Cycling Mantras ~ Establishing Desert Rhythms

Bicycling is among my passions, one of the ways I connect to the world, my body, my being. The rhythm of riding, the cyclical nature of cycling, of spinning the crank arms, to spin a cogset, to spin the chain, so that the wheels spin. Round and round and round in a circle game…the movement and frame of mind parallels a meditation practice known as Vipassana, the intention of which is to focus entirely on the physical aspect of a task. In China’s vast deserts, I could cycle for hour upon hour, my connection between bicycle, body and the endless desert interrupted only occasionally by a passing vehicle.

Traversing China by bicycle marked my first awareness of the music I’d play in my mind while cycling. I’d settle into a rhythm, legs pumping, lungs breathing, heart beating, and some refrain from a song would rise into my consciousnes, or a few bars of melody. Repeating over and over and over, like the pedals, like my legs, like my lungs, like my heart. I’d sink into the rhythms and find a stillness in mind, a oneness with everything. Long before I began listening to mantras, I realised I was creating them. Pedalling across the desert became a meditation spanning hour upon hour, mile upon mile.

With Everything But the Girl‘s song Missing, I knew only a fragment, just the refrain. That fragment would transport me a million miles away. My cycling mantras don’t often begin with a conscious decision. One may be running in my mind’s ear for minutes or even hours without it ever entering my consciousness, without me being aware that it’s there. Then, something will take me out of the stillness, and I’ll notice the music in my thoughts.

And I miss you
(Like the deserts miss the rain)
And I miss you
(Like the deserts miss the rain)

Riding across the seemingly endless tract of desert ringing China’s Taklamakan Basin (the world’s second largest expanse of sand), there’s a breathtakingly beautiful solitude that sometimes devolves into loneliness. Becoming conscious of this refrain would transport me back home, to British Columbia, to someone I share a unique connection to and missed very much. No refrain could have described it better as I trundled across a vast, waterless landscape, a very small man on a very small bicycle with 200 kilometers of desert between himself and even the smallest of towns.

On and on
The rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on
The rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are

More desert tears to be found, in Holly Cole and Jesse Cook’s collaboration, Fragile, but it was the solitude amidst such an expanse of ascetic wilderness that would often bring this refrain to mind (again, a refrain was all I had). There’s a lament to it, a melancholy, but there’s a power in recognising one’s fragility within a landscape of immensity. That recognition comes with the understanding that you are connected to the landscape, part of it, and also that you are there, observing it and, in one sense, giving it the substance of reality by doing so.

Now this one, America’s Horse With No Name, this one I knew more of and would find myself singing aloud some bastardized version of the lyrics. It proved particularly useful on the most arduous sections of the highway, the moments when I needed to energise myself to get over some visible hurdle ahead. The song, on the whole, is about an epic journey, but again it was the refrain which would insert itself into my semi-consciousness as a mantra. This time, however, I rewrote it for suitability…

I’ve been through the desert
On a bike with no name
It felt good to get out of the rain

2 Responses to “Cycling Mantras ~ Establishing Desert Rhythms”

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  1. Gary says:

    Great post, Peter! I can dig what you say about cycling and how it helps you connect to world and being. I’ve not done much cycling at all in the past few decades, ha! Last time I was on a bike was when a friend and I cycled around the Ring of Kerry in County Kerry, Ireland. Was a lovely experience but in no way close to the extent of your journey.

    All four artists you mentioned have figured in my life, too. EBTG was a constant on my walkman (remember that?) in ’84 as I trundled and hitched my way around France, Spain etc; Jesse Cook entered my life in the…probably mid 80s when I got into flamenco style music courtesy of my friend, Cassie; Holly Cole’s cover album of Tom Waits songs remains a favourite, and, last but not least, America played a not insignificant part of my late teen years.

    Thanks for the memories!

  2. Peter says:

    Thanks, Gary.

    I do remember the walkman, though I never owned one. I did ski in the late 1970’s with what was essentially a car stereo deck strapped to my chest. Then again, once I bought a car in the late 80s, I drove everywhere, and the car tape deck was a carousel of music…unless I got one of a few tapes in there (Metheny/Oregon, or Pink Floyed, Wish You Were Here/Meddle) which tended to stay there for weeks.)

    Hmmm…. I’ve heard good things about cycling Ireland. A mate I once played hockey with goes there every year for a few weeks, “just to cycle — no stopovers, no kibbitzing with the locals, no cycle partners: me, the bicycle and Irish roads…that’s all I want”. Sounds pretty good to me. 😉

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