Cycling Fires My Five Senses, Inspiration

While I was blissed out during a wonderful Christmas  baroque music concert, it suddenly dawned on me why I bicycle day after day. Year after year.  The frenzied violinists with half closed eyes in their  Zen trance while teasing music from their strings,  was akin to cycling as a great sensory experience.

Cycling downhill towards prairie vista of Nose Creek Park in autumn. Calgary, AB 2014.
Cycling down towards vista of Nose Creek Park in autumn. Calgary, AB 2014.

Cycling –An Easier Sensory Journey
Cycling is a sensory journey for me.  Literally.  While bicycling along, it fires my senses for seeing, hearing, smelling, touching wind caresses and on the rare occasion, tasting  fresh wild blackberries plucked off the bushes.  Sure, the experience must be the same for jogging.  But for me, I can go much farther on bike, without great bodily duress.

Outdoor art mural near College St., downtown Toronto 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Outdoor art mural near College St., downtown Toronto 2014. Photo by J. Chong

While you need to undergo significant training to do a first-time  marathon, cycling the same 42 km. distance, does not require the same level of difficult training. Even for cycling newbies, they catch on within a few weeks without getting serious leg strains, etc.

Acute Sense of Vulnerability, Heightened Awareness
Cycling  frees me to look around anew my environment I am pedalling through, with same jogger’s acute sense of vulnerability to Nature and man-made objects.  Each day for the same journey, is different.  The same sky has different colours.  On bike, I do feel safer from strangers who I may not want to meet.  I just have to pay attention to potholes, cars, walkers and dogs.

Just missed a great place for local, famed coffee. Thunderstorm looked imminent during bike ride. Maui Island, Hawai’i 2009. Photo by J. Chong

The scenery and diverse  sounds from the bike saddle,  is ever-changing, even on a flatboard prairie.  The sky soars above you like clear  azure blue dome or  it’s filled with wonderous cloud shapes  casting  dancing shadows across the waving  and rustling wild grasses.

Temperate rainforest park deserves walking, not cycling fast to enjoy. Near Malahat, Vancouver Island 2004.
Temperate rainforest park deserves walking, not cycling fast to enjoy. Near Malahat, Vancouver Island 2004.

Of course, I cannot rhapsodize enough about cycling in areas surrounded by magnificent mountains draped with some snow, verdant green forests, plunging waterfalls or burnished by a setting sunset.

Changing Canvas of  Vistas, Sounds and Smells
Or cycling along and suddenly seeing a heart-stopping flicker of a red-wing blackbird, plump goldfinch bird  or perched  high above on a carved totem pole, a live bald eagle near downtown Vancouver.  The other day, I realized I missed seeing blue jay birds in the prairies, when I lived and biked around in Ontario.

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I’ve come across a purple starfish flung from the ocean onto the boardwalk, a coyote along  an urban bike path in Vancouver, a seal on the ocean rock while cycling along  Vancouver Island coast or a black bear afar, while cycling on the Continental Divide near Field, Alberta.   We’ve seen our share of bighorn sheep up close while cycling in the Rocky Mountains,  wild bantam roosters running around on Big Hawai’i Island or caught the scent of  spooked skunks in Vancouver’s Stanley Park at night.

Touring in cycling-intensive Copenhagen, Denmark 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Touring in cycling-intensive Copenhagen, Denmark 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Even a city with changing architecture during a ride and buildings, provides a different sensory journey.  The smell and bustle of shops, outdoor art and different farmers’ markets I’ve visited

Cycling test recovery ride –post-injury. Late spring 2015.

over the cycling decades  –places that  make me stop.  Like the church I discovered with carved wood doors. Carved  church doors are not typical on heritage Canadian churches.  Then later ,I read the congregation was going to sell the church to a developer.

Wake-Up Bell for Four Seasons Weather
I said awhile ago, the vigour of cycling is endorphin- inducing.  I also argue that cycling in all 4 Canadian seasons of the year, is a literal wake-up bell for the body’s senses, when the weather is warm, hot, frigid cold, windy or wet.  You cannot help,

Night ride to view Christmas lights. Vancouver BC 2014. Photo by J.Becker
Night ride to view Christmas lights. Vancouver BC 2014. Photo by J.Becker

but feel profoundly alive while bicycling, even if you are cycling slowly.  The freeing vulnerability of cycling is a powerful drug for what it means to feel alive in every pore of your skin.

Spring in Stanley Park, Vancouver BC 2014.
Spring in Stanley Park, Vancouver BC 2014.

Cycling Moments Akin to Butterfly Shadows
Sensory moments captured instantly like butterfly shadows.   I know I’ve done the right thing to bring along my pocket camera. Sometimes  after I’ve eagerly released  a whack of photos  onto my computer, my fingers tap out paltry words to gift-wrap the photos into another  blog post  vignette.

Cycling becomes a sensory Zen journey.  I hope you’ll enjoy these blog rides with me.

Working on oil painting of an arbutus tree. 2004.
Working on oil painting of an arbutus tree. 2004.
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60 Comments Add yours

  1. Sue Slaght says:

    I smiled through your whole post Jean. Cycling has for me as well created so many discoveries and wonderful experiences. I find it far easier on my body than running and as you know we have enjoyed cycling in many lands. A lovely post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jean says:

      Always good to hear from a comrade cyclist enthusiast and traveller, Sue. I perceive you as a steady, strong cyclist but you focus on your travel observations.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love cycling however I am always aiming more to push my body further. That’s why I bought two years ago a racing cycle. During my past trips around the country side of my hometown I found many places which we visited yesterday together with my mother-in-law such as old monastery churches, 800year old trees and secret getaways wigs beautiful view 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jean says:

      Germany offers great corners of history and marvel – in a shorter distance than Canada by bike!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As I only do short tours (20-60km) it is really helpful that Germany isn’t as huge as Canada to reach new places 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  3. bribikes says:

    This is beautiful, Jean.

    “You cannot help, but feel profoundly alive while bicycling, even if you are cycling slowly.”
    This is my favorite sentence of the day 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jean says:

      And even if the wind is beating down or the sun is smiling on us, slow and alive. Good to see you Bri.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. aaroncripps says:

    A lovely evocation of the joy of cycling Jean. I don’t do it often but one of my favourite times on the bike is to leave just before dawn and ride out as the day breaks. With zero traffic in the country lanes there’s something magical about the hum of the chain, the dawn chorus, and the lightening sky.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jean says:

      Totally agree with very early morning ride in peace with less worry of cars and others. One of the reasons why I naturally wake up early! Enjoy every sunrise ride while you can.

      Like

  5. Beautiful photos and stories to accompany them Jean. How you liking our recent hot weather?? ❤
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      It’s not too bad at all to me, Diana. 🙂 Not humid like Ontario. However forest fire smog and smell is not good. My partner is having relatives from Germany now for a few weeks. it’s really quite noticeable there in terms of air quality for past 2 wks.

      Like

      1. Imagine what it’s like up north Jean! Enjoy your visit. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hear, hear! Great post and, as always, wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing these, Jean.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I’m sure you’re continuing to enjoy your local and distant bike explorations, Rebecca. 🙂

      Like

  7. Mabel Kwong says:

    Lovely write up about how cycling makes you feel, Jean. Cycling is not just a physical workout but a sensory, emotional one for you too. Embracing nature and the world for what it is when it comes your way, rain, hail or shine. And I suppose you observe people too while on the bike and must have come across interesting people as well. One day I hope to pick up cycling, one day when I can find my balance on the bike.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Let us know when you do get on a bike. Do any of your friends cycle? Be patient with yourself.

      Like

      1. Mabel Kwong says:

        A lot of my colleagues past and present cycle to work from home. They’ve always encouraged me to cycle since it beats getting stuck in traffic.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Jean says:

          You are my lst reader who doesn’t cycle, but has been encouraged by her cycling work colleagues. My other readers don’t bike or bike a bit but just don’t mention it here which is perfectly fine since I’m not exclusively a blogger about cycling.

          I think in your city there may be a cycling advocacy group that teaches adult how to cycle. But honest, you just need a great friend and a bike that fits you…some grassy flat areas in a park, etc. Takes time but can happen.

          Like

          1. Mabel Kwong says:

            Cycling is something that’s everywhere in Melbourne (cyclists on the streets, cycling clubs and so on). It’s very hard for me not to take an interest in it. I often wonder if I will fair well cycling in winter. Always wondered. Someday perhaps I will know.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Jean says:

              Mabel, my partner has been to Melbourne specifically to look at their cycling infrastructure. I think he was there for a meeting with local govn’t /cycling advocacy group.
              https://thirdwavecyclingblog.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/melbourne-australia-%e2%80%93-first-impressions/ At that time, I was managing his business blog. Later, I showed him how to manage blog content. He’s created other blogs since then. 🙂 We help/support each other in many different ways –not just cycling together on paths and roads. 🙂 He has better, natural wayfinding instincts than I do for out of town bike trips.

              Like

            2. Mabel Kwong says:

              Very, very interesting. Those are popular cycling spots around Melbourne in those photos, day and night. I hope your partner enjoyed his visit here and got the opportunity to cycle around heaps.

              Liked by 2 people

  8. Lani says:

    I’m very glad to see and hear that you are back on your bike after your injury! And I always enjoy your photo journeys. You’ve been everywhere. You’ve cycled everywhere! Biking is whimsical. You feel like a kid again. Plus, I hate running 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      You’re right, Lani….riding a bike makes one feel quite young all over again. 🙂 Christmas photo was taken just a few days before accident.

      I agree– running to me, would kill the enjoyment of exercise. Never say never but I would have to be desperate…

      Liked by 2 people

  9. With you on this one, wrote an infrequent series on the senses a while back plus a draft that I can’t finish yet. I will sometimes make a detour for a particular view or smell.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Hey, fossil, brush up on that draft and publish it! The more we get out the happy word, why we crazy cyclists are on a bike often.. Would be curious know what types of smells you would detour for –a bakery, distillery or amazing Nature’s floral scent in spring? 😉

      Like

      1. Definitely the coconutty smell of gorse bushes, the tang of the sea and short stretches of pine woods when the sap is rising. So I guess mainly natural smells, not too many bakeries round here though! And the draft still is demanding my attention.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. thedumplingmama says:

    This is beautifully written. Your literal expression makes me feel as if I am on a bike also. It’s wonderful that you have found a hobby and passion that you enjoy so much. Who takes the photos of you, ex: in Vancouver?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      My partner who I’ve featured in photos through this blog. We split our time between 2 cities which means we also keep and use bikes in both cities. 🙂 (plus clothing, books,furniture..)

      Like

  11. Rich – one of my favorite posts here, J. Yes, you do lay out for us a sensory feast after you’ve had your fill. I love the point on vulnerability. I imagine there is something about control there, too…how you can control where you want to go and whom you want to avoid.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jean says:

      You’re right holistic –having a bike gives greater control where one wants to go whenever they wish, etc. The tough one is having enough safe cycling routes to get to certain places locally.

      I like to treat my readers to some sensory snippets. 🙂

      Like

      1. Well, we enjoy the treats. =)

        Liked by 1 person

  12. That is a great picture of you painting! Also need to watch out for: other bicyclists. Glad to see you out and about. Cheers —

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Yes, a rare photo taken of me doing art.
      Unfortunately that cyclist was turning a corner too fast on a bike path and there I was..
      Your ongoing visits and comments are most appreciated, jbw. I didn’t know you enjoyed photography. Do you have a DSLR?

      Like

  13. livelytwist says:

    Lovely post Jean. I cycle now and again and I can relate.
    Also what you said about jogging: “Sure, the experience must be the same for jogging. But for me, I can go much farther on bike, without great bodily duress.”

    My best times are early mornings before the world awakes. Whether cycling, jogging, or walking, I have a great time clearing my head and unburdening my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      As another cyclist said in this thread too, I love early morning. The world at peace and time to simultaneously be alert to Nature, one’s own breathing and open up the day with movement and scenery. I like cycling as a metaphor: life changes when you move, even if slowly. It’s difficult to cycle backwards without falling.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Behind the Story says:

    Fantastic photos! I haven’t been to Banff yet, but we’ve talking about going. Maybe next year.

    I haven’t cycled since college when my sister and I loaded our old 3-speed bikes on a ferry and cycled around San Juan Island. Another year, my roommate and I cycled from Sydney to Victoria and back. When my kids were little, I pulled them in a wagon or a sled. Then we moved to the Philippines where swimming was more well suited the hot weather. Now that I’m back in the Pacific Northwest, I enjoy walking and hiking. I can’t cover as much ground as you can on a bike, but walking is also a pleasant sensory journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      If you have any questions about Banff-Lake Louise area, just ask. A good time to go would be late June or early September a bit less tourists. Just to let you know, if you drive through Revelstoke, British Columbia, there are 3 Canadian national parks in the area.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Behind the Story says:

        Thank you, Jean. When we get further along than just the general idea, we’ll be sure to need some tips.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. diahannreyes says:

    As someone who hasn’t cycled much I appreciate the worlds and experiences that you share with us, your readers. Makes me wish I was the kind of person who could easily hop on a bicycle and pedal around the world. Who knew that the world on a bike could be even bigger than riding in a car.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Ah, you’ve nailed it: “Who knew that the world on a bike could be even bigger than riding in a car.” While one can go farther and faster in a car, it would be a challenge for someone to convince someone like myself, that driving a car is a five-senses experience or makes one feel more human. Methinks most car drivers are just merely functional about their driving.

      Like

  16. Alex Hurst says:

    I’m moving to Vancouver next year, and your photos made me so excited! Thank you for visiting my blog… happy to meet you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Best wishes in Vancouver. Will your blog have to change? Less on Japan’s aesthetic?

      Like

      1. Alex Hurst says:

        Yes, sadly. The blog will have to change a little, but not a lot. I still have a monthly Japanese monsters thread I’ll be keeping up, and photo essays… I still have 1,000s of photos I haven;t shared. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jean says:

          Ah, another blogger with a bloated personal photo collection. I’ve never been to Asia yet: https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/asia-in-my-dreams-romanticizing-the-east/

          What is the main reason for relocating to Vancouver? Of all the Canadian big cities, it is Canada’s Pacific Rim city reflected in its people, cultural ties to Asia (But not really, because it’s rooted in Canadian history.) Close to mountains and ocean. I know that you long for the cultural richness of Japan’s architectural and aesthetic history, but you’ll see. It might take time. The infusion of Pacific Northwest aboriginal presence, makes it very different from rest of Canada. I miss Vancouver but still it’s a 2nd home I go back. Well, I have to since over 40% of my clothing is still there, etc. 🙂 We should meet up one day.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Alex Hurst says:

            I’m greatly looking forward to going! I’ve spent most of my life moving around. I was born in Louisiana, raised in California, spent a year in a car with my family roaming the States… moved to Japan, and now Vancouver next year, to pursue grad school. 🙂 I’ve visited three times and loved it each time. It reminds me of the Bay Area, with way more mountains and space.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Jean says:

              Ah, UBC has a beautiful campus if that’s where it is. I used to ride every day from home downtown to there..just for a 40 km. round trip. Great exercise, lovely vistas.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Alex Hurst says:

              I think I’ll be downtown, near Gastown. Very excited!

              Like

  17. just found your blog after viewing comments on my own. thank you. You are so right about cycling being great for heightening our senses and getting out into nature is so much easier on a cycle.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Good to see you here cyclingin6thdecade. 🙂 Hope you are cycling several times per wk. and wishing you more tailwinds than headwinds. We’re dealing with drifting forest fire smoke from over 300 km. south of us. So my cycling is shorter just for the past few days.

      Like

  18. Jay says:

    Excellent comparison.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Thx for dropping by! Wishing you tailwinds in life.

      Like

  19. So happy to see you cycling, especially in the post-recovery ride. Yes, a sensory-filled, or should I say zensory-filled, activity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      “Zensory” that would have been excellent for the title, JB. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  20. What a wonderful post, Jean, filled with truth, inspiration, and some very telling insights. It’s next to impossible to convey the exuberance one feels on a bike, that sense of being alive, to someone who doesn’t ride. I can’t help feeling the world would be a better, happier place if everyone could have that experience.

    Your photos are always excellent, and you’ve shared some of your best here. The slideshow was especially impressive– you guys have definitely been around! Loved that shot of you painting, too.

    I’m just back from a bike tour of Massachusetts’ North Shore (the Ipswich-Newburyport area, if you’re familiar with same). Perfect weather, and some great rides along the coast– a venue I don’t get to enjoy here in the New Hampshire woods! So your descriptions of biking as a sensory experience really resonated with me, said experience being so fresh in my mind. Thanks for sharing! : )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Hi Mark, I’m not familiar with that area of MA. But I did go cycling in Cape Cod and on Nantucket Island a few years ago. (I have been in Boston twice on different trips also but didn’t bike there.) I’m sure some fall colour started there along the coast.

      Exuberance is a wonderful refreshing adjective to describe the cycling sensation: one is happy for self, the world, and all one sees in the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Gail Rehbein says:

    Bicycle riding certainly fires my inspiration. It puts me in touch with the seasons and their sensations, unique and enriching. If I feel lost for a story or a solution, a bike rides frees my mind to create.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Like you, I never take for granted our 4 seasons weather where I live and bike. Are you a winter cyclist at all? A bike ride certainly can clear some cobwebs in the brain.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gail Rehbein says:

        I cycle through winter Jean but here on the Gold Coast in Australia, the winter is very mild. More like a Northern European Summer 😊

        Our summer with high humidity is the most challenging season. I admire cyclists who ride in winters made of snow and ice 🚲

        Like

        1. Jean says:

          Here I am: https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/the-lightness-of-becoming-55/ We’ll see how much cycling I do in winter this year. Snow can start flying anytime within the next 3-4 wks. Then melts..dries up…then storms..etc. Southeastern Canada in Ontario, Quebec, etc. can get humid, hot summers @100% humidity and temp. over 85 degrees F. (Has Australia gone metric yet?)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Gail Rehbein says:

            That’s a fantastic photo of you riding in the snow. And a wonderful post about your bicycle lifestyle. It’s inspiring. Australia started using metric in the 1970s. The Gold Coast is latitude 28 South so it’s a sub-tropical climate with summer humidity in the 90s and temperatures above 30 degrees C (about 85F+). Here’s a story from last summer: http://abike4allseasons.com/2015/01/22/to-ride-or-not-to-ride-part-2/ It was an internal adventure as much as an outside one.

            Like

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