Pedaling Adagio

Pedaling adagio

I’ve had this title standing by, waiting for a post. So, with many Thanks to TravelFarandClose, and her discussion of slow travel, I’m now inspired to dive in.

When I was a young mudlips, growing up, I had big legs, large muscular legs for a girl and I was rather self-conscious about them. In adolescence and all through puberty it was my belief that they were unattractive…since they were larger than many of the boy’s legs. Oh, but when I discovered cycling I knew what they were for – going fast – and I liked them quite well. I did my best to go fast too. I rode everywhere, dabbled at racing, worked out at the gym – all as fast as I was able. In fact, I tied my identity to cycling and being a strong capable cyclist.

I worked at a bike shop, learned all about bikes and cycling, and participated in many different cycling pursuits: road, track, mountain, cyclocross, and commuting. All fun, all fun done going fast. Ah, but then along came life and I was challenged to expand my identity. Driven to be more than a cyclist, I didn’t train so much, picked up other hobbies, eventually stopped racing, and best of all added bike touring to my list of cycling accomplishments.

It’s been one of the best changes I’ve made. In go fast mode, I was pretty focused on myself. How strong could I be, how fast could I go. Yes, team dynamics did factor in and I very much enjoyed the close-knit community of racers. I learned things too, about myself, but usually things about winning and losing or trying harder or staying focused. All good lessons, lessons that may have proved a good foundation for those I could learn bike touring.

In bike touring mode, speed is not my objective. Rather than the finish line being the focus the journey itself comes into focus. Yes, a twist on the cliché “it’s about the journey, not the destination”, but true none the less . When your bike is burdened with camping gear and food and the clothes you need, you have to slow down. And while you’re slowing down you really have time to see things along the way. You also have time to stop, eat, explore, make friends, eat some more, and discover surprises. Some of those surprises are about yourself.

It's not always easy - heat, hills, long days, all take their toll.

Now, just because you’re traveling more slowly, doesn’t mean it is always easy. The road can throw things at you that you just don’t want to deal with: traffic, rumble strips, 50 mph winds, headwinds, heat, cold, illness, and (did I say) traffic. All testing, all potentially able to ruin a good ride. But when you have to work for a living, have limited vacation days, and do have to finish and return to work and you’re stubborn, stopping because of those conditions is not an option. Yet, get yourself through that rough stuff  and you will really know your limits. If you thought you were tough, you’ll learn you aren’t; if you don’t think you’re tough, you’ll learn you are. If you’re lucky you’ll learn other things too.

A couple of years ago, I was in the middle of a two-week trip across the SW United States. There’d been a rough stretch of road behind us: hot, hilly, horrible traffic, no shoulder, no fun. It had really put me on edge. I knew there was a similar stretch ahead. As I shared my angst about the road behind and ahead, my cycling partner and husband rebutted, “Yes, but look at where we are. We’ve a wide shoulder, no traffic, a tailwind, and incredible views. Isn’t this great, it’s not going to last so enjoy it now.” And he was right. Instead of enjoying what was happening at the moment, I was missing it by worrying about the future. 

KA-BLAM! Aha Moment; a simple but important lesson.

I had never in my life so fully and deeply understood the adages counseling “live in the moment” or, “this too shall pass”, as I did right then. It is after all, one thing to say and appreciate such statements, quite another thing to really understand them. And boy, did I at that moment, and many moments since, really comprehend what they meant. It suddenly changed everything. Through the rest of the trip and beyond, in those bad stretches I was able to imagine the good ahead, in the smooth segments I savored every moment.

Is that a lesson I see out there?

If the trip had been about going fast I never would have been there, ready to learn. But, slowing down, put me in the middle of that desert ready to realize a big lesson. It seems that I discover something about myself or the world around me each time I pedal adagio and that knowledge feels closer to wisdom than anything I learned from going fast.

What do you do slowly and what has it taught you?


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