I have a friend who refers to my bike commute as my daily meditation. Anybody who sees me in my trance on the way to or from work knows what she is talking about. I often find myself three blocks from the office and have the “How did I get here?” feeling.
This tour took the mental aspect to an entirely new level. The gentle hum of my tires in the grit and dirt on the GAP trail as we rolled along was perfect for shutting down the monkey in my head. On the C&O towpath, we had to focus on the rocks, roots, horse poo, and irregularities in the trail, leaving no room for stressful thoughts. Even when we weren’t rolling there was the rumble of passing trains or the occasional drone of water spilling over a dam in the Potomac to put us at ease. Adding to these calming effects was the fact that, the gentle steady slope of the trails lent to a constant level of effort. This was tiring for my legs, but meant that my respiratory rate was constant for long periods of time.
I don’t mean to imply that the three of us didn’t converse as we rode. None of us is particularly chatty by nature. The presence of Kevin and Ryan also meant that I didn’t have to occupy my mind with concerns about contingencies for shelter, mechanical problems, and the like. Moreover, the ride was virtually devoid of auto traffic. Setting aside my not-all-that close encounter with an Amtrak train in Meyersdale, the fact that we didn’t have to worry about big metal things added another factor that made this ride perfect for turning off my busy mind. Six days on two wheels felt like six months of therapy (not that I know what therapy feels like, but you get the idea).
As I just mentioned the constant level of effort could be really tiring. Riding up a gentle 0.3 degree incline with no opportunity to glide for any significant distance meant that the same exact muscles were used over and over and over again. My legs were tired from the time we got off the bikes in the evening to the time we got back on in the mornings. The funny thing was, after 15 minutes of gentle riding my legs came right back to life.
I definitely grew stronger as the ride progressed. We took a relatively easy day on the third day and it gave our bodies a chance to recharge. If I were doing this again, I might plan to alternate long/hard and short/easy days.
When I arrived home and dismounted, I felt oddly mentally and physically refreshed. My body felt a good kind of tired. I took The Mule out two days later and it felt like a racing bike without the touring load and with my legs fully recovered.
As with all five of my bike tours, I simply did not eat enough. The day after I got home my clothes were falling off me. (This was literally true in the case of my pajama bottoms the next morning. Whoops.)
I suppose the biggest testimony to my mental and physical state was simply that I was sorry the ride was over when my bike came to a stop in my backyard. My mind was clear. My body ready to wake up the next day and do it all over.
So here I am seven days later still feeling the mental and physical afterglow of six days of riding a bike in the woods. I hope it never wears off, but I know that it will. There is only one remedy:
Bike tour anyone?