by Stan Purdum
I recently rode a new route, which started at the trailhead of a long, paved bicycle path I’ve ridden many times. But the new route didn’t use the path; it was on the nearby crossroad, with the trailhead simply providing a good place to leave my car.
From the map, I’d estimated my intended route as being about 22 miles, a shorter distance than I normally ride. So it crossed my mind that if, after I pedaled the road route, I still wanted more miles, I could jump on the path and ride some additional ones out and back from the car. But no sooner had I thought that than another voice in my head said, “But you probably won’t.”
That was the voice of experience. On many other rides, whether they were routes of 20 miles or 50 or more, where an easy extension was possible after completion of the planned course, I seldom pedaled the extension.
That’s not to say I lack the explorer gene. If, in midcourse on a planned ride, I see a road I haven’t traveled previously, I often alter the route on the fly to include it. But once I’m back at the start/end point, regardless of how few or many miles I’ve ridden, I’m usually done.
It’s as if once a route becomes a ride, the ride is a “thing” of its own, with its own starting and ending points, so that once I complete it, I feel no urge to keep pedaling.
In deciding where to ride, I will sometimes in advance string two or more routes I’ve previously ridden together, but in that case the combined routes become a new ride and a new thing with its own integrity.
In pondering my propensity to not extend a ride beyond the designated terminus, I’ve wondered if it’s related to some kind of energy draw, as if when I decide to ride a chosen route of X-number miles, some inner collaborator agrees with that decision and makes ready the necessary physical and mental energy to accomplish the trek. Of the two, I suspect the mental is the more limiting. At the end of the 22-mile ride, for example, I had enough physical energy remaining to add some miles on the path, but the mental attitude was “enough for today.”
Stopping the ride at the “end” may also be related to a sense of accomplishment. By conceiving of a route as a thing, when I have reached its end point, I’m able to draw a line under it, declare it completed and move on to whatever’s next. (I’m reminded of a cartoon I once saw that showed a man in a tux, with his new bride in her wedding dress on his arm. They were walking out of church while the crowd was throwing rice over them. The man had a list and a pencil in his hands and was checking off an item while saying “Well, that’s that. Now to get my laundry.” I don’t think I’m quite that compulsive, however.)
The willingness to mark an end point to a project may be a factor in what we accomplish in life. Being able to say “This is done; now I can turn my attention to this other task” sets the stage for the next thing.
Or at least it’s a usable justification for not riding further.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, and Methodist minister, lives in New Jersey. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.