Long bike rides are an exercise in sensory overload. There’s so much to take in over the course of a day. The landscape, of course. Socializing with other riders. Monitoring the way you’re feeling, gauging your effort, measuring what you’re putting out now against how much work you have ahead. Watching everything that happens on the road, knowing that a momentary lapse of attention, an unseen crinkle in the pavement, an unremarkable pebble, could interrupt your ride or end it if you’re unlucky. Keeping an eye on other riders when you’re riding in a pack, taking pains to make sure you ride steadily and predictably while watching everyone else to make sure they’re doing the same. It’s hard to believe how absorbing the sight of a rear wheel spinning 12 inches in front of your front wheel can be until you’ve spent an hour or two or three watching one while trying to stay aware of the road ahead and what other riders are doing; it’s active, rolling meditation.
Beyond the pure physical effort, the factor I identify most with cycling is landscape. I think more than any other reason, that’s why I’m motivated to get on my bike and go. Just thinking about yesterday, when I rode the Davis Double Century, the sight memories all by themselves are overwhelming. A golden eagle. A hundred-foot high dike of lava. Creeks and streams running hard and full. But instead of trying to paint the whole day, just one brief impression: Rolling back toward Davis across the westernmost stretch of the Sacramento Valley an hour or so before sunset, passing acre after acre of newly flooded rice paddies near Interstate 505. The day had been warm, the Valley is just above sea level, and there it felt humid as midsummer in the Midwest. The sky was flawless, the not-quite-full moon well up over the long eastern horizon. The wind was down, and the paddy water held perfect casts of every detail of the world around and the heavens above. In the distance: egrets, night herons, terns, working the edges of the inundated fields; me and all the others rolling past, opening and closing circles, feeling for perfect rhythm.