, retired, and veteran members of the United States Uniformed Services, including a cycling program.  But anybody can contribute to the nation’s health and strength by cycling and exercising in your own way.

Exercise is medicine.  It is affordable, proactive care!  I’m not just saying that, the American Medical Association and American College of Sports Medicine created The Exercise is Medicine Initiative in 2007.  Research is revealing more and more about the powerful ways exercise prevents most major diseases in our society.  Cycling lots helps us provide more of our own healthcare, and plus we get the benefits of interacting with our communities in healthy ways.

When I see people cycling in Albuquerque, It occurs to me they are bringing positive change.  Just like we generate our own wind by cycling, we shed a new light on our community.  We see more of the process of restoration happening at home.  We become part of that process by applying our own energies and giving our attention.  Cycling attracts community involvement.

I think the imagery of cycling as unifying is powerful.  Partly because it creates wholeness in practice.  Here you have the freedom and beauty of human movement mated with a world-changing technology, the wheel, that allows us to apply our own energy to make beautiful things happen.  Even more beautiful because cycling is practical!  It expresses who we are.

References–

Check out Wikipedia’s definition of a bicycle — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle

Here’s the USA Today link to the article the leading quote is from.  The article frames physical fitness as a national security issue.  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/01/10/physically-fit-recruits-army-hard-find-especially-these-states/1016030001/

Check out US Military’s Endurance Sports program for current, retired, and veteran members of the United States Uniformed Services.  Awesome!  http://usmes.org

Photos in this post are from my bike rides in Albuquerque, except for the flower arrangement.  Thank you Sansai Studios for that photo!  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/index

More on the Exercise is Medicine Initiative here.   http://exerciseismedicine.org

Year of the Bird

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

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I awoke before dawn in our tent listening to the music of the birds.  Owls were hooting in the dark, and coyotes yipped and howled.  The cranes roosting in the playa waters were noisy most of night. I bundled up and opened the tent flap.  It was freezing outside.  Stars were shining across the sky and a faint band of white light was glowing on the eastern horizon.  I lit the stove and heated water.  I looked around.  The backbone of the milky way arched overhead, the dark shapes of the mountains skylighted by dawn.  I poured the water over the coffee, cradled the cup, and sipped.  It was a great day for birding at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Arizona.

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Whitewater Draw is a playa and wetlands in the Sulphur Springs Valley.  It was purchased by Arizona in 1997 to provide habitat for the cranes and other wildlife.  The cranes like to rest in the shallow waters at night, protected from bobcats and coyotes.  They fly out every morning to feed in the fields on bits of grain and corn that were left over from harvest season.

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Whitewater Draw has camping, which makes it easy to be out at the edges of the day when the birds are flying in and out.  Every morning and evening we walked on the pathways and decks with views of the playa.  At nighttime the stars reflected in the calm waters.  We met some great people.  One retired couple joked they had run away from their home in Alabama, and were taking their sweet time exploring the Southwest U.S.  Their plan was to not have a plan, just explore.  Another couple was younger and were taking a year off to travel.  Conversation flowed cheerily as we watched the birds glide, overlooking the watery playa and expansive valley and mountains beyond.  The small crowd of people Whitewater attracts is friendly and easy going.  Everyone was attuned to the language of the landscape, the beauty of the surroundings.

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I came home with questions to research.  I was excited to learn that 2018 is being celebrated as “the year of the bird” by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  It’s the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has played a critical role in conservation of biodiversity.  The Sulphur Springs Valley is a good example of balancing human activities such as agriculture and conservation, and ecological stewardship, partnerships made to last.  It was good to see these birds considered, admired, and cared for.  I certainly learned a lot from them while I was there.

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If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.  –Thomas Lovejoy, Biologist and Godfather of Biodiversity

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Resources and Credits (and cycling info.):
Thank you Mai at Sansai Studio for these wonderful photographs!  You can check out more of Mai’s work at her Instagram site:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/instagram

The Whitewater Draw live, streaming crane cam!  https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/webcamlist/sandhillcrane/cranecam/

The Year of the Bird website:  https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/

We brought our bicycles with us.  What a way to experience the landscape! I plan on blogging about the riding there, but for now, here are maps, data, and pics from those rides, via Strava.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1353895700
https://www.strava.com/activities/1352328961

Time expansion

Time expands when I’m cycling.  I don’t know how it works, but riding is like a glimpse into the mystery of the universe.  And when I get home I have more of everything.  More time, more energy, more joy, relaxation.  Cycling is so satisfying.  I feel younger.

I think part of it is the magic of cycling.  We are born with legs that want to make us go.  It’s natural.  Then we designed an elegantly simple vehicle that uses our legs and makes us more efficient with two wheels.  We glide over the surface of the earth, flowing with the contours, wielding our own power.  On the bicycle even our leg motion becomes circular.  For most of our biological history, our ancestors had no access to this special experience.  Super-mobility.

That gliding motion, how sensational!  We are the pilot and passenger all at once.  Our thoughts and capabilities so perfectly expressed through this machine.  We can go 50 miles on a burrito with a side of blue corn chips.  How’s that for efficiency and fun?  Take time for paradise today.

A quote from Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of the Pooh inspired this post along with a book my father gave me (but he doesn’t remember) called Take Time For Paradise: Americans and Their Games, by A. Bartlett Giamatti.  Cycling has a way of making our everyday experiences extraordinary.

“If time saving devices really saved time, there would be more time available to us than ever before in history.  But, strangely enough, we seem to have less time than even a few years ago.  It’s really great fun to go somewhere where there are no time saving devices because, when you do, you find that you have lots of time.  Elsewhere, you’re too busy working to pay for machines to save you time so you don’t have to work so hard.”  –Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of the Pooh

The photos are from rides this week under New Mexico’s captivating and vivid light.  A perfect place to cycle.  Unlike baseball, which separates out leisure from work, cycling is an integrative activity, the perfect work-play-live-learn-love thing to do.  We can generate more of it.