Posted by: audaxing | November 10, 2010

How to find yourself on a bike

Why go a long way?

There are many activities that we like to do that consist of going somewhere and coming back again.

It is difficult to see what kind of economic or political motives there are for climbing a mountain, walking in the hills, strolling along the beach or cycling across Wales. It doesn’t fit with the Freudian notion of everything as sex or death either. It is difficult to imagine a Woody Allen film with a lot of walking and not much talking.

I think the attraction of this sort of activity is a Spiritual one.

I read somewhere that people have a kind of psychological need to be in motion. I think that my source linked this need to a hunter-gatherer instinct buried in eidetic memory.

I know some people can get this from driving a car. But this seems to often refer to driving a car in some kind of mythical lost age of the 20th century, before jams and the M25. The car does not offer the freedom of the open road these days but a kind of slavery to being in a sequence of places. The car experience also protects and isolates the driver from the landscape. There is no chance of finding much good or new in these circumstances. All that seems to appear is another set of roadworks.

I do enjoy walking also but my weapon of choice for this need to move slowly and as an exploration is the bicycle. I can cover more ground. I am not isolated from the world. I don’t use an all terrain bike so I am limited to small roads but this suits me fine. A bike can stop any place to let me look, take a photo or change my socks.

I have a number of friends who I only ever meet when I am out on these somewhat specialist long distance bike rides. Because we share some experiences like traveling 20 miles uphill into a gale in the rain or struggling to stay awake at 3am just a few km from the finish, there is a bond there. But the main way in which the Spiritual life and the long journey in the wilderness are connected is not in cameradie but inside yourself.

There are three ways in which leaving the car behind sets the Spirit free

1)Travel a long way and you leave everything behind, except yourself.
2)Going beyond your previous limits takes you to a new state of body and mind
3)In a quiet lonely place your mind is quiet and there is time to listen

Travel a long way and you leave everything behind

Our lives are full of stuff. A lot of it is good stuff but there are quite a lot of indications that the Spiritual life involves a rejection of the paraphernalia of worldly comfort. I don’t think many people have what it takes to throw out the fridge, the TV, the sofa, to live in a cardboard box or whatever else people who have nothing do. But by going away from civilisation there is a temporary sense of what this is like. But inside us all there is a self, a sense of being in the world that is impossible to escape. The Spiritual life is often identified with this core. So by leaving it all behind, in a sense you find yourself.

Going beyond your previous limits

Pushing yourself beyond your previous limits does force the mind and body into a new place. Of course many of the insights and thoughts at 3am when you’ve been awake for 40 hours are not particularly enlightening. But the simple act of just carrying on when you are in this state is surprising to yourself. The New Testament’s St Paul was quite keen on “endurance” as a form of Spiritual strength. It is an overcoming of a problem not by force or cleverness but by refusing to be stopped. These kind of experiences give one a different perspective on what is possible and what is impossible.

Your mind is quiet and there is time to listen

When you are far away from civilisation and can only see a winding road and trees. When there is nothing to read and nothing to hear except the wind. When your body aches vaguely with fatigue. Physical motion seems to quieten the mind. And the mind is quite quiet anyway.

Wales is a loverly place. It’s full of rain, sheep, beer, old friends, mountains, mud and tiny roads. But that’s not why I like going there. I like going there because it is full of nothing: sky, wind, blasted open hill side, distance into fog.

When the traveler has suffered adversity, perhaps having experiences of endurance and of the seeing the core of their being somehow perception is altered. Beautiful natural sights can stir deep emotions.

For example after 200km of a 600km long distance event in Wales, much of it into a headwind and rain, gradually the weather improves. Then suddenly the purple headed mountains across from Harlech appear in the late day sun. I felt like singing a hymn. Was I seeing creation, at that moment, as it was supposed to be?


There isn’t a special property of going on a long journey that is the connection to Spiritual things.
It is more as if you discover something that was there all the time.

Or not. In the book “Touching The Void” two climbers have a bad time attempting to descend an isolated mountain. They are both close to total exhaustion when one of them falls a long way. The faller is still attached to the other guy with a rope but the one at the top has a terrible choice. Cut the rope and his friend falls to a certain death. Or try and haul him up and they both probably die. So he cuts the rope. The one at the top then manages to get off the mountain.
Meanwhile, the other guy is still alive. Somehow he survives the fall. Only trouble is, he is in the bottom of a ravine of ice with a broken leg. Somehow, the second climber manages to climb out of the ravine and down the rest of the mountain. In doing so he goes beyond all the limits of endurance.
The second climber had thought that if this kind of thing happened to him then he might have some kind of experience of God. This kind of thing does happen to mountaineers. However, in the event he found a profound sense of “nothing” at the core of his being.
This gave the book it’s name: “Touching the Void”. But it shows that these kind of journeys are in themselves the source of the Spiritual experiences. It seems they can act as a catalyst to the experiences. The Spiritual reality has to be already there inside you however.

Long distance bike riding isn’t hazardous or as arduous as mountaineering of course!


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Graham Dean and Audax UK, Jamie Andrews. Jamie Andrews said: How to find yourself on a bike: the Spiritual side of long distance cycling #cycling […]

  2. Very good! I’ve often wondered how I could ever put into words what it is about long distance cycling that makes me sign up again and again.

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