Category Archives: Elements of Cycling

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.

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“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

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.

Waterworks in Albuquerque

If I had sought counseling, I might have become a more mature, emotionally well-adjusted human being.  But I preferred becoming a writer.  —Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Don’t Call Me a Genius”, New York Times, April 14, 2018

I read a Robert Frost poem this morning, and it reminded me of my bicycle rides in Albuquerque.  The North Diversion Channel multi-use trail is a main cycling connection across town.  It runs along a big concrete ditch that’s been engineered to control the water shed from the Sandia Mountains.   Sometimes I close my eyes and try to imagine what this landscape looked like before we built up this city.  Water, which is often used by poets as a metaphor for memory and justice, is a primary shaping force in the landscape.  Water has a voice.

The situation, now and in the past, is that the minority and marginalized communities of this or any other country are often not voiceless.  They’re simply not heard.  –Viet Thanh Nguyen, NYTimes

On Saturday’s ride I made a point to stop by the Mill Pond Refuge at the Sawmill Community Land Trust.  Keshet, a local dance company, performed a water dance there at 2pm.  It was part of the 3rd biannual National Water Dance, where communities renew their connections to the life giving world of water.  In the arid Southwest, during this drought, it was especially poignant.  The Sawmill location represents our community’s changing relationship with water.  Below is the poem from Robert Frost, and then a few photos from the Water Dance that I saw Saturday.

A Brook in the City, by Robert Frost

The farmhouse lingers, though averse to square
With the new city street it has to wear
A number in.  But what about the brook
That held the house as in an elbow-crook?
I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength
And impulse, having dipped a finger length
And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed
A flower to try its currents where they crossed.
The meadow grass could be cemented down
From growing under pavements of a town;
The apple trees be sent to hearthstone flame.
Is water wood to serve a brook the same?
How else dispose of an immortal force
No longer needed? Staunch it at its source
With cinder loads dumped down? The brook was thrown
Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone
In fetid darkness still to live and run–
And all for nothing it had ever done,
Except forget to go in fear perhaps.
No one would know except for ancient maps
That such a brook ran water.  But I wonder
If from its being kept forever under,
The thoughts may not have risen that so keep
This new-built city from both work and sleep.
–1923

References:

http://keshetarts.org  “Founded in 1996, Keshet is an Albuquerque-based nonprofit which exists to inspire and unite community by fostering unlimited possibilities through dance, mentorship and a creative space for the arts. Uniting the arts, the artist and the audience, Keshet invites you to engage, experience and be inspired through bold explorations of movement and celebrations of community.”

Keshet’s Water Dance:  http://keshetarts.org/join-national-water-dance-2018_dancing-for-water-in-nm/