It’s a funny thing cycling, walking or running. If you do any of these activities for a short amount of time your mind has time to day-dream, contemplate, meditate or just go blank. When you have only your thoughts and seven hours ahead of you its easy to begin to let the mind go totally nuts. You started to realise you have more weird habits than that dude on the bus who talks to himself and scratches uncontrollably behind his ear every so often. Here is a short list of things I observed about myself on this last long ride:

  1. I sing, whistle and hum to myself. I don’t sing new pop songs, mainly because I can never remember the lyrics. I tend to sing show tunes from adverts or old films and when I forget the lyrics I just make them up, like really dumb stuff. I feel like Fellini’s film director in 8 1/2.  I did this before the ride now I find myself doing it every five minutes. Perhaps I should listen to Spotify, the only frivolous subscription I’ve hung on to.
  2. I talk to myself. Streams of my unconscious thought pour into my conscious mind and my internal monologue begins to spurt forth from my mouth until I’m having a full-on conversation with myself sometimes while passing bewildered cyclists and pedestrians. Hypothetical conversations with imaginary people like my as yet unborn children are also a mainstay of this. Other times my motivational self talks out loud, “C’mon you can do it only 3 more hours and then your ass can rest”.
  3. I fantasize about random things, actually typically middle class things. You can’t pass by some of the best architecture in the world and not wonder about “who would live in a house like this” to quote Lloyd Grossman in Through the Keyhole. You then start to imagine your life in this strange land that’s not your own.
  4. Every person I pass I greet with a smile (or a grimace depending on how my body is feeling). This one reminds me of being a waiter. I used to have a perma-smile on my face and go into a sort of trance like state when serving customers. The people who pass me by are as transient as the customers I used to serve but you know you must always be nice because it pays better if you’re a waiter and you might need the help of a passer-by if you’re on the bike plus its just good form.
  5. I fidget even when riding a bike. I used to really annoy my math teacher with my incessant leg shaking disturbing the floor and consequently jarring the overhead projector she was writing the class notes on. I’ve become aware of parts of my body I never knew existed. I now know for example that if I leave my hands in one position on the handlebar for too long my ulnar nerve begins to ache so I switch position and then I notice part of my gluteus maximus going numb so I shift my butt back half an inch at which point I become concerned with the inward rotation of my toes on the pedals so I mentally affect the effort to correct that.

You cycle through all these physical possibilities when you’ve exhausted the mental capacity to do any of the above. Once you’re physically exhausted you stop, eat and drink and then repeat the whole process again, occasionally interspersing all of this with the odd stop for photographs or to fiddle with another gadget like a GoPro or your GPS.

I’ve begun reading the book Deep Work, Cal Newport’s treatise on how to work more intensely with more focus. Basically I’ve realised I waste precious time in this mental state on the bike so I’ve resolved to following his advice and use the time to attack a problem in my professional or personal life in a form of active mediation. I’m now observing when I go into repetitive loops and then stopping my mind from doing that. With any luck that should stop me singing dumb songs and startling passers-by, but I would like to maintain a little bit of my whimsical weirdness as I ride… it keeps me sane.

2 thoughts on “5 things you learn about yourself when cycling long distance alone

    1. Yeah well you know me better than most but I think even I might send myself loopy if I don’t take control of my thoughts

Got a witty retort? Leave it here...