When I am mountain biking, I am — unfortunately — easily distracted from the task at hand. When I should be paying attention to the fifteen to fifty feet ahead of me (depending on visibility of what’s ahead as well as how technical the trail is), I will sometimes make the crucial and possibly unforgivable error of looking off to one side or another.
I will, instead of attending to the trail, look at the mountain. Or at a pretty tree. Or the sky. Or at animals and bugs.
Sometimes, I will completely lose my head, stop altogether, and start talking with the people on the ride.
I should know better. Eyes on the trail, man; feet on the pedals. Focus. Focus! This ain’t no time for jibber-jabber!
I can’t help myself. When I’m mountain biking, I want to look around.
Fortunately, I generally am much better-behaved when I ride my road bike. When I’m riding on the road, I pay attention to the thing I ought to be paying attention to.
When I am off the road bike, I sometimes wonder what is so special about that white line. All it signifies, when I’m off the bike, is where the shoulder begins. When I’m in a car, for example, I will glance at it and think nothing more than, “I should probably not cross that line, since I don’t like the sounds of rumble strips, and The Hammer will think I’ve fallen asleep at the wheel again.”
And then I won’t think about it again until I fall asleep at the wheel (again).
Indeed, when I am not riding my road bike, hours and hours and hours might elapse with me giving the white line nary a thought. And I’ll bet that you’re no different. I’ll bet, in fact, that if you haven’t been out road riding today, you haven’t dwelt on the white line for more than 0.2 seconds (excluding, of course, the time you’ve been thinking about it while reading this post).
But if you have been riding today, I’ll bet you’ve spent a considerable amount of quality time with the white line. As in, I’ll bet you’ve spent more time looking at the white line than any other object today.
Which is, when you think about it, quite weird.
Now, don’t get your hackles up. I’m not saying you’re weird. No. I’m saying we’re weird, because I don’t even know how much time I’ve spent staring at that white line in my road-riding, cycling lifetime. I am, however, happy to make a number up out of thin air. Over fifteen years of riding, I’ll bet more than two thousand hours. Conservatively.
Yes, that’s right. Having made this number up, I’m now quite confident that I’ve spent more than two thousand hours staring at the white line painted on a road.
What’s Even Stranger
What’s even stranger than how much time I’ve spent staring at the white line, though, is what I’ve been staring at the white line instead of.
When, for example, last year Kenny, Heather, The Hammer and I relay raced from Moab to St. George — 500 miles in one day, across some of the most stunning desert landscape you could ever hope to take in — guess what my predominant memory of the course is?
The white line.
Or how about my most vivid memory of Mt. Nebo, my favorite local training century ride, due to the obscene amount of climbing, the staggering mountain vistas, and the intense paceline return trip?
The white line.
Or — and this hurts me to say it, because it’s pretty embarrassing — what about that trip-of-a-lifetime cycling vacation The Hammer and I took to France last summer? My very first biking trip in Europe?
Well, I saw a lot of beautiful things, that’s for sure. But when I was on the bike, I saw more white line than everything else put together.
If you want to blow the minds of a roomful of cyclists sometime, pose the question: “How much time, in the history of modern cycling, do you think the sum total of cyclists have spent staring at a white line?”
The number, I assure you, is staggering, and probably has “to the power of” in it somewhere.
The Strangest Thing of All
But you know what’s really, truly strange? This: I am not even a tiny bit ashamed or regretful of all that time I’ve spent staring at the white line.
Really. I’m not.
Because I think that staring at the white line is indicative of the biggest difference between road and mountain biking. And, in fact, it’s part of why I love road biking.
See, when you’re staring at the white line, your eyes are fully occupied. And since you’re on a road bike with your body performing a demanding-but-repetitive action, your body is fully occupied, too.
This leaves your mind free to wander a bit.
While staring at the white line, I’ve had my best blog post ideas just pop into my head (in fact, a good road ride is the one surefire way I can be guaranteed to come up with a usable post idea; ask The Hammer how many times I’ve said, while we’re riding together, “Hey, I just realized what I’m writing about tomorrow.”). I’ve resolved difficult work problems, without being aware that I was even thinking of them.
And, occasionally, while staring at the white line, I’ve experienced tranquility. I’ve been riding along, pedaling away, trying to turn less squarey circles, and then . . . something happens.
Or maybe it’s more honest to say something stops happening. Regardless, time (I don’t know how much) passes, and I become aware again. I’ve gone some distance, but I don’t really remember it. I don’t remember what I was thinking, but I do know I feel good. Peaceful. Happy.
And all I was doing was riding my bike and staring at the white line.