September 21, 2016

The sweet spot

If you live in a city like I do, then chances are our bike excursions are very similar. To start, I wend my way between 10 to 20 minutes of traffic just to reach the city edge. I’m lucky enough to live in beautiful Munich which means I can join and leave traffic for plenty of green oases peppered around the city. However, it’s mostly a laborious stop-and-go ride or, even worse, a constant getting on and off the kerb, so I really want to get this part over and done with as soon as possible.

On my next leg I enjoy around 20 minutes on a route between the city and countryside, with green becoming the predominant colour even though traffic is still quite heavy. So I’ve constantly got to look behind my shoulder with the consequence that my upper body is constantly in motion. At times I’m lucky enough to have a whole separate bike path to myself, however it’s often riddled with small branches or hidden entrances to smaller roads or garages. I have to be on the ball at all times. The end of this stretch leads me to smaller roads off the beaten track which is where, to be fair, both you (and I) wanted to get to in the first place anyway.

My very own Tour de France

As soon as I leave the confines of the city behind me and abandon the main roads I settle into a more relaxed pace. The fields and meadows stretch out as far as the eye can see, the horizon is more than just a speck of blue in the distance, and more mountains start coming into view. I know what’s next: that special moment I’ve been waiting for. I reach high ground or take a bend, and a view similar to the one below leaves me breathless:

Muensing
Münsing, Bavaria, in front of Rafael.

Here you can see a road jut out in a straight line from a forest, with a plateau opening up before my very eyes shortly after. No people – none that I can see, anyway – yet I might encounter 3 cars in the next 5 km and, they too, will be going at a very leisurely pace to reach their destination. Biking by freshly mown fields and meadows is a wonderful feeling, and I revel in every moment I get to breathe that fragrant smell deep in. An image that will be etched in my memory until the next excursion.

Now, if I’m really lucky, a cart bursting with a shaggy pile of pale hay will cut right in front of me, driving the last remaining kilometres to the next location at 55 km/h. The ambling cart sets the pace of the next leg and I follow suit, pedalling at 55 km/h, too. The perfect combination of countryside idyll and speed. For a fleeting, blissful moment I can just picture myself as part of the breakaway group of the Tour de France, eating up the final 2 km before the finish line.

Finding the right flow

My excursions are a thing of pure beauty, and I go on them because they make me happy. I don’t follow a training plan, I merely bike and admire the beautiful landscape or enjoy that sense of wellbeing that follows physical exertion. It’s me, myself, and my bike. At the start of the excursion, as soon as my legs have warmed right up, actually, I ask myself what sort of pace I want to set. It’s a pensive, peaceful moment which allows me to get into the rhythm I want and try to bike at that same speed throughout the whole ride. If I feel restless at the start, I try and focus on achieving a smooth, uninterrupted pedalling rhythm. Nothing else seems to matter: it’s me and my legs, with everything else fading out as I look at the road stretching out before me; listening to the sound of my own breath also has a soothing effect on me. While all this is going on, an hour may have flown by, perhaps a bit more, I’m not too sure. To a certain extent, riding a racing bike can be a static operation, yet right now I’m as light as a feather, my thoughts lost against the backdrop of a countryside blurring at the edge of my vision.

Furkelpass
What a great view at Furkelpass!

Every time I exert pressure on the pedals reflects one thought seguing into the next as all that really counts are the next 100 metres. Incidentally, one of the random thoughts popping up in my head during these moments would be gratitude for my non-slip glasses, the excellent padding of my shorts (and my lovely Flite saddle!) and a comfortable jersey, because I don’t want to be worrying about them right now.
Some people have called this state of mind ‘tunnelling’, yet I prefer ‘flow’. It sounds much better, doesn’t it? You may very well be free from your everyday thoughts but that doesn’t mean you’re cut off entirely from the rest of your surroundings. Your senses still function – I still feel the change in temperature as I enter the cooler shade offered by a forest and the warm rays of sunshine; I still hear the wind whistling in my ears as I whizz on, and the rumbling asphalt through my hands and feet.
I take it all in: these bike rides make the humdrum of my office work all worth it. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about when I say, to use an often quoted line in American films, that I feel amazing!

On my bike rain or shine

Irschenberg Panorama
Irschenberg panorama just in the back!

It goes without saying that I enjoy excursions like these the most on sunny, warm days when the only additional gear I need is a bit of spare change for a shandy on the way back. But even on days where all you want to do is roll back under the covers can actually be quite beautiful if you look hard enough. I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out! Here’s my insider tip: organise a biking excursion a couple of days in advance. You won’t even ask if you should or shouldn’t go for a ride as soon as that day arrives, trust me. You don’t want to leave your friends hanging, do you now, or even worse, admit you can’t be bothered anymore! So wrap up your toes, fingers, and head, and off you go! And before I regret it, I seamlessly slip back into the flow. If I’m still not preaching to the converted, here’s another silver lining for your eyes only: the roads are all yours. Nobody wants to be out and about on a day like this, as opposed to hordes of cyclists speeding up and down the countryside when the sun’s shining. I feel giddy with excitement, it’s me against the elements! It’s a win-win situation, for not only have I beaten the bad weather, I’ve also defeated that niggling voice at the back of my mind wanting me to get back in bed. And yes, I do feel proud every time that happens… but what’s more important is that I simply feel happy when I’m on my bike.

Ride On
Rafael

Image-1
Rafaels bicycle route …

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