Zen and the Art of Long-Distance Bicycling

The Cenex store in Hazelton, North Dakota, was full of baling twine the other day and conversations about repairing bailing machines.  ‘Tis the season, as the first crop of hay is ready in thousands of acres of nearby fields.  The expression, “Make hay while the sun shines,” rings true to its origins out here on the prairie in June: no time to waste when the grass is cut and the sun is baking it dry, with thunderheads threatening.image

My trip across this stretch of country is governed by an adaptation of the hay adage: “Make miles while the tail-wind blows.”  The winds can change dramatically from day to day as the high and low pressure systems drift across the land.  I check my weather and radar apps daily in order to assess whether I’ll have an easy day or a handlebar-gripping workout, and I plan my mileage goals accordingly.

Today was one of those amazing convergences when everything came together: a truly Zen moment on the bicycle.  I had a 20 mph tail-wind all day; a road (ND 46) that is said to be the longest stretch of arrow-straight highway in the U.S.; my legs moving in cadence like a well-oiled machine while riding on a well-oiled machine; and nothing to clog the mind except to contemplate the infinity point where the road meets the horizon in front of me.  Bicycle meditation at its best.  image

Of course, meditation is all about being in the moment and letting distractions fade away.  While riding my bike, it is NOT about daydreaming or drifting off — it is really about focusing on the road directly in front of me, taking in the scene on either side, and always listening and checking the rear-view mirror for the next 18-wheeler (or any vehicle for that matter) that is coming up behind me.  Safety first!  When in this moment, pretty much everything else is out-of-mind, and I go for hours, pistons firing on all cylinders and peddles turning to the rhythm of my knees pumping up and down almost effortlessly.  I love this ride.

Speaking of well-oiled machines.  First, my bike is performing flawlessly.  It flows across the miles, and has not had a single issue to date.  I clean and lubricate the chain periodically, but otherwise trust this machine to perform.  It might be like talking about a no-hitter  going into the ninth inning, but check out the final statistic in my “Progress” list after 2000 miles.  Gotta love those Schwalbe Marathon tires.image

(I know I’m into a stiff wind when Old Glory is out straight while I’m stopped!)

And second, the aging body is doing remarkably well.  My butt still gets sore after 80 miles on the saddle, but it’s ready to roll again the next day.  (In the long run, my mom was probably right.)  I’m lathering on the sunscreen yet am turning brown as a nut with a classic “biker’s” tan.  I notice that my bike shorts are getting loose, and I don’t think it’s the shorts.  I’m burning 4000 to 5000 calories a day, and, you know?, it’s hard to eat that much day-in-day-out!  I expect that I’m getting meaner as well as leaner.


I didn’t realize until the other day that I’m passing through the “German Russian Triangle” in this part of North Dakota.  In Napoleon ND I spent a couple hours the other morning at the only cafe talking to a table full of locals, whose average age was over 90.  They all spoke with German accents although they were all born within 50 miles.  A large group of “Volga Germans” (originally recruited from Germany by Catherine the Great to settle in Russia, but later experienced repression there) emigrated to North America in the late 1800s and settled in this area, bringing their German language and traditions with them.  This group in the Napoleon cafe was a hoot: very friendly, inquisitive about my trip and my life, and full of vim and vigor.  They all looked like apple dolls, their weathered faces having spent 9 decades farming the land.  One of the 90+-year-old women patted my shoulder on her way out of the diner and said,”Be careful out there.  But if not, name it after me,” with a wink.  One of the other women left with a parting goodbye:  “Mach’s gut.”  Her husband translated:  “Make it good.”  I love these small towns.


So carefully I proceed, meditating when the conditions are right and keeping a relentless focus on East.  I’ll get to Fargo tomorrow.  Four states down, twelve to go.


— Dave (posted on 6/22/2016 from Enderlin, North Dakota, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this weekend)


7 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Long-Distance Bicycling

  1. Dave, it’s so wonderful seeing a part of the country I never travelled to through your stories and your amazing photographs. Happy pedaling and many more tail winds my friend! Can’t wait to read and watch the next report of your adventure – Doris


  2. Dave,

    I am so enjoying your intimate descriptions and stories! It is lovely and heartwarming to hear in your words the joy, awe and love for our country that only your experience can provide. I continue to look forward to your messages. Keep it up and stay safe and healthy.

    Hugs, Sandra


  3. Dave,
    It’s so cool that you are experiencing the wonder and joie de vivre you anticipated. Funny how that works!


  4. Dave, nice description. My pleasure of getting into ND was the end of MT’s ship seal, but they make up for it in putting rumble strips most everywhere.

    Helene says hi, and has gotten into all the birds, especially in ND. MN doesn’t have as many rumble strips, and even has some Rail-to-Trails to take advantage of.

    My prioritized list of determinants for a good day of riding are 1. Wind direction & velocity. 2. The presence of what CalTrans call “weather cracks” and how well sealed they are. I’ve lost quite a few bits of food from my handlebar bag going across these things. 3. Nutrition & hydration. 4. Traffic & effective shoulder width. 5. Bodily functions, in general.

    Happy 4th , too. We ‘ll be in MI for Canada Day, tomorrow and spend the 4th in Ontario.

    Helene would like to send you a bird photo she can’t identify, is that a problem?

    I’ll need to send an email. Bon Route.


  5. Amazing post! I am myself a Zen buddhist and in August I will start my two mnth long bicycle trip thrugh Europe, from Sweden to Rome and back again at the other side. Inspiring post once again!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s