Sunday, May 17, 2009

Birchleaf, VA to Beaver Dam, KY: Biking Meditation and Expecting the Unexpected

Miles Per Day: Day 13=21.87; Day 14=REST; Day 15=56.99; Day 16=43.95; Day 17=76.47; Day 18=39.42; Day 19=67.12; Day 20=74.93

Total So Far
: 920.98

Inspiration: Taking my headphones off and listening to the sounds of the road; Rescue Me; Chopin (various); John Coltraine (mostly A Love Supreme); The Wire; The Howard Stern Show; Led Zeppelin

Spirits: Exalted; inspired; strong; strategic; spiritual; joyful

Things Seen On the Road: Hundreds of caterpillars crossing the road; tons more roadkill; several Amish horse and buggy caravans; a goat staring at my bike; dozens more dogs wanting to tear me to shreds.

Favorite Quotes: (1) heading to Beaver Dam, KY, sign on R 62: “Beaver Dam: 42 miles;” similar sign just 5 miles later: “Beaver Dam: 51 miles”; (2) heading to Berea, KY, a sign pointing to “Knob Lick Baptist Church.”

There are things happening inside of me. Strange, lovely, unexpected things. I don't think I've developed an adequate way to articulate what this all means. Maybe I need some distance from the road and all it's allures before I can connect the dots completely. What I do know is that things are changing inside in a very fundamental way.

This is actually rather surprising to me. I never wanted to personify that awful stereotype of the earnest traveler in search of inner meaning. And yet, meaning is precisely what I'm finding on the road. I found meaning in the coal that literally protruded from the ground by the side of the road in Eastern Kentucky. I found meaning in the laundromat I used at a low-income housing project in Elkhorn City, KY. I even found meaning floating inside a bottle of beer an elderly farmer bought me in Western Virginia.

If there is one thing I've learned from just three weeks of riding it is that there is meaning everywhere.

I've been meditating while riding. Seriously. While I am almost certain I am not the first one to have done so, the experience is definitely unique. I usually find a stretch of road with little to no traffic. I put my head down low and angle the bike along the white line demarcating the shoulder. I then focus my eyes on the moving road in front of me. Suddenly, everything recedes and it is just me, the road and the sound of my breath. I enter such a state of mindfulness that I automatically react to the sounds of traffic behind me without breaking my concentration. I'm convinced I conserve more energy and have a more enjoyable ride every time I do this. Has anyone done/felt something similar when they ride?

I don't think it's possible to capture the essence of this trip in a blog post. It's just not possible. Every day is different. There is no such thing as a routine day. The one constant is that anything can happen, at any time, at any place, for any reason. That is what I've come to love about this trip. I expect the unexpected on a daily basis.

Here is a pretty short snapshot of what's been going on:

*Music in Berea: After getting to Berea, KY, my hosts, Rose and Eagle, invited me to a Jazz-Latin music concert at the local college. It's a strange feeling to find yourself enjoying some pretty cool music in an audience of people when you have just biked 70 miles earlier that afternoon.

*Shortcut Gone Wrong: A couple of days from Berea, I decided to take a shortcut my iphone GPS suggested. Big mistake. Half-way through, I ended up staring at a couple of trees that had cut off the road. The alternative wasn't much better. I had to go through a pretty steep side road full of gravel that had been built for coal trucks. I didn't have to deal with too many trucks but the road grade was so awful that I had to stop every 50 feet just to catch my breath.

*Meeting the Goat: I was trying desperately to catch my breath after taking a good 25 minutes to climb a particularly difficult hill. I looked to my right and saw the door to a modest one-level house open very slowly. And a goat came out. That's right, a goat. He just stared at me while I caught I breath for about two minutes. I'm pretty sure there wasn't a soul around for miles. Methinks there is a vibrant community of goats somewhere in the hills of Western Kentucky that has so far gone unnoticed.

*First Mechanical Disaster: I was heading out from Birchleaf, VA to Breaks, VA one Saturday morning and was in a real hurry. I had arranged to have some mail delivered to the Breaks post office and since it was a Saturday, I needed to be there between 9:30 am and 11:00 am. Leaving Breaks state park I entered a pretty sweet downhill. Within 5 minutes I saw a sign for Breaks and waited to see the town itself. About 2 minutes later and going about 30-35 mph I realized that I had overshot my destination somehow and had to stop. I was pretty pissed with myself because now I had to bike uphill for a mile and a half. I turned my bike around and just as I got on it, I heard a loud clang...I looked down and realized my chain had fallen off the bike. It was about 9:45 am at this point. Let me tell you, there is nothing like walking a heavy bike up a hill for almost 40 minutes, under time constraints, in the middle of a thunderstorm. But hey, I did eventually find the town, picked up my mail and fixed the chain.

Coal trucks passing me on the road:

The beauty of Western Kentucky:

Dealing with the constant thunderstorms:



Anonymous said...

I have been checking your blog daily, eagerly anticipating your next entry. It was worth the wait. Your journey is fascinating.

The mileage you have been riding is unreal, the story is entrancing.

Additionally, thanks for the blog links, they are good items to read as I wait for your next entry.


microwave said...

Weird that you should mention "bike meditation." I've been riding quite a bit around where I live without headphones lately. While the first day I did this it was because I forgot my headphones, the second day was on purpose. I was riding on more rural trails and I found the experience really changes when you ride with only the sounds of nature, the wind and your own breath around. My favorite is listening to the wheels roll over the ground and how it changes on pavement, wooden bridges, dirt. It's easy to get lost in. Although I suppose, if I was doing that for 80 miles a day (that's AWESOME, btw) opposed to, um, 10 (I shame myself), I would also be in need of some Howard Stern style inspiration. Or, actually, maybe just music for me. :)

Keep on pedalin'!

M. from Facebook said...

I've been riding for 10 years, and I've never ridden with headphones. Cycling changed my body and my mind, introduced me to my spirituality outside of the construct of religion, and it changed my life for the better.

The most I've ever ridden was about 3200 miles in one calendar year. I rode "Bike Virginia" a few years ago; that amounted to about 480 miles in 5 days of riding, including two 100+ mile days, and that was after breaking my femur (during a crash) the previous year.

I will never, ever give up cycling. I'm planning to move out of DC for several reasons, one of which is access to better cycling conditions.

anand said...

One word: Wow!

donna said...

meditation- never tried it when riding, as i can't ride a bike!
but i've been trying it when running recently.not sure how to describe exactly- i've been trying to focus on putting myself into a space in the top of my head, at the front above my forehead, like a void. seems to work - managed my longest run- 7 miles, was only aiming for a personal best of 5 - so i was well chuffed.

amy said...

Your post is making me miss Kentucky!!! We lived in Lexington for about a year. It is such a beautiful state. Berea is a cool little town, lots of artists. Sigh.

Reading your road trip posts always put me in a good mood--thanks!

Jack said...


Thanks for the kind words. Tell me about yourself when u get a chance.


I refuse to wear headphones when the scenery has something special to it. Time goes by faster when they are off and I can embrace the ride.


Sounds like u have been inspired by biking. And that Bike VA ride sounds unreal. Will google it later tonight.

Jack said...




A runner huh... You are definitely more of an athlete than me.


Noticed that about Berea. I got my first taste of art the whole trip, with the exception of Charlottesville

bill h said...

Very cool jack. I love that you're listening to Love Supreme. I just used that in a talk I gave on the Psalms. His liner notes read:

“At this time I would like to tell you that NO MATTER WHAT…IT IS WITH GOD. HE IS GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL. HIS WAY IS IN LOVE, THROUGH WHICH WE ALL ARE . IT IS TRULY—A LOVE SUPREME--.This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor…May we never forget that in the sunshine of our lives, through the storm and after the rain—it is all with God—in all ways forever. ALL PRAISE TO GOD John Coltrane

seems appropriate for your journey through sun and rain.

blessings man,


Jill Homer said...

What an amazing journey. I feel like I know exactly what you mean.

A bird in da hand said...

Yep, bike meditation, know the experience. And (as I read) like other people: no headphones for me either. When I'm on my bike I totally enjoy just what's there. Outside of me. But also inside: often it's nothing, a very nice emptiness and sometimes I hear music or see pictures. I always have the feeling that I cannot explain this to other people. Nice to read comments with similar experience.

Enjoy your ride!


Jack said...


Note that years after he died they found lyrics to the music much like what you included here.


You definitely would. Hope all the traveling is going well for you as well.


We are probably kindred spirits. Had some more mediation on my way here ealier today...