Oct 272017
Travel Takeaways: Mental Musings from a Long Bike Tour

Riding my bike for ten straight days on a touring vacation gave me physical effects, of course, and also some policy/professional thoughts and these mental takeaways.

The road goes ever and ever on. When you’re riding a long, long trail you don’t even have to think about navigation, which provides a very meditative experience.

Getting truly away from everyday routines and geography creates the most vacation-y vacation ever.

I haven’t given myself that kind of complete break for that many days in years–possibly since I was a kid going on camping trips with my parents when all I escaped was chores like digging thistles and picking off potato bugs in the garden, or wiping down all the baseboards because Mom liked to give chores that required stooping to the short people in the house.

Extended bike travel is a privilege.

This kind of escape is a luxury that many don’t have access to. I understand how fortunate we are to be able to do this, both in being able to take this much time off work and in having the income that let us afford the equipment and vacation expenses. As I write this I find myself wondering what it would take to make this kind of experience accessible to more people who don’t get these opportunities.

Bike travelers encountered on this trip seemed to reflect the same kind of privilege that other bicycling does. We noted that the people we saw riding the trail were overwhelmingly white, although it wasn’t quite 100%, and we saw far more men than women.

Not much traffic stress here.

Coming back to riding with motor vehicle traffic is a bit of a shock to the system.

Spending that much time with zero worries about inattentive drivers is another luxury most of us don’t get in our everyday riding. The speed, noise and proximity of motor vehicles can’t be totally avoided living in the urban setting that I otherwise appreciate for many reasons. Thinking about infrastructure for all ages and abilities means recognizing the value of separation and working for complete, continuous bike networks. Good thing that’s my job.

Separated connections will invite far more new riders for everyday purposes than mixing it up in vehicular traffic and will also support bike travel. While I know I’ll reacclimate to the busy traffic, I’m very glad we bought a house in a location that provides me with a lot of separated mileage for my commute along the Duwamish Trail and Elliott Bay Trail. I’m starting to create itineraries for long-weekend bike getaways that will give us this kind of riding experience in Washington.

I miss the simple daily routine.

Each day was so simple. Get up. Eat. Load the bike. Ride ride ride ride ride. Take a hot shower or bath. Put your legs up for a while. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

There was a lot of Zen to the repetitious nature of the trip. While work days have their own rhythm it isn’t quite as predictable. I’ve always said I love variety and have always had jobs that involved days that are never the same. Yet this experience showed me I can appreciate a more predictable structure, at least as long as it involves repeating something I find enjoyable in the first place.

My work has also been primarily intellectual and the physicality of the trip gave my brain a real break for the first time in ever. I took steps to make sure I got a real mental break: I didn’t check work email, I only tweeted or Facebooked links to blog posts, I didn’t let myself get drawn into reading whatever was happening on the national scene that would raise my blood pressure. I’ve taken a social media break before but this was a more complete mental vacation.

I’ll be repeating the experience for sure.

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Reader Comments

  1. Congratulation on your trip and thanks for sharing your experiences, it really is a privilege to experience this kind of a trip. We could all use getting away from everyday routines from time to time.

  2. Enjoyed the reflections about your GAP/C&O tour, and congrats on your trip! We are fortunate in DC to have the C&O right in our back yard…. an oasis in the urban landscape. While my husband and I have ridden Pittsburgh to DC we did not do so solely by GAP/C&O so it’s interesting to read about the experience of taking both these paths for the full distance. Congratulations again and thank you for writing about it!

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