Cycling opens up the senses and slows the world down. Compared to being in a car, one of the first things you notice is the quiet. It’s not silent, though. I usually hear birds singing, and sometimes I like to stop to see if I can find them and identify them. There are other natural sounds as well, such as the wind rustling through leaves or water running down a stream or a river.
Even on a small country lane, it is almost impossible to get away from human sounds, but they are usually distant. The sound of engines is quiet and comforting. Planes fly overhead, and sometimes you might catch a few words of the conversation between passing joggers or cyclists.
You also hear the sound of your own bike-the chain makes noise as it runs across the sprokets and chainrings, and if it’s really quiet you even hear the noise the tires make as they squeal against the pavement. The more you cycle, the more attuned you become to these sounds, and if the sound changes, you might stop and check to see if there is something wrong-perhaps there is something caught in the spokes, or perhaps a brake is rubbing or a cable is out of adjustment.
It’s not just sounds you notice, but smells and feelings as well. You notice that they are not separate occurrences, though-a gust of wind brings the feeling of moving air on your arms, the rustling of leaves in the trees, and the smell of the surrounding countryside.
These sounds, smells, and feelings are comforting, and they help you relax and think. A lot of times I just find myself thinking about the world around me. I might see a mountain in the distance and wonder if you can get to the top and what the view is like from up there. Or I might see an old building out in a field and wonder what it used to be, and what the people were like who used to work there or live there. Or I might watch a farmer as he or she works his land, wondering what it would be like to be in their place. Since you’re not traveling very fast, you have enough time to study these things as you move along.
You don’t always think about good things either. It’s interesting to see what the farmer is doing, but I can’t help but wonder what the land was like before humans came along and transformed it into our current state. I always see a lot of trash around as well, wondering what in the world would compel somebody to throw it out of the window or dump it by the side of the road. They might not be the most pleasant things to think about, but the point is that you have time to think about them anyways-and maybe even have time to contemplate a solution.
You have time to think about these things until.. a car comes along. To me, as a cyclist, cars are horrible, noisy smell things, traveling way too quickly with very little regard to any other road users such as cyclists, walkers, or even animals. In fact nothing spoils a good think more than a car passing you way too close for comfort, because all of a sudden instead of thinking your own thoughts you have to focus on the bike, keeping it out of the way of the car and making sure that they actually do move around you in time.
I sometimes wonder what it must have been like a hundred years ago when horses were still common, cars were just coming onto the scene, and all traffic must have moved a lot slower than it does today. Perhaps we wouldn’t have gotten to where we were going as quickly, but perhaps the journey would have given us more time to enjoy what we were doing, and maybe that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing at all.