I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
– John Burroughs
The drive from Abilene to El Paso for the start of BRAT1 was nerve-wracking. I was anxious about how the ride was going to unfold and almost overwhelmed by the bleak scenery and eternal distance that we were having to drive to our starting point. “We are going to have to ride bikes back over this whole distance?” was the thought that kept running through my mind. The 445-mile drive was long, boring, and provided little scenery to distract the brain from the boredom of the trip.
The area around Abilene, when driving east from West Texas, looks like a lush and tropical oasis compared to the dry and desert-like conditions of the land to our west. And believe me, Abilene is no tropical oasis. We were about to spend four days on bicycles cycling through remote and scrubby terrain as the first part of our first-ever bike ride across Texas. Ugh!
Do you remember the scene in Mary Poppins where George Banks quits his job at the bank? He is suddenly filled with euphoria and tells the grumpy old bank president, Mr. Dawes, Sr., the perfectly marvelous joke about the man with a wooden leg named Smith? *What’s the name of his other leg?* When Mr. Dawes catches on to the punchline of the joke, he begins laughing and floats up into the air with glee (he also dies from laughing, but that is not the angle that I want to take with this analogy).
Once we got out on the bikes, something happened. Like Mr. Dawes, experiencing life on a bicycle gave me a new view on things. My attitude and perspective of arid West Texas changed in an instant. I didn’t float up in the air, but I did experience a type of euphoria that pushes me along on my bike even to this day. The bleak became beautiful and the ordinary became extraordinary. Something was quite different about riding across West Texas at 15 mph on a bicycle compared to 75 mph in a sealed-up and air-conditioned automobile.
At 15 mph on a bicycle, every bump, hill, and contour become noticeable. Every smell and sound are noticed, the wind and heat from the sun on your arms and neck are felt, and your vision is alert and vigilant of obstacles and things that might cause danger. Your nervous system is constantly informing and reminding your brain of aches, pains, and strains in your body. When given the chance, your hearing can find sounds in the surroundings that would be missed when encapsulated in a vehicle with the stereo playing and air conditioning blowing. In fact, most of the senses are dulled to the environment when driving in a car on the highway. On a bike, however, they seem heightened.
The newly discovered sense of heightened senses didn’t stop after BRAT1. They are present every time that I jump on my bike. When riding day after day over long distances and varied landscapes, the amount of sensory information collected and experienced is even greater because of the sheer amount of continued information being processed. There are times when being in a car and quickly passing by a dairy farm or rank and gruesome road kill might be preferred, but mostly the heightened senses lead to the “wonderful” in wonderful miserable.
The next time you go out to ride, invest some additional brainpower in noticing and processing the information coming into your brain through your senses. You might also find it wonderful.