Riding in the Hotter 'N Hell 100 over the weekend, I was seduced once again by the zen of self-propulsion.
There's a spiritual awakening that occurs when you traverse long distances without using a motor. It's almost anarchic. Why would anyone choose to ride a bicycle 100 miles, when a car is easily available?
Here's my answer: when you're barreling down the freeway, yakking on your cell phone, you've lost your humanity. You're a pawn in a game that rewards technology for technology's sake. You're participating in someone else's moment, not your own. You're part of a game you cannot win.
But when you use your own body to propel yourself across the landscape, you reconnect with your humanity. You disconnnect from florescent lights and air-conditioned cubicles, and get a small taste of the struggles we've faced as a species. You feel as though you could survive, even if everything goes to hell.
You appreciate our ingenuity as a species, but understand the necessity of deconstructing that ingenuity. Our humanity depends upon it.
Riding across a hot, brutal landcape, your mind focuses on the moment. You reconnect with your body. Your legs become your best friend. You learn to quiet your mind. A lifetime spent in church pews, following the whims of tradition, can't possibly equal the insight gained in a long-distance physical challenge.
Money? It doesn't matter. Sex? It doesn't matter. All that matters is that you're alive, and you have energy, and that you must complete your mission. All else is extraneous.
Anything that you've done during your life that has made you unhealthy is a hindrance. Any illness that's befallen you is a challenge to be conquered.
You stop thinking. You hear the beat of your own heart. You feel your lungs gasping for breath. Nothing else is important.
You're not concerned with politics. You don't care who your neighbor is sleeping with. It's not important, what kind of car you drive, or where you live, or what religion you practice (or don't).
There's a special joy in living for a few hours with your mind shut off from the world. A long, tortuous bike ride can bring that back into focus.