Bicycling with Benedict

Spring has paid us a delicious couple of visits over the past month. We all know that it’s not the real thing; neither do we care. We all seem to share a collective willingness to accept the gift and get out in it, most of us with some physical activity. I have taken Spring’s visits as opportunities to take to the road on my bike.

I really enjoy bicycling—I put something over 1000 miles on my bike last summer. That hardly qualifies me for he-man-ity, but it does suggest the level of enjoyment I find in cycling. I love the quiet, when hurried truckers will allow it. I love the slow, even way my body tires on a bicycle and leaves my mind and heart free to think or pray, or both. I love speed, when I can achieve it, and I delight in the voice of the wind as I ride. I relish the solitude I find on a bicycle, though I frequently enjoy riding with a friend as well. I enjoy the connection with my childhood, when I first loved riding a bike and fantasized about riding long distances. (30 miles is as far as I can stretch my present idea of a long distance.) I enjoy taking water breaks or stretching in out of the way cemeteries or the yards of country churches—I usually make one or the other my turn-around point. I love the sense of exploration that comes when I combine a couple of hours with miles of unfamiliar, less traveled county roads.

I also love the utter lack of accomplishment I find on a bicycle. A bike ride does not advance a single ambition or goal in my life; I do it purely because I enjoy it. It’s one of the few such graces I allow myself and it teaches me how better to find the pleasure in all the many things I tell myself “I have to do.” Bicycling encourages me to live in the present moment; there’s just enough constancy of risk, even slight danger at times, to keep me constantly engaged. (I won’t go into my spill on the ice in January—maybe I should have engaged some modicum of gumption before I decided I could remain upright over a 100 yard patch of icy pavement!) I tend to be most truly and completely thankful when I’m on a bicycle. I seem to be most conscious of the saints, that “great cloud of witnesses, cheering me on when I’m riding. (Does St. Benedict ride beside me? I have actually heard the expression “Christ on a bicycle!” used to express surprise or frustration.) Maybe I am actually most truly alive when I’m huffing my way up a long hill, or hurtling gleefully down the far side.

…and no matter where or how far I ride it always feels good to come home. The bike is never a means of escape, only a healthy detour.

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