Friday, August 23, 2013

In Praise of the Most Frequent Ride

Along the way: where the ordinary takes on surprising significance.

It is a truism to state that the most most frequent drive most people make is the one between their home and their place of employment. This is likewise the case for Utility Cyclists, and it brings up a few points to ponder for me.

The first has to do with my cycling habits. This summer I went on vacation, and during that time I almost completely stopped cycling. Three reasons predominated:

1) I am very much an introvert (like a lot of clergy) and thus am in the position of needing to function much like an extrovert most of the year. When I go on vacation, I tend to pull up the drawbridge, roll down the portcullis, and "go to ground." Thus, my travel outside the home is minimal during vacation. Even when traveling elsewhere during my time off, I find I like to avoid crowds and noisy activities, preferring to lounge in one place at a time, almost completely undisturbed.

2) For those few trips I did make, the distances involved made cycling impractical.

3) Almost all of my cycling, it turns out, is related to practical matters of parish ministry.

It is the last of these that stuck out for me.

Being a Utility Cyclist means that cycling is not essentially a leisure/sport activity for me. It is not something I do because I have an excess of time or energy. Rather, it is a regular part of making my way around the center of our city as I do my work. While cycling, I find myself enjoying the trip, taking in the world, and thinking about many things. It is often a very integrative time in my day. But, it is not something I do much when I am on vacation.

The two things are not antithetical in my mind, of course. There are occasions when I pedal to a nearby park, and I have taken my bike to a very bike-friendly city south of here and spent the day on cycle-tracks and bike paths, soaking up the locale.

For the most part, though, my type of cycling is a practical form of getting from here to there. So, while I was on "deep vacation," I just didn't cycle much. I was taking a break from the normal...even some things I enjoy a great deal.

This rhythm is very much part of the spiritual tradition I follow, which emphasizes fasting as well as feasting, times of pulling in as well as seasons of putting out. It was interesting to find that character in something like transportation, as well. I suppose this means that while I am still a deeply imperfect practitioner of my Faith, it is permeating more and more of my life.

When vacation ended, I got back on Hugo and began the usual round (a bit diminished, due to it being rather hot). It was back to the regular round, and I certainly was looking forward to it as a natural and generally delightful part of my life.

The second thought that came to me recently about all of this has to do with the simple pleasure of that most frequent trip, the daily commute.

In a car, my commute is generally about getting there, pure-and-simple. All the attendant frustrations encountered along the way frustrate in an especially frustrating way. But when cycling, I often find the trip to be a time of transition, an opportunity for thinking creatively about the day to come, the day that has been, and the satisfaction in the life I lead. Experiencing neighborhoods, geography, the elements and season, people, and nature in the context of moderate exercise produces a rather surprising contentment, even when I am under pressure.

When I travel that same distance by auto, the experience is flatter, rushed, and isolated. The routes I take on bike and via auto are similar, but are subtly different: the miles driven are about efficiency; the miles pedaled concern deeper matters, ones that don't put time on quite the same pedestal. That, in itself, is part of what makes Upright Cycling so truly satisfying. It opens doors to rooms in life I tend to forget or undervalue otherwise.

Understanding the ordinary in life as possessing something extraordinary, mysterious, and indeed holy is at the core of the spiritual tradition I live in. Even one's commute is not immune to this insight...particularly when it is taken more at the speed of life and in the world in which I truly live.