Being there.

This isn’t a journal entry about bicycles or riding, not really. But it is an important part of cycling all the same.

Nothing quite so motivates me to get out and ride as when I have time and opportunity to ride, but no access to a bike. The past several months I’ve found myself far from home and in some remote and really quite stunningly beautiful places. I’ve always believed that the best way to experience a place is by foot or on bicycle: planes, trains, and automobiles simply move too fast for one to appreciate the often subtle nuance of any given place. And while I love walking, the opportunity to do so at my leisure also serves as a reminder that I could equally be enjoying my exploration by bicycle.

I’ve just returned from a week-long jaunt to the tropical world of Jamaica. Here in Missouri, the temperatures are dipping lower and lower on the thermometer, but in Ocho Rios I had no problem quickly burning my chest and face. Walking the streets while dodging both the hawkers (“Toot, mon?” “Braid your hair, lady?” “Mon, let me show you something…”) and insane drivers, behind the wheels of acrid-fumed cars and trucks, is something of an art form. Everyone has something to sell you. Cars fly down narrow streets, tootling their horns constantly – the horns are, in fact, a form of communication: Hey! I see you over there on the sidewalk – do you see me driving by? Wondrously, people of all ages casually ride mountain bikes through the chaos, often carrying some sort of burden. In a week’s time I counted only two road bikes.

I often find myself pondering how I might travel with a bike. I’m torn, because on the one hand I could easily come up with a plan for traveling with a bicycle that would fit my needs, but this clashes with my personal philosophy of travel, to journey with only what will fit on your back. My rationale is that if it will fit into my carryon backpack, then it won’t get lost in checked baggage – something that happens with great frequency to my wife (whose own philosophy seems to be to pack everything she owns.)

Whether by bike or by foot, I enjoy carrying a small sketchbook and a camera. I like to keep a visual journal of my wanderings, of the people I see, my surroundings of the moment. I’m often quite taken by how the weather has distressed the surface of a building, how shadows fall upon the ground or even how people and place curiously appear to seamlessly merge into one holistic thing. Clouds become dramatic statements.

Back home, the seasons are in a state of transition. Today, as I did yesterday, I’ll ride with a tangible sense of leisure, a journey of rediscovery as Autumn transforms routes that I “know” only too well into new worlds: fields of yellow ochre, pathways strewn with leaves, verdant greens morphed into rusts and golds and russets. For a few days, this world will magically exist, and then be gone, replaced by dull skies and barren trees. Regardless, I’ll continue to pedal and walk through each world, as a sometime participant yet constant observer. It’s all about the journey, right? It’s not about getting there, it’s about being there.

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