Giving Me The Gears

Looking back, my fascination with communication and my knees probably started about the same time somewhere on Highway 16 heading from Edmonton to Jasper with Jaime and Bart. On our bicycles. There was a lot of back and forth between us, of course. Three high-school-university friends on touring bikes had enough to talk about.  How best to find comfort on the concrete floor of a camp kitchen in Obed? Can you eat too much yogurt? Is it wrong to mix rum and orange juice? What did Plato mean by the young are to be taught in play? Is that really banjo music or just the wind playing tricks? Can you put Vaseline there? (I don't mean you, I mean can one....?) And on and on from politics to girls to derailleurs, which, if you think about it, is not that difficult a gear change.

But it was a different kind of communication that took hold that trip. It was the communication of gears.

I learned the obvious, that we weren't going to get to Jasper in a day. And I learned the not-so-obvious, that the touring cyclist can pick up all sorts of messages if he listens to the road, the slope of the road, the wind, the direction and force of the wind, his knees, his muscles and the rest of the cyclosphere.

Up until then, I think my imagination was the hockey player's. Go, go harder, hit hard, go, skate, go, go, go. I learned patience on that trip. The sky has a way of imparting humility. The mountain that seems never to get closer can do the same.

The real goal was to be able to keep going. And that meant taking care of my legs, my knees, and the way to do that was to keep spinning the pedals at a constant rate, not too slow (knee strain), not too fast (wasted energy). And the way to keep the pedals moving at a near-constant number of revolutions per minute was to listen to the road and the wind and change gears accordingly.

It was an inner conversation, but it was also the kind of shared commitment to knowledge that makes for friendship. And a kind of harmony. And that  kind of stuff gets bred in the sit bones.

It's been a few years since I have been on a bike regularly, but I knew it was time to gear down and get back to the thoughts that come in self-propelled motion. I drive way too much. I have seen the sunset from a bike saddle not enough times.

I realized tonight how beautiful is the sound of a gravel path when it talks to a rubber tire. It's like a round and round of applause. If you listen and have gears to hear.


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