Monday, November 10, 2014

Chasing Beauty



Oftentimes when I post pictures of places I cycle through, people will comment on how beautiful the landscape is and how inspiring it must be to ride there. I got these reactions when I wrote the blog from New England, as well as (for those who remember the earlier years) from Austria. And I get them even more so now that I live in Ireland.



To be honest, some credit for the apparent picturesqueness goes to biased selection of subjectmatter and strategic composition. After all, it's not for lack of these things that you seldom see cars or strip malls or chainstores or clusters of ugly buildings or piles of trash on the side of the road in my shots.

Nonetheless it is true that the place where I currently live is exceptionally, stunningly, almost surreally beautiful. And the interesting thing about that is that I no longer notice it as such.

What I mean is not that I've stopped taking in my surroundings or finding them appealing. Rather, it is that their very beauty and appeal have become the new normal. This is not a bad thing, or a sad thing; it is simply what happens when we humans grow accustomed to our surroundings. We have evolved to adapt, and as such we'll get used to anything - be it bad or good, painful or pleasurable. Even the most commanding stimulus will lose its grip on our attention once it's presented often enough. So will even the most dramatic landscape begin to feel ordinary once its novelty fades and it becomes part of the everyday experience. The question is, what happens next?

There are cyclists who find new landscapes motivating. They dream of fantasy cycling destinations, saving for cycling holidays, training camps or tours in exotic locations. I, however, would call myself more of a homebody type, an intrinsically motivated cyclist who, if anything, prefers familiarity. I did not come to Ireland for the scenery; that part was just a nice coincidence. And as stimulated as I've been by the beauty that surrounds me, when I finally started to take it for granted it was an enormous relief. Because we can't truly get to know a person, place or thing while their appearance has the power to awe or infatuate us. It is only after the haze of novelty dissipates that we can start to see clearly and dig deeply.

As before - as always - I find beauty on every ride. I'm an aesthete; it is difficult not to. But now that novelty's wow-factor has lost its hold, the beauty I find here is woven into the fabric of the familiar, layered with meanings and associations, glimpsed fleetingly through changes of light. And as I heave myself up hills and fling myself down descents, with fantastical sea and mountain views spreading before me, I feel a strange freedom from these very things; I feel as if I've transcended something. Because the views were not what drew me out of the house on this damp, frigid morning with cross-winds. And I'm cycling once again for cycling's sake, rather than chasing beauty on two wheels.

27 comments:

  1. I find that a bicycle has a lot to do with the appreciation of scenery.

    On my hybrid I'm in a more upright position, so it is easier to look around. I find I remember the scenery a lot more, probably because it's easier to look at.

    On my road bike, its more about fitness and how fast I'm moving, feeling the road scream by beneath me, etc.. I'm not positioned to look around easily and most of it looks like a blur anyhow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting, because I used to feel that way when I first started riding with drop bars - but have since somehow adapted and am just as aware of the view when in a leaned over position.

      Delete
  2. "Because we can't truly get to know a person, place or thing while their appearance has the power to awe or infatuate us. It is only after the haze of novelty dissipates that we can start to see clearly and dig deeply"

    I'm still waiting for you to discover how to do that on strange bikes. It's easy if you ignore what's on them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Vélocio wrote about how the exertion of cycling puts you in a state of mind that makes you appreciate your surroundings more. Perhaps it's endorphins?

    I really enjoy cycling the same roads time and again. Sometimes, I notice changes in the vegetation as the seasons change, or new things I had never noticed before, but just as often, the ride is more meditative, and like you, I don't actively notice the scenery any longer.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It weirds me out to think of 'chasing beauty' because it sorta seems a misguided activity unless the very act of chasing is the beauty …..Mostly I prefer to think of discovering beauty. Something which is available to us all. You don't find it as much as it finds you. One stumbles into it and it always surprises and connects. It challenges and reshapes any preconceived notions…. I think we all have the capacity to be an aesthete and nurturing that capacity is what makes life and bicycling lovely.

    Like you, I don't travel far. Each day is a new experience even when going the same route, but even better when varied just ever so slightly. In today's autumn sun I found myself on a particularly quiet stretch. I could actually hear my tires on the pavement but there was no chain noise or any other kind of audible distractions. Then I cycled over some dry leaves which crunched beneath and then some acorns which had a peculiar popping sound. And then the wind whipped up through the trees creating a symphony of sounds.

    Not all beauty is visual.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! I was going to say the exact same thing!

      I still admire the surroundings and appreciate not only the scenery, but I also notice the sounds and the scents. I like the overall "feeling" cycling offers me.
      It is like that when I ride my bicycle all my senses participate, even if I'm going through the same route over and over again.

      Delete
    2. Yes. I'm not sure what beauty is but I think it's channeled through the senses to the intellect, or so it is for me, and it remains surprising.

      Just today, with a thirty degree temperature drop, I worried about what kind of clothes I should wear in order to be comfortable and warm. I was close but not quite perfect, which made the ride more vibrant. It was only ten miles running an errand but the wind and the chill and the heart beating and and sounds! Just the very fact that it was so different from yesterday was exceptional! So, I don't know what beauty is but when my soul is awakened it's a good day. Bicycles add to this experience.

      Delete
  5. I completely know what you mean. I grew up in a place very different from where I live now. Where I grew-up had very little aesthetic beauty to me. It was surrounded by flat, dry, farmland that was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter and hardly ever rained. Where I live now has rolling hills that are emerald green in winter and spring, with a rugged, wild coastline and look much like the countryside of Ireland from pictures I've seen; and then turn to the golden hills and vineyards of Tuscany in the summer. It is the new normal, but I've never forgotten the old normal I moved away from and that is what keeps the instrinsic appreciation of the landscape as I ride through it.
    It doesn't hurt that this is also a cycling destination and cycling vacation spot. So if it's got to be my "normal", then I'm ok with that. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've always enjoyed cycling simply because it connected me with space in new ways. That dynamic has not changed in forty years, whether urban or rural. Scenery was never what rocked my boat while cycling, nor does it motivate me to get out and ride, and the folks I know who travel with bikes seem, also, motivated less by the idea changing or chasing landscape so much as experience new cultures.

    ReplyDelete
  7. If one is chasing anything they're motivated by boredom.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've an unrelated question. It seems you've done impressive miles of cycling these last few years. How many times have you replaced your chain and what wear have you had on you drivetrain? I don't care what kind of bicycle (IGH or cassettes) because I've got both and am now being bitten with this issue. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been pretty lucky as far as wear and tear on my high milage bikes. On my roadbike (2 years 8 months old; 10-12K miles), the chain has been replaced twice and the current cassette (16 months old) may need replacing soon. The rear shifter cable (same age as cassette) frayed and snapped recently and had to be replaced. The original crankset is still fine as are the derailleurs. Cones on the front hub had to be adjusted recently, but otherwise wheels have been fine as well.

      That said, my impression is that cyclists' experiences of wear and tear are all over the place. And while obvious factors such as milage and quality of components no doubt play a role, those are not the only ingredients. If you find yourself wearing through components quickly, maybe talk to a bike mechanic you trust about it and see if they have any ideas re what might be causing it.

      Delete
  9. Can you explain the choice of this photo in relation to this post for us knuckleheads?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "As before - as always - I find beauty on every ride."

      Delete
    2. "Beauty is...an amphibious 650b rando bike. That is America to me." Sinatra/Vet's Day reference there.

      Delete
    3. That amphibious area is a bike trail btw.

      Delete
    4. Well for a bike trail it is pfc.

      Delete
  10. Thank you for this reflective, insightful conversation, a timely thanksgiving if you will, for cycling's enduring attraction and power. Jim Duncan

    ReplyDelete
  11. Glad you're back, Veloria. After you'd been "Giving Space" for nearly three weeks, I was probably not alone in beginning to worry.

    After four years of transcontinental motorcycling, I really got back into bicycling. Motorized two-wheeled travel -- except for the occasional spectacle or delightfully twisty road -- is far less engaging; I find myself singing old songs over and over, trying to remember the lyrics, in my full-face helmet as the miles evaporate.

    On the bike, I have time to experience the time and place intimately, to invest energy into motion. It's micro v. macro, 13 mph v. 65 mph and, while it's possible to neglect the scenery in favor of the ride, I like to stop and smell the roses.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Beautifully written and makes you think about what we actually have on our doorstep, I must start raising my head a little more often and stop focusing on the wheel in front...

    ReplyDelete
  13. Oh man, you are really disappointing me here.

    About the only thing keeping me from permanently parking myself at some slot machine with a carton of generic cigarettes is my dream of cashing in all my used beverage cans and doing "The Grand European Bike Epic" before I fall over dead. And an Ireland that is NOT all emerald fields, pristine wooly sheep and crashing surf all the way to the distant rainbowed horizon is NOT part of the dream.

    C'mon, you have a responsibility to all us poor suckers out here paying good money for this blog, so make with the Leprechauns and harps and crap, OK?

    Less musing, more pandering!

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The leprechauns were cropped out of this shot for fear my readerships's fragile psyches could not handle the sight of them. Also cropped out were the piles of trash by the water's edge, which these poor leprechauns were struggling to clean up.

      Delete
  14. I know what you mean. You kind of take it for granted after a while. I've lived in places where I got that way. But you still wouldn't want a bus load of clowns to show up. Literally or figuratively.

    ReplyDelete
  15. WOW! I haven't come to your page for a while. Like when did you move to Ireland? lol Still great information and now I am excited to find out how this happened and read about all your bike related things from Ireland.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks for the detailed review. I've been looking for a vest for bicycling and thought this may be it until the end -- no double zippers! This seems like such an easy thing, yet manufacturers too often overlook this small, but important detail. And, yes, I could add one myself, but I shouldn't have to. In any case, I really enjoy your blog. I've been reading it for some time now, but have never commented. As the owner of a '62 Raleigh Ladies Superb (you can see it here http://bonjourbicycle.com/2014/10/06/raleigh-reunion/), I've found your posts on Raleighs particularly interesting, but really just enjoy everything. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete