The Definition of Wander, by Bicycle

I have been intrigued by wandering and the image of the flaneur for many years. I’ve rambled on foot, aimlessly driven, and flown to new places. My rediscovery of the bicycle as a tool for meandering has enhanced my understanding of movement, space, and time to a degree these other mediums only hinted at. A bike is more complex than shoes and easier to service personally than a car; without the speed of an airplane or the slow exhaustion of running, a bicycle meets its seated traveler in the middle.

To go from one town to another on foot may require sticking out one’s thumb, while the two wheels and gears (if you’re that kind of cyclist) make sufficiently efficient the transition between most adjacent towns possible, at least outside of Alaska. While many bike afficionados might agree with everything I’ve said so far, I would like to advocate for a more controversial perspective.

Yes, the mileage per time achievable on a bike is duly impressive and the maps you might make of a single journey may confound those who only measure centuries in years. However, a wander on a bike is not about what you’ve achieved at the end of the ride. It’s about the process throughout. A bike wander involves recognizing and undoing one’s impulse to compete with others on the path (and eliminating one’s frustrations with the hijinks of cars, pedestrians, and other riders, whether or not those others have motor powered vehicles). The wander involves listening carefully to when to stop, visiting the places along the way who might pour you a cup of coffee and make you a sandwich. It’s about spending twenty minutes watching a sandhill crane eat a mouse or raise its fuzzy babies (by turns among the most disturbing and adorable experiences).

Do not find out how many miles you went or how many hours you were out. Do write in your journal and find the inspiration for poems along the way. Velocity of beautiful landscapes doesn’t count, as such things can’t be measured. Bring your tools and your tubes and hope for a flat tire, to get to be intimate with the machine upon which you lean for your hours afield. Be not deterred by heat or cold or wind, for you have no place to be in a hurry and you will find the shade and mittens and fireplaces and camping spots to enable your journey to continue.

Pace yourself as if you might be riding until midnight (and sometimes do just that). Consider yourself lucky if you are lost and luckier when you can wave to a fellow wanderer along the way. Defeat the inertia of the morning or afternoon which might hold you captive indoors. No matter what the day, your wandering is legitimate, doable, and desirable. Learn yourself as you go, whether you are hearing a book, music, the birds, silence, or traffic, and learn to know the world, and learn that nothing can be known entirely.

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