Some like Padraig at Red Kite Prayer call them rituals, some call them habits, and others call them routines. If you’ve ridden bikes for any length of time, you’ve got ’em. It doesn’t matter if you’re mostly a commuter, a racer, a club rider, or some combination of all of the above, but you’ve got rituals, habits, and routines. Maybe you call what you do a habit. Or a routine. Or a ritual.Or you reserve ritual for certain types of rides. It doesn’t matter what you call ’em, you have them if you ride a bike.
Padraig’s post got me thinking about rituals, about habits, and about history. Mostly about how our rituals, habits, or routines define us, create our histories. And how our rituals, habits, and routines are the result of our histories.
For some, rituals are about time. For others rituals are about places. And for others still, rituals are about people. I’m not much of time person. Sometimes, I think cycling is ruined by early mornings (and since I live in south Louisiana where riding at the crack of dawn is a must in the summer, it can be hard for me to enjoy cycling in the summer). What that means is for me, rituals are about places and people. Mostly about places, because people change. They move away. They grow as cyclists and sometimes you and person who you’ve established a ritual grow differently. Sure places change, but not as much or perhaps they change at a different pace.
Laurel Valley Road is one of my rituals. It started as a gravel road. Then the parish paved it. It runs through sugar cane fields and then briefly through some woods/swamp. In the winter and early summer it’s flat and open to the wind. In the late summer and early fall it’s a tunnel of cane and sometimes reminds me of riding through the corn fields of Ohio. Even when the cane is high, LVR is a wind fest. In the summer, there’s a tail wind on the way out and head wind on the way in. Or there’s a nasty cross wind on both legs. In the winter, it’s reversed. Unless it isn’t. And since we’re so close to the Gulf of Mexico, the wind will switch and be in your face on both legs.
LVR is flat. Dead flat. Ok, there are a few little burps, but they are microscopic and really only become apparent after you’ve put a few thousand miles on the road. It’s an easy road, but then it isn’t. The wind can kill you. The two 90 degree turns–one just past the slave cabins and one in the swamp can challenge you, especially when you’re in a pace line.
LVR is smooth new pavement, but it’s slowly changing. It’s a good cut through road for some folks and in the late fall it sees heavy truck traffic–cane trucks full of sugar cane. But it’s still smooth. One of my rituals is watching the road change. The last time I rode it with one of my collegiate cyclists and an alumni supporter, I had the presence of mind to really notice the road–Padraig’s first ritual post fresh in my mind. I spent most of the ride in front or I was on Vance’s wheel. He’s steady. We weren’t pushing the pace. That gave me the chance to be mindful of how the road moves. How I know how to find the nice line through the cabin curve. The line that lets me miss the gravel. The line that lets me rest for a few seconds.
After the cabin curve, I pulled off the front at just at the same point that Jonathan, the kid (no longer a kid) who started the collegiate club with me always would. Sitting in, I noticed how the small line caused by someone dragging a trailer chain is getting wider. More pronounced. I remembered the Saturday I first noticed it–the late 90s Nissan pickup truck passing us and hearing the tink tink of its trailer chain hitting the still new pavement. Now two years latter the small divots are a nice scribe line. When it happened, I pictured how one person’s inattention would slowly destroy the road. It hasn’t yet, but I can see the day when there’s a series nice cracks running just to the left of the fog line. I’m not annoyed (ok, just a little), but aware.
As we slipped towards the woods near the end of the cane fields, I thought of the road kill we were seeing and thought back back to the day years ago we saw families of raccoons running across the road. And then how over the next week we saw lots of dead raccoons on the road. The newly paved road and its traffic impacted what was clearly a migration route for small mammals. And then I thought of the series of winter mornings I saw two bald eagles fighting in the sky, then hunting and feeding in the newly harvested cane fields, and finally mating. Perhaps one of the males had run off the other to claim the hunting grounds and a mate.
LVR is just a road, but for me it’s a ritual. When I ride it, I notice the slow changes of the seasons and the slow changes wrought by time on the road, the cane fields, the old slave cabins, and the woods. I also think of the people I’ve ridden with and come to know without talking a lot. The quiet hours Jonathan and I spent on it when he was still in college. The hours we spent with KitKat as she grew from a just fast to an eye watering fast collegiate racer. Or the hours I spent riding with Allan, or Jose, or whatever the hell his name is talking about bikes, cycling, his plans to be an archaeologist, then a public historian, and how about how passionate he’s about life that even his faux hipster attitude can’t hide it. Or the hours Michael and I spent riding and talking about literature, poetry, and life as he grew from a squirrely hot mess of a rider to fast, smooth monster. And the hours I’ve spent riding with Jonathan’s dad, Joey, being pushed again and again by his competitiveness. I think of all I’ve taught and learned about cycling and life on LVR. For me, it’s a ritual. It’s a place I go to think. To learn. To challenge myself. And to grow. And to be.