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.