Mind Games for the Tough Hours of the Ride

Since the time I installed my bicycle odometer in Trabzon, Turkey – about 1/3 of the way through our journey – the trip computer says we’ve logged 730 hours of saddle time. I did the math; that’s 30.4 days, or exactly one month straight, of cycling over the past year. On average, one minute out of every ten was spent on our bikes.

That’s a lot of time pressing the pedals. Of course, the great thing about cycling is that it does not take a whole lot of concentration. Its repetition and mechanical nature allows the mind to wander. We get lost in our thoughts all the time.

But what do we spend all that time thinking about?

Here’s an example stream of consciousness from a ride on our latest crossing of the Kazakh Steppe:

[looking down at my trip computer]

Damn! Still two hours to go. What’s that, like 40 more kilometers?

[seeing camel]

Oh look a Camel! I wonder where its owner is…

DUH DUH DUH DUH Roxannnnnnnnnnnnnne! Put out the red light! Roxannnnnnnnnnnnnnnne! Put out the red light! Roxannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnne! Put out the red light!

[looking at trip computer again]

Ugh! Only another kilometer down??? Why do I keep looking?

[shifting in seat]

Baby powder. Need to put on more baby powder. This chafing is killing me…

DUH DUH DUH DUH Roxannnnnnnnnnnnnne! Put out the red light! Roxannnnnnnnnnnnnnnne! Put out the red light! Roxannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnne! Put out the red light!

[hitting pothole]

Ooooooh! That one hurt. I should to watch the road more.

But seriously, this chafing is killing me.

As you might tell, my thoughts can get a bit repetitive and obsessive in the final hours of the ride. This is especially true when there isn’t interesting scenery around us (like in the Kazakh Steppe), or when the road is smooth enough I don’t have to pay attention to potholes. It’s during these times the songs get stuck in my head, small discomforts become impossible to ignore, and I make the hours drag interminably by looking at my trip computer every minute. I can’t help it. But over time I’ve developed tricks to make the distances seem shorter, making large numbers smaller by converting 15 kilometers to 10 miles. Or hey — That’s like only 3 laps around the Rose Bowl!

Morgan has his own quirks. In the later stages of our rides, if I’m cycling in front, I’ll sometimes hear strange, whispering noises behind me. I know it’s Morgan narrating another daydream out loud, “in which I’m always the hero.” He jokes. Occasionally the narrations are complete with shooting noises he makes with his mouth. I know he must be imagining some epic gun battle in his head.

Not all hours on the bike drive us crazy, though. The first two hours after breakfast are the best. Regardless of the scenery (and all the better if there are beautiful views or interesting cultural things to look at), the initial hours are enjoyable purely from an exercise standpoint. It’s at this point in the day that I think about how great it is to be on the road, feeling my legs driving me forward and the wind coursing by and the sun warming me. My muscles aren’t tired yet, so I’m able to focus on the topics I’ve assigned myself to contemplate that day.

Both Morgan and I challenge ourselves to think about specific topics in the first hours of the ride. These include things like lists of future blog post ideas, or the 5 funniest moments from high school, or what I want to write in an email to a friend, or even about high level stuff like ways I’ve changed on this trip. The challenges are a great way to keep productive, organize our thoughts and make sense of everything going on around our trip.

Then the third hour hits, and suddenly my mind’s toast. The ability to think cogently wanes. Enjoyment of exercise becomes a focus of endurance, and the songs, discomforts, and trip computer start to creep into my head. From here on out I have two options: give in to the manic streams of consciousness, or try to empty my head entirely. The latter is far more enjoyable, but it takes some discipline to get there.

I give it a go; I start breathing deeply; I focus on the cadence of my legs; I listen to my heartbeat; I relax my shoulders; I make myself as efficient as possible. And then….if I’ve done it right, my mind just goes…blank. Bicycle touring Zen has been attained. Now enlightened, hours on the saddle can pass by with little notice. It is a sublime feeling.

For me, it only happens some days. Morgan claims to have slightly higher success rates. Regardless of what we think about during the ride, however – whether it’s butt cramps, imaginary gun battles, or nothing at all — our feeling at the end of the ride is mutual and always the same: Satisfaction. Another day navigating unknown lands down. Another day closer to Shanghai. Another adventure had.

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2 Responses to Mind Games for the Tough Hours of the Ride

  1. pH says:

    A hilarious read – as might be any transcript of stream of consciousness. But the reader understands how yours must take some amazing detours, per what you share here. Most of all, it’s just fun being on the saddle with you a moment. I felt like striking up a conversation as the wind whistled through the helmet straps.

  2. Pingback: Traveling Eurasia By Bike to Find Issues that Matter | Go Bicycle Touring!

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