I am a writer who cycles. and a cyclist who writes. neither is separate from the other, and when I am cycling my mind fills with things to write about, from the world surrounding me to the bumpy road beneath my tires to the creatures (including motorists) who cross my path or pass my pedaling self. the world surrounding me is most evinced by temperature, skies filled with pre-dawn dark or sunshine or clouds, and the wind.
it’s rarely windless. some days wind whips past, sending fall leaves skipping along the ground or flying through the air. other days the wind is gentle, the tips of long grasses barely bending toward or away from my approaching body. moments of calm exist, but rarely do they extend further than a few minutes’ travel. typically, though, the wind is either up-canyon or down-canyon, and depending upon exposure and turns of the road, can at times be on one side of you or the other. and on wickedly windy days, it can jump and swirl, catching you by surprise, pressing against your chest, the side of your body, then your back, playing games and challenging you to keep your wheels straight and tall.
a book I recently read made generous use of the terms temporal and spatial, and in wrapping my mind around these concepts as he applied them I struggled. I was forced to look up definitions (spatial: relating to, occupying, or having the character of space; temporal: of or relating to time or earthly life as opposed to eternity ~ secular not sacred.) neither word exists in my usual spoken or written lexicon–though I certainly understand time and space–I added them to my mental list of “words of which to gain a firmer grasp.”
back to the bicycle.
please understand that when I’m cycling I am usually climbing or descending a canyon. while descending, I am hyper vigilant of hazards, while simultaneously on a landscape-fueled adrenaline high. thoughts flit through but rarely linger. while climbing uphill, much of the time I’m physically challenged enough that few brain cells are available for contemplation. thoughts come and go but my ability to direct them is limited. this pays off wonderfully in that the “inspiration silencer” is squelched by this lack of brain cells (and oxygen), allowing moments of brilliance to break surface. a few days back, during an uphill battle filled with unpredictable gusts of wind, displayed before my very eyes was a dramatic visualization of spatial and temporal.
the stretch of road I pedaled was momentarily calm: no leaves scattering before me, the roadside grasses tall and straight, a hush in my ears. but before me, not forty feet away, I watched a patch of swirling leaves and branches and grass bend fore and aft beneath the invisible onslaught. ah! spatial! my temporal zone was calm, but the exact same temporal moment, forty feet away, held a completely different spatial experience!
the wind gusts differed by spatial orientation, regardless of temporal designation!
yes, space and time are delightful words, both of which I will continue to select when discussing such concepts as–hmm–space and time.
I am a cyclist.
one might even call me an athlete, an endurance athlete, as I train for and complete ridiculously long and challenging rides.
for the past 8 years I have trained for an event called lotoja, a 206-mile race from logan, utah, to jackson, wyoming. the event occurs in september and is the carrot at the end of the stick that dangles before me all spring and summer. I ride 6 days a week, I ride long and hard on saturdays, and I always–every year–hit a state of burnout.
the first year it surprised me. I was tired, grumpy, unexcited about riding, feeling pressured, and just plain worn out . . . I didn’t understand. so I went to my friend google, and found an excellent guide from an ivy league college’s cycling team that discussed effective training: work hard during most rides, but always add in an easy day or two each week. I had been riding hard each time I rode, climbing up canyons, pushing myself, always working to improve my times and strength.
make one day a recovery day? spin easily, go slower, don’t challenge myself so much? wow. okay. I added that piece to my training schedule, and life improved.
yet every year, come late july or so, I hit burnout. and it reminds me to back off, rest, not push so hard. recover.
this past year I researched and wrote a book. I worked hard, I pushed. it flowed, I loved it, I gained wisdom and knowledge and deepened my connection with earth and others. after a developmental edit and working through revisions, in early june I turned the manuscript over to my publishers. and have struggled to write anything since that time. I’ve told myself it’s a well-needed break, that I’m refueling, that I will write again soon. but even my blogging–the regular turning out of a brief essay which is similar to my daily riding–has shriveled to a bare occasional post.
it’s not writer’s block. it’s burnout. and what I need, what will heal me, is a lot of recovery. a lot of easy spinning, a slow down, an absence of challenges. and just as my “recovery rides” often seem to take forever (they are so slow! sometimes boring!), this period of writing-recovery seems to be taking longer than I want it to.
but I know it’s necessary. I must be gentle with myself, and allow the time to rebuild mental muscles, endurance, tenacity. muscles gain strength from being stressed then given time to recover. I will be a better writer from having buried myself in work, then allowing a time of non-work.
lotoja is 8 days away. I have ridden thousands of miles during the past few months, and I have challenged my body then let it recover. I will ride well, I will complete the race; all of my work–and recovery–these past months will pay off.
I will write again. I will write better than before. for I have challenged myself, and I’ve allowed myself this period of recovery filled with reading, yoga, housework, other physical labor. recovery heals and strengthens, as difficult as it sometimes is to not function at your optimum level.
so I will read a few more books, maybe jot a few things in my journal if so inspired, take a walk, make a batch of peach jam with a friend. always filled with faith that the writing will come, will return, will always be with me as long as I let it ebb and flow. to quote hemingway and add just a teeny tweak,
Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. or later.
approaching the final curve before the hill’s crest, the sun is moments from advancing the sky from dawn to day. particles of the night’s darkness hang in the air and everything—rocky hillsides, trees, the road itself—blurs gently around surfaces and edges and my headlight throws a fat cone of weak light that illumes naught but hovering molecules of night.
nothing is sharply defined, and all is tinted by the watery mutedness and appears mottled green or one of sixteen shades of earth.
when a dust brown creature suddenly appears at the far reach of my vision it shifts from apparition to solidity slowly, my revolving wheels lessening the gap between us and changing fuzz to fur, brown, mottled, four legs, a slender torso, a long and narrow tail.
it is my coyote. he has crossed the road south to north and disappeared into the tall grass and scrub edging the asphalt. I watch the spot with intensity, wondering if he will wait and watch me pass as he often does. the steep grade retards my approach and I am still half a dozen yards away when a howl shatters the air. bark, bark, howl. I see him now, he sits in the sage and cheatgrass, his back to me, and howls. another bark, and a long howl sent out over the valley opening below him. the sound dancing on those lingering particles of dawn, dropping on trees and shrubs, falling on leaves, tickling the ears and minds of squirrels and rabbits.
parallel to him, now uphill of him, he howls again, ignoring me, or perhaps serenading me with nonchalant neglect. I pedal, he howls, I reach the top of the climb after his vocalizations have ceased, their reverberations no longer trembling blades of grass. the air is still, and the sun, lifting itself over the furthest eastern mountain, has removed the last vestiges of dawn and what had been soft is now sharp, what was unclear is now illuminated.
this morning’s sighting is my seventh, and each has brought me as much delight as the one before. it’s an unspoken hope each time I ride, let the coyote cross my path today. he is curious and, other than the single concert, silent. for a canine he is surprisingly cat-like, his paws like fog. he has dashed across the road behind my descending wheels, he has hovered on the side of the road. he has feinted toward me like a pugilist, then apparently thought better of it and retreated to the shoulder to watch me pass. I’ve been studiously ignored; I’ve been studied as though I’m the first human he’s encountered. he brings what’s untamed, wild, to my border and dares to cross into my land.
great horned owls hunt in my canyon as the sky releases its deepest ink and the world becomes one of silhouette, their wings spread wide in flight, to scan, to attack. I look to treetops, utility poles, seeking that familiar elliptical shape focused on examination of the shrubs and ground below. details cloaked, it is shape, silhouette, everything dark against a sky of baltic blue. porcupines amble and deer startle, bounding up hillsides of scrub oak and balsamroot. a stretch of road is silent, then the cacophony of bird song reigns for the next mile. raccoon eyes shimmer between scrubby brush, a rabbit turns tail and runs. but not a creature is anything like my coyote.
perhaps it is the teeth, its predatory nature, the fact that it is only size that keeps me from being at risk. or perhaps it’s that he is only evolutionary steps away from being a household pet. that my mind and heart think dog when he trots across the road or seems to consider interaction.
or maybe it’s the howl. a howl that send shivers up spines, that declares desires and needs, that energizes air and speaks to all within earshot.
the canyon is not mine, nor the coyote. but at the edge of dawn and day when all is dirt brown and muddy green, I am transported to a world of deepest truth and being by four-legged creatures that leap and amble, bound and jump and trot, and, when all my stars align, occasionally and resonantly, howl.
[this post also published on my tao of cycling blog under the title the coyote in my canyon]
two great loves of my life are writing and riding . . . writing whatever it is my heart tells me to, and riding my bicycle.
I am fairly new to cycling, having not become a regular until about 7 years ago. as an adult I’d had a mountain bike, but was usually too busy working or parenting or both to get out on it much. living high on a hillside was another deterrent: no matter where I went, I’d have to climb back up to my house when I was done. I rode seldom to never.
then my bike got stolen, my children grew up a bit, and I suddenly decided it was time to ride. I bought a new mountain bike and started riding, but mainly on roads. after nine months of that I finally bought my first road bike. took an indoor winter cycling class, met some friends, started riding outside when the weather cleared . . . and now I figure I have ridden close to 40,000 miles on my road bike. well, bikes, as I’m now on my third.
I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I’ve had a few spills and cracked a few helmets. but the thrill of riding my bike is immeasurable and almost inexplicable. I love it. love it.
and then ten days ago I crashed, a more severe crash than others I’ve had. this one broke my scapula, separated my shoulder, and broke 5 ribs. thankfully I am recovering, and each day brings me a bit more mobility and energy and soon, hopefully, more lung capacity. but during these past five or six days–once I got off the narcotic-type drugs and onto the simpler over-the-counter types–I’ve had lots of time to sit and read. read books. finish ones I’d been working on, and start new ones. it’s been the perfect time for some lightweight, no-brainer fiction.
this genre has its place. it helps me disengage from what might be bothering me or causing anxiety, and it helps pass the time. it moves quickly and superficially enough that I don’t have to think too much. I can skim paragraphs that are of no interest without losing the storyline. it’s entertaining in a way that demands little from me. which, when you’re recovering from an accident, is just about perfect.
I’m also working my way through a few serious non-fiction books, and I find I can only read so much at a time before I have to take a break. (my excuse for this and other forgetfullnesses and silly comments is “I hit my head.”) back to the no-brainer during the pause, skimming and filling time and caring just enough about it to keep going.
I have no desire to create no-brainer fiction. nor do I want to write dense tomes that take enormous effort to read and understand. I want my readers to think, but I also want them to be transported, to be enlightened, to be validated and encouraged and empowered.
some days I want to be challenged by what I read. I always want to be encouraged and empowered. I like to learn, I like to be entertained. and some days I want to think as little as possible–like these current days–and am immensely grateful for those who write fiction that I lovingly call no-brainer.
two weeks ago I stole a sign.
it’s now propped by my desk, reminding me to hold firm, be tenacious, keep on my path. it doesn’t bother me that I stole this sign, abandoned as it was, and it brings a smile to my face each time I look at it; I therefore think I did the right thing.
background: I first saw this sign 5 or 6 weeks ago while I was riding my bike. it was attached to a traffic cone, posted there by organizers of a cycling event called Wildflower Pedalfest, a women-only (I’ll delve into this topic another time) organized ride. riding with friends, I happened to be on the same road as this ride, and encountered this bright pink, boldly lettered sign a scant mile from the top of a steep climb:
1 Mile to Go
underneath the words was an outline of a female riding a bike, the wheels 12-petaled flowers.
my clairvoyant, clairaudient friend kat has, at times, described the place I am in my life as being a spot where I’ve come 999 miles, with just 1 mile left to go. this last, final mile often feels as difficult as the first 999, but it’s a time to hang in there, be tenacious and determined, and not give up.
so . . . four weeks post-wildflower-pedalfest, the sign still sitting there on its traffic cone, I decided to clean up the environment and bring this sign home with me. I un-duct-taped it, slipped it under the back of my jersey (yes, it stuck out a bit and was slightly uncomfortable), and rode the next 18 miles home with my prize.
which is now propped above my desk, encouraging me. telling me not to give up. letting me know the top of the hill is coming, that I just need to stay on track and keep pedaling. the even-better part of this story, the part that makes me grin, is that this sign was placed only a half-mile from the top of the climb. a sign might tell you there’s a mile to go, but sometimes it’s really only half that distance. which makes the victory of reaching the top a surprising delight.
1 mile to go. that’s it. guess we’d all better keep pedaling.