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Some days I feel like a centaur. If I'm cut off too long from my better half (that's the bicycle) I'm stuck--immobile and mutilated until I can get two wheels firmly underneath me again.

Last night we did some unusual exercises during a taijutsu class outdoors in exceptionally cold weather. I wrenched the muscles in my back, and the pain slowly creeped up on me as the evening wore on. By dinner I was in agony, by bedtime I was groaning in pain. I woke up several times at night, painfully heaving myself around to find a position that didn't hurt.

This morning I could barely lift a coffee cup to my lips.

Excused from work, I spent a few hours this morning experimenting with yoga and tai chi to figure out how bad the damage really was, and what I could and couldn't do.

By noon I could walk if I was careful not to lean too far in the wrong direction. I could lift a decent amount of weight if I paid attention to my posture.  It was time for a bike ride.

I think you can guess what happened next, especially if this has ever happened to you. I'm completely healed, free of pain, back to full mobility.

Chalk it up to circulation, the benefits of bike exercise, gently working the muscles of your lower back by pedaling. Maybe it's the magic of just going out and doing what you really love and want.

The truth is we're resilient creatures. I think a lot of suffering comes out of our own minds. The best thing you can do is break out of the rut you're in, change your environment, assert your freedom to go where you want on your own power.

Get out on your bike and ride.

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One of the best parts of biking in the rain is the looks you get, and the conversations it inspires. When you're biking in foul weather, especially in a place like LA where foul weather is rare, people take notice. It gives you a chance to change their minds.

riding a bike in the rain

While you're out there pedaling through Valhalla, breathing free air and attacking the most menacing hills, the mortal masses are growing dull and weak behind electronic screens. Entire generations are hyperinsulated from the real world, and we're paying the price:

Last year's economic meltdown was caused by a potent mix of greed and laziness, the mindset that easy money should be a given, the bovine mentality that comfort is the norm and serious effort is unnecessary.

The purely physical aspects of life have become so easy for most of us that it's easy to get lost in this mindset, easy to lose touch with reality, almost impossible to do anything as our resources and freedoms slip away.

At the same time, the few people who stay active and engaged with the world are beating the trend and thriving. The courageous heroes who squarely face the challenges that life throws at them, or who seek out challenges on their own, these are the people who continue to grow and succeed.

If you're a regular bike commuter, I suspect you have a distinct advantage in your social and economic life, in addition to better health. And whenever you ride, you're a beacon to all the wandering souls behind glass panes, a reminder of the independence, resourcefulness, and work ethic that made this country great.

When it's raining cats and dogs, especially in a place like Los Angeles where it rarely rains very hard for very long, the weather separates the heroes from the common folk. If you ride boldly and blatantly where others fear to tread, you're forcing the world to wake up and take notice.

You have a choice to make. We're on the cusp of human evolution, but it's different this time. We're not going to be naturally selected by a meteor or some other environmental catastrophe. We're going to choose our own fate.

So get on your bike, especially when the storms are raging all around you.

You don't realize it, but your bottom bracket holds the future of America, and maybe of all humanity.

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Every time you use your own power, you expand that power. And here you are. We are extraordinary human beings, and we don't do ourselves justice if we stay inside our comfort zones all the time. You can do something extraordinary today. Right now.

It was pouring rain in Los Angeles today, and I was skidding all over the place as I weaved my bike around drivers who aren't used to driving in the rain.

But in this case, the destination was more important than the journey. I was heading for Griffith Park with two goal in mind:

1. To stop procrastinating and begin doing hill sprints--as I had told myself I would do six months ago.

2. To practice taijutsu--another promise I made to myself.

Maybe there was a little bit of the macho thing going on, riding out in the rain to do strenuous exercise and crazy martial arts stuff in the mud. But even if it had been sunny, I would have done it.

We're not in this world to sit like rocks, and slowly erode in the weather. We're here to rise and grow and always seek greater heights.

As the drizzle streamed down my face, I launched myself at the top of the first hill, sprinting full on, trying to get up there as fast as humanly possible. Finding the limits, and pushing beyond them. Flinging past gravity, mud, exhaustion--any obstacle that dares to say, "This is all you are. You can go no further."

Riding a bike is the same battle, in slow motion. Every time you use your own power, you expand that power. And here you are. We are extraordinary human beings, and we don't do ourselves justice if we stay inside our comfort zones all the time. You can do something extraordinary today. Right now.

That's why I ride.

Today is the exact midpoint of 2009. It's also Hermann Hesse's birthday, and he's got a connection to bike travel. Or any travel, actually.

I was really influenced by two of his books, Siddhartha and Goldmund and Narcissus. They were both about wandering vagabond-type characters whose travel became a big part of their destiny--and that of all humanity.

I think his books taught me the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. It seems that the term "bike touring" is more dominant, but really when you tour the world by bicycle--or even just your home town--you're embodying the spirit of a traveler.

A tourist goes site-seeing, but a bike traveler has a spontaneous conversation with the places you visit. You may have  a schedule, but it's a loose one by necessity. Your plans are tempered by the weather, the terrain, and even by what you ate for dinner.

Bike touring engages you. Wherever you stop for food, drink, or rest you're going to get the attention of the locals simply because you're traveling in a way that's still unusual. People who wouldn't talk to you if you were driving will invite you in for coffee drinks because you're on a bike. You get to know the adventures that go along with heat and cold, hunger and fatigue, being lost and finally arriving at your destination.

Your adventures may not be as long or intense as the ones that Siddhartha and Goldmund experienced, but when you travel by bike you're living in the real world, not just being passively entertained.

It's the middle of the year, the beginning of summer, and a few days from our celebration of independence. Celebrate your own independence, while the sun shines and the open road rolls out before you. Ride on, and enjoy the adventures that await you.