Category Archives: Elements of Cycling

Tortuga (exploring Albuquerque murals on bicycle)

Landscape is a unity, a wholeness, an integration, of community and environment; man is ever part of nature, and the city is basically no less involved than the countryside.  –D.W. Meinig, “Reading the Landscape” in The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays

The main reason I ride a bicycle is to get where I want to go.  Sometimes I get an idea of places to go from someone else’s rides.  John Fleck, a UNM professor and journalist with an emphasis on water, posted a ride on Strava with pictures of these cool murals depicting scenes from Albuquerque’s Bosque with colorful flora and fauna.  It looked beautiful and I wanted to see it.

John posted a picture of the Pacific Avenue street sign on his ride, but I couldn’t make out the cross street.  So the first time I ended up looking for these murals I rode up and down the wrong section of Pacific.  I was on the West side of the railroad tracks.  It turns out the murals are by the Tortuga Art Gallery on the east side of the tracks.  I found it on my second try.

Standing there in September light, I marveled at this mural!  The street became a theatre for this wrap-around art work transforming an ordinary building into a vibrant bio-scape.  It must always look different in the changing light.  Even though I only found what was already there, it gave me a sense of discovery and hope.  Thank goodness there are artists working in this world!

While pedaling down Edith away from this mural a kid on his porch gave me a big wave and I waved back.  It’s amazing how the bicycle creates a sense of adventure and connection that is so accessible and easy to enjoy, right out our front door.  I took the Bosque Trail northward and the long way home, paying closer attention to the ordinary beauty all around me.

Resources:

Check out this website collecting Albuquerque murals!
https://murosabq.com

The mural in this blog post:
https://murosabq.com/denise-weaver-ross-et-al-tortuga/

You can find John Fleck on Strava,
https://www.strava.com/athletes/12521793

and also check out Mr. Fleck’s great blog on the geography of water in the arid West:
http://www.inkstain.net/fleck/

Here’s my Strava ride to view the Tortuga mural:
https://www.strava.com/activities/2744476385

Home trails

Humanity
has been sleeping
–and still sleeps–
lulled within the
narrowly confining 
joys of its
closed loves.
–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I love exploring Albuquerque’s Open Space on urban trails.  Our trails put me in touch with the healing powers of nature.  The trails are often times small, and that can bring trail users into close proximity.  That gives us opportunities to contribute to well-being in a neighborly way.

The best kind of trail in my opinion is singletrack.  This is even more challenging to share than a small two-lane road, where a person may take up a whole lane, but there is still another lane to pass providing you can see it is clear of oncoming traffic for the necessary distance.  When you meet another person on singletrack, you have to negotiate a safe pass, because by definition there is only room for one line of traffic.  This always requires communication, patience, awareness of and respect for the well-being of others, and restraint by the speedier users.

One day on a singletrack trail in High Desert, I got stuck behind a couple walking and talking.  They were going in the same direction I was.  They had two dogs off the leash.  I said hello and that there was a bicycle behind them.  They didn’t hear me or see me.  I kept a safe distance behind them and waited until there was a pause in their conversation, and used a louder voice to try saying hello again.  On the third or fourth try they heard me.  I stopped and waited as they gathered their dogs and attached the leashes to the collars.  They found a safe place to move aside and when they were set they waved me on.  We exchanged smiles and greetings with remarks on how beautiful the day was outside.  It felt so good to share pleasantries.  By taking time I made new friends.  I felt like my patience paid off, not only in waiting for them, but the feeling I got inside from negotiating a safe, friendly pass contributed to my own well-being.

Our situational awareness as travelers takes into consideration the well-being of others.  It is not just about going somewhere, it is about being with people in places and safeguarding dignity.  In our travel culture I sometimes see an atmosphere of incessant rushing.  And in traffic engineering, there are metrics such as travel speed and throughput that stress industrial measures that can overshadow human needs such as community, enjoyment and quality.  The trails are a good place to get back in touch with ourselves and forge those vital connections once again.  It takes discipline, but when we focus our attention there, good things happen.

In Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods offers trail opportunities for exploring the land

An important mentor of mine for teaching youth cycling told me that kids don’t get “yield”.  It is kind of a complex word.  He found that it works better to teach kids to “give it up” when they see other people on the trail, at junctions, or crosswalks.  This works well, being present to the needs of others.  This also includes horses, which are common on New Mexico trails.  In that sense, the rules for urban trails teach us to give it up and be present to all of life in nature. By doing this, we experience a fuller measure of nature’s healing powers right here on home trails.

Keep it simple

Don’t do anything that isn’t play.  –Marshall B. Rosenberg, “Practical Spirituality

Sunday I rode up the Sandia Crest with my friend Brud.  Brud is in his 70’s now.  Every year he makes a simple goal for himself, to ride up the Sandia Mountain.  This year he’s had challenges with back and leg issues, so there was no guarantee it would happen.  But Brud’s determination won out.  As a personal health goal there is a genius to this method of climbing a mountain.

Brud recruited a lot of friends to help with his effort.  His friend Marie (Pictured with Brud in the 2nd picture below) started with him, and went all the way to the top.  She was so fast she had time to go home and get the car to come back and check on Brud.  Our friend Sierra started with Brud and cheered him on until the turn off to Las Huertas Canyon.  I started later and caught up to Brud for the last stretches to the top.  On the way he made more friends as other cyclists and occupants of cars saw him & collaborated with cheers when he made it to the top.

It was an awesome effort.  Great day.  I think Brud inspired a lot of people riding up that mountain in his sweat pants and tennis sneakers.  As we sat on the rock wall by the entrance to the Sandia Crest House gift shop, Brud devoured a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich he carried up on his bike rack.  He doesn’t consider himself an athlete, and the bicycle is just a way of getting around.  Brud is also a wood carver, and he is in the process of crafting a small bicycle, which is pictured below.  He said building it small made him concentrate on the details.  By taking his time and not rushing things he thinks it will come out nicely.  It just amazes me what he’s able to do and say with a few simple things.  Super fun sharing a ride with Brud.

What you do will be play when you can see how it enriches life…I want to see that energy reflected in the person’s actions as they go out and make things happen.  It’s something you do, a practical spirituality.  –Marshall Rosenberg

this was Brud’s idea, throwing our arms in the air

There’s nothing that is better, nothing that feels better, nothing is more enjoyable than using our efforts in the service of life, contributing to one another’s well being.  —Marshall Rosenberg

Additional References:

I’ve blogged about Brud before here: https://bikeinitiative.org/2018/02/15/artful-living-in-the-east-mountains/

Last year I rode with Brud and friends up the Crest on June 14.  There was a Lemonade Stand set up by kids at the end of our climb.  Serendipity is awesome.  Here’s the Strava feed: https://www.strava.com/activities/1638809331

The sun shines today also

“When you’re born to run, it’s so good to just slow down.”  –Steve Winwood, Back in the High Life Again

Since I started cycling everyday in 1997, the original attraction–the insight of the bicycle as a transformative tool–keeps getting stronger.   I’ve learned that in spite of my love, there is no bike friendly paradise out there that already exists for us.  We have to build our own world.

Rules to govern power differentials in spatial relationships is key for encouraging more walking and cycling.  IMBA (the International Mountain Bicycling Association) offers a simple principle for the trails to direct respectful relations.  “Descending riders yield to climbing riders.”  ( https://www.imba.com/ride/imba-rules-of-the-trail ) With speed comes the responsibility to control it.  On roads, the LAB (League of American Bicyclists) has a similar principal governing orderly flow of traffic.  It’s called “First come, first served.”  “Everyone on the road is entitled to the space they’re using.  If you want to use someone else’s space, you must yield to whoever is using it.”  ( https://bikeleague.org/content/traffic-laws ).  Education is one part.  Instilling the discipline to apply these principles is another.  Policies prioritizing safety over speed are mechanisms.   Safety is a mindset based on self-respect and respect for human individuals.

Prioritizing safety over speed is based on recognizing our limits as a species. We evolved in nature for slower moving activities.  Mechanical assistance brings in a level of responsibility we are not automatically equipped to handle. So training and knowledge becomes essential.  Nature shows us we have biophysical limits.  Travel systems such as the Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, in Japan have achieved an admirable degree of fast transport and system safety by controlling variables.  To keep using our roads and trails with a high degree of autonomy and freedom, we have to implement principles, and be disciplined and restrained to protect people.

To achieve the outcome of a transportation system with all kinds of choices, and safety and dignity for all, we have to focus on the process of following basic principles.  I think we have a head start in America since the idea of respecting the individual is so strong and powerful, and we also want people to set out and explore our country.  It seems a vital necessity.  If we focus on the process and applying what we know, it feels so good to slow down and enjoy life everyday.

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.  Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.

Donations: If you enjoy this blog and want to support our work building sustainable transportation systems, please donate here https://bikeinitiative.org/make-a-donation/

Home

“We must go alone.  I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.”  –RW Emerson, Self Reliance

“The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lessons of worship.” RW Emerson, Nature

One of the truest aspects of cycling is the way it connects us to the soil again and helps us put down roots in the places where we are growing our lives.  Cycling helps us find our way home. It’s a technology that helps us notice when we are happy, and shows us how simple the joys in life can be, how direct and integral the connections between the land, water, air, all of nature, the whole community are to sensing a greater awareness of who we are and what we can be.

I think with all the fancy technology we have there is a tendency for arrogance, for pretending we know more about life than anyone else.  But as Kurt Vonnegut points out in his talk called the Shape of Stories, we really don’t know anything more about the central mysteries of life than before.  This is what Emerson referred to as the equivalency of all times.  There is an equality inherent throughout humanity.  It is this humility and understanding our limits that keep us innovating at our best, with the aim of enjoying life on the only home we know, planet Earth.

“I have tried to bring scientific thinking to literary criticism and there’s been very little gratitude for this.”  –Kurt Vonnegut, Shape of Stories

And so on this Earth Day, I took a ride on lunch break.  The butterflies are flying about in the winds, caterpillars are crawling on the ground and on flowerstalks, and the hummingbirds are arriving in town.  It is just another day on this earth like any other day, which means today is magnificent, special and holds the complete history of time, all of the present, and the seeds of the future.  It’s a great day.  A nice day to take a stroll or a bike ride, and keep finding our way.

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence…It destroys his own inner capacity for peace.  It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”  –Thomas Merton quoted in Rick Bass, The Blood Root of Art

References:

Kurt Vonnegut’s talk Shape of Stories can be viewed on YouTube here since you probably can’t listen/watch it while “reading” this blog post and listening to Clapton and Winwood playing, but it is worth a view, as Vonnegut can tell a good story about storytelling.

Why cycling is a symbol for uplifting all of humankind:
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/14/cycling-and-walking-to-get-our-bearings/

The Thomas Merton quote, via Rick Bass, appears in Numbers and Nerves: Information, Emotion, and Meaning in a World of Data edited by Scott Slovic and Paul Slovic

“Spring Sunlight” from Sansai Studios

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 swiftly.  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 cannot 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.

Fall harvest

Whilst the abstract question occupies your intellect, nature brings it in the concrete to be solved by your hands.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

As the season comes around to Fall again, I reflect on what this year has brought and may bring.  I’ve learned a few things, most importantly that New Mexico is a beautiful place to ride.  I knew it was, but after much practice, I find a true understanding deepening.  Cycling activates our care, for ourselves, the earth, and each other.  It opens our senses to the world.  Our hearts beat stronger.  Our lungs fill with vital air and oxygen.  We relax and feel more at home.  Cycling  fits with our times, grows roots and makes our families happy. I am grateful for cycling.

An action is the perfection and publication of a thought.  –RW Emerson, “Nature”

If we live truly, we shall see truly.  –RW Emerson, “Self Reliance”

the ancient precept, ‘know thyself,’ and the modern precept, ‘study nature,’ become at last one maxim.  RW Emerson, “American Scholar”

References:
Photos from my bike rides, except of the three Ikebana from Sansai Studios:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/index