Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Time To Ride

My buddy Joe Broach just wrote a little essay called "My Own Power" which contains a lot of nice truths. Joe's essay is a celebration of human mobility but it contains a bit of wistfulness when he writes:
"The past year has made it clear that my own power is not the same as your own power. And, it is not even in the same league as my distance riding pals like Kent and Michael. As it turns out, my own power is pretty ordinary."
Later on Joe states:
"I'll never be able to ride as far in a day as Kent or Michael or a lot of other cyclers do. And, I certainly can't access all of the woods I could by car."
It is in those wistful statements that I respectfully disagree with Joe. I think he goes awry when he confuses space and time. He's not alone in this. I do this often and so does every other person I know. But it's the wrong way to think about the situation.

Joe writes "I certainly can't access all the woods I could by car" but this can only be really true if those woods are at the end of some auto-only roadway. If it's just a question of distance, Joe could bike there. Maybe the trip takes lots of time and he'd have to pack lots of sandwiches. Maybe there are lots of hills and he'd have to use very low gears and pedal slowly and maybe walk beside his bike on the steepest sections. And maybe he doesn't have the time to do that. So those woods he longs for are not too distant, they are too time-consuming. The problem is not distance, it's time.

But somehow Michael and I are different than Joe. Distance is different for us. How can that be? Did we come to this planet when the sun near our home world exploded, carefully packed by our doomed parents in tiny rocket ships and raised by loving human couples in Smallville? So, of course, we leap tall buildings in a single bound, see with X-ray vision and ride farther than Joe ever can with his mere human power.

Or perhaps we have some other relationship with time? Do Michael and I get 28 hours given to us each day while Joe and the rest of the ordinary humans have to suffer along with only 24? That would explain it. Michael and I go farther because we get more time. We're lucky that way.

Or maybe, just maybe, the old adage has it wrong. Time is not money. Time is more valuable. You don't save time, you spend it at the same rate as everybody else on this planet. The rate is 24 hours each day. You can never save it, but some ways you spend it may work out as investments. Am I wasting three hours each day by cycling back and forth to work? If I drove a car my commute time would be half that, think of what I could do with that time I saved! But that hour and half each day that I drove, that hour and a half each day that I didn't enjoy, I know that would be wasted. And I know that I love my hours on the bike.

I go riding on Christmas, a three hour tour while Christine is curled up indoors with the cat and some cocoa and Christmas carols on the CD player. The boys are making dinner and Christine is used to my being uncomfortable with too much comfort. I tell her I'll be back by two.

The old trees are silent and the moss is still green on the trails of the Taylor Mountain woods. By the time I meander my way up the trails and ultimately emerge near the Tiger Mountain summit the air has turned white with the snow of the season. My studded tires crunch and grip the trail. As I descend the snow gets wetter and turns to rain. Back in town, White Christmas is only a song on the radio and a mountain glimpsed out the window.

It's all within biking distance. I learn this one pedal stroke at a time and it's a lesson I get to keep relearning every day. Like Joe, my own power is pretty ordinary. And my own time gets delivered to me at a rate of 24 hours each day. I guess I could waste it racing around in some attempt to save it but mostly I spend it slowly, close to home. But the funny thing is those trips add up. My legs get into the habit of turning and I learn how many sandwiches it takes to go from here to there, even if there is Tiger Mountain or Portland or Minnesota or Mexico. I still don't travel far from home, but home is a lot bigger than it used to be.


Wayne said...

Great post, Kent. I am more slow than fast, but I took a summer off years ago and biked the Pacific Coast. I learned that any distance is biking distance.

Jeremy said...

"I still don't travel far from home, but home is a lot bigger than it used to be."

Aye, that's the rub.

Another gem, kent.

Kronda said...

Ditto. I read Joe's post too, and I think you have it right.

Chris said...


Your writing skills just may be eclipsing your riding skills ... Good piece of work !

Chris / Novi, MI

Jill said...

Great essay. It is true that, given an unlimited amount of time, human power is the most universally accessible means of travel. Motorized travel is limted by wealth, infrastructure and technology. But the possibilities to reach a certain point by human power, especially at the walking/swimming level, are nearly limitless.

bikelovejones said...

Kent -- beautiful piece.

Your writing is succinct, clear and stunning in its simplicity.
It's clamoring for a larger audience.
Will you please just write a book already?

Happy 2008 --beth

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite things to tell people who are amazed by the distances I commute is that diatance riding is not a matter of superhuman strength, it's a matter of imaginative scheduling ability. Something else that rarely gets factored in to the equations of time spent and time saved is the amount of time most folks spend earning the money to drive fast to save the time they need to spend to earn.....yuk. I may find myself with very little "spare time," but I know that driving to reduce travel time would give me even less - of everything. Val

Dr. Logan said...

Very well said. I also get questioned about the extra time it takes me to ride to work VS drive, and so I draw them a picture:

Would you rather choke down a luke-warm hotdog with sour katsup or spend an hour eating a steak dinner?

broken collar bone said...

The average American finds four hour a day available to watch television.
Don't watch tv myself, but do find time to ride three to four hours a day.
It seems like people have plenty of time for just giving up on life.
Keep riding.
Good post as usual Kent.

Steve said...


It seems you are hinting at two truths of life. You enjoy riding not to ssve you money and not to be more comfortable. Your ride because you enjoy riding.
The second, and related, truth is that the journey is the important part, not the destination.

Paul Cooley said...

Hi Kent. I think Joe probably suffers from something similar to my frustrations. Since we got rid of our car, I instantly started to mourn being unable to "just zip up to the mountains" to go for a hike, or drive up to Canyonlands for a backpacking trip.

I had always been a backpacker and a hiker. I don't really think of myself as a bicyclist, though that's how I get around.

When I think of cycling long distances, I just assume that I don't have time to enjoy them. I think of the bike ride up to the Santa Fe ski basin as something triathletes do. That's simply wrong. I went out for a fifty mile ride a year or so ago, and it only took a little over three hours. I've ridden most of the way up the ski basin. I've dispatched the Santa Fe Century without writhing in pain on the ground.

But for some reason, I still look longingly up at the mountains and think, "Man, I wish I could just zip up there for a hike." And that's after being carfree for three years.

In the coming year, I am focusing solely on getting out further on my bike. With my children in school, I can certainly make the time. But learning that you can enjoyably venture far from home without having to devote entire weeks to the endeavor is difficult when you have grown up in a motorized culture.

Nickie, Anthony, Samuel, and Anders said...

Paul, I know exactly what you mean, my wife and I are trying to overcome some of the same mental roadblocks.

While we've both been cyclists and transportation cyclists for almost a decade now, we have found ourselves having the same thoughts as you. We love to hike and to backpack, but somehow the thought of toting our two kids and camping gear up into the mountains seems insurmountable.

I think we've slowly been coming around to see Kent's side on this, but its definitely a process.

I'm starting to think of it like decompression from deep sea diving. Its a slow process of coming to the surface while your body acclimates, and I think that coming out of a motorized culture (and consequently, motorized mentality) is a slow process of adjustment.