By, BRETT CHAMPLAIN
The love letter part:
There are textures, sights, sounds, scents, that is: sensations, on solo rides that I find more vibrant and experience with more clarity, than with a group. Sensations of solitary sojourns may include but are not limited to: sandstone, spruce and the smell of spruce, scenic byways, berries, beagles and other dogs. There are pine and/or ice cream cones, dried brown fir needles that litter the ground and crunch, rotted logs that smell musty. Cirrus clouds looking somewhat disinterested above, tires humming hollow below. Rows of corn; columns of stone; piles, not pillars of salt and vinegar potato chips, if you like that sort of thing. Roses; daffodils; mums; gravel the size and shape of cobbler crumbs. Occasionally, a turtle. In spring there is fresh green, budding, new sun; fall and winter, wood-smoke and flat light. Summer can bring brief, warm rain that leaves asphalt roads steaming.
The conversation, the watching of the wheel in front of me, pointing at potholes instead of simply hopping over them, leaving room for the guy next to me in a corner, or wondering if he is half-wheeling on purpose – without those distractions, my mind can drift or fold into itself. If its done right, if the bike is whispering along smoothly in a way that makes me forget about it, if I'm not torturing myself to go faster or harder, riding alone can be like thumbing through a dusty photo album. Like packing for a move – in a good way. I may come across those pictures, or thoseobjects I've forgotten I had. It's possible to ease into vivid remembrance of occasions gone by, or make meditated decisions about what I need or don't need. It can be Proust's Madeleine, or a process of sorting. Or. Just blank.
This is the kind of love letter to changing scenery and seasons. To nostalgia. Solitude and meditation. To bits of the world neurologist Oliver Sacks would describe as "other things besides human beings."
A very brief autobiographical type thing:
From the beginning for me, riding a bike was about exploration of some sort; or autonomy. It wasn't social. I didn't grow up with a lot of kids around. There were no groups of us riding through suburban streets or past sprinklered, manicured lawns. The first pedaling I remember – after trikes, removal of training wheels and parental release of the seat – was past orchards, along canal roads, and by fruitstands. Sometimes to the not-irrigated side of the tracks; or to an almost mansion that had a mullberry tree overhanging its fence. Neither was very far, but each felt like miles and hours. I'd ride under the highway to get to the desert bluffs North of town. The tunnel was a cement drainage pipe, barely big enough for the bike, but it was downhill, and to ride it felt like being shot out of a cannon. And that's how it started.
Who to ride alone with:
There are things in life more interesting than people, sure, but sometimes a little company on a solo ride can be pleasant. Choosing who to ride with when you go out alone is very important. Never spend long rides by yourself with someone you don't like. Kind friends you miss, bygone loves, family you haven't seen for years, or someone departed dearly are all sound options for soundless company. If the scenery isn't compelling enough or routine, if you are having a hard day, or riding in doubt, then inspiring people are always great for long rides in solitude. Notable cyclists like Mike Hall, John Stamstad, Graeme Obree, Rebecca Rusch, and Jay Petervary have all done some interesting individual rides, and they will almost always ride alone with you.
The Preparation is Easy: