I was considering how to title my blog entry this morning. As I checked the blog stats, I noticed that two people who’d stumbled across my random musings yesterday had done so by using the search engine phrase “Early morning lonesome cyclist.”
What a cool phrase! I like it for a title, not only for a single blog entry, but I went so far as to (slightly/sort of) rename the entire blog because… well… the whole concept sort of appeals to me.
The truth of the matter is that I couldn’t care less about riding in a group, or even in a pair. Cycling is “me” time; it’s when I get my thoughts in order, pretend to be churning along on some grand tour through the Pyrenees Mountains; arrange the problems of the day; just plain sweat.
It’s important to distinguish between lonesome and lonely, by the way. “Lonely” is such a sad word, I think, and implies that one lacks friends, literally destitute of sympathetic companionship – a depressing feeling of being alone. “Lonesome,” by contrast is a choice one makes, to be in an isolated environment, to be on one’s own. It’s this latter idea that I find attractive.
I begin the first leg of a six-day tour early on Wednesday morning. OK, so I’m not thrilled that we’re calling for a heat advisory, from tomorrow (Monday) through at least Tuesday – and probably well into the first days of my ride (if not the entire route.) But I am looking forward to the prospect of “alone time” on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before a companion meets up with me for the latter half of the route.
Tonight I will get the panniers strapped onto the Shogun and begin packing my gear, trying to stay as simple and as light as possible. I’m thinking – partly – like a backpacker, in that I’m bringing a pad and light blanket, but no sleeping bag, a lightweight bivvy tent with a rain fly and netting, no cooking gear, a small selection of tools and repair items (like patches, extra spokes, and tubes), food and water bottles (but I will have a credit card for eating on the road and for replenishing my ride snacks), a few toiletries, a compression camping pillow, and a change of clothes. When traveling light, I wash my clothes each night and alternate my kit from one day to the next to ensure things are completely dry before putting them back on again. Two other necessities are a book and my sketch kit.
The book is requisite: I can’t begin to relax from the world of companionship until I allow myself the simple pleasure of engrossment in the pages of an interesting text. I’ve yet to decide what I’ll bring along with me – a philosophical or aesthetic text that forces me to really ponder each word and the contextual meaning, or a good novel, where I can enjoy the fabulous turn of phrase by a master wordsmith. Perhaps – just perhaps – I’ll bring along a William Gibson novel, which tends to merge the world of fantastic ideas with brilliant phrasing. (Who am I kidding: I’ve pretty much made up my mind already.) I also plan to bring along Kathy Desmond’s new book about art and aesthetics… what better opportunity to ponder the imponderable than under a tree, along a trail, a warm breeze wafting across the eternal flow of the Missouri River as it gently, but urgently, passes by.
Teaching art all winter long allows me only limited time to actually make any art of my own. (Well, OK, I do tend to utilize much of my free time in the winter by working on bikes rather than … uh … painting.) Travel provides me a ready platform for sketching. There’s not a lot to do when you tour alone either – read a book, eat, sleep, observe the world, think – and, for me: draw and paint. I have an excellent travel kit for watercolor that includes a selection of half pans, a small palette, one brush, and a sketchbook. My travel sketchbooks are a constant for me, regardless of where or how I travel, and it often takes me years to fill the pages of a given book because I reserve one book for watercolor, another for pen, one for a specific subject, another for something else… and so forth. Completing the pages of a book is nearly as traumatic as the loss of a close family member. And painful as it is to think about it, eventually the completion of the book – like the lost loved one – is thought of less and less frequently, until one day I discover it sitting on a shelf, unremarked upon for several months or even years. How sad to think that something that has provided me so many lost hours can be relegated to the stacks of time and waning memory.
But those fond companions – my book and sketch kit – will be for the hottest times of the day, or those moments of rest in the evening. Early each morning, over crunch of chat and down the trail, the lonesome cyclist will be up and on his way, destination to be determined by the passage of time.