China by Bicycle :: April -- October '98

Subject: I am the bicycle's student.
Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 18:48:52 -0700

18:46 Feitian Hotel, Dunhuang; Gansu--China :: SU 30 AUG 98

It's a little like water skiing, slalom, on a lake of glass. The sand between scattered clumps of thorny, ground-hugging scrub. Tires floating. Subtle adjustments on the handlebars as the tail slides, as the bike leans and yaws, as the turn that will right it comes around, slowly, slowly. Pedaling, pedaling.

Twenty kilometers an hour, I suppose. Perhaps twenty five. Across the open desert, crumbling Ming Great Wall, sand engulfed, on my right. Sun low, shadows long where the golden light cannot reach. Pedaling, pedaling.

No encumbring trailer. No camp to set up, or hotel to find at the end of the ride. A ride purely for pleasure, a ride made for a mountain bike. A tasty little ride. Floating on a film of sand. Pedaling, pedaling.

Try to climb the sand bank, up onto the Great Wall. Sand softens with the steepness. Back down to the level. Pedaling, pedaling.

A destination, yes. Where the Ming Great Wall ends, high above the Taoli river. A destination; an excuse to ride. Pedaling, pedaling.

Four thousand kilometers in China. Pedaling, pedaling. Heaving, heaving. Always with a point, a destination in mind. Riding to see, of course. The point of a cycle tour. Proximity and pace, to stop and experience. To enter the world being toured without the barriers of windows and doors and barely muffled engines. And riding for challenge, to make the mileage, to lose yourself in the physical endeavour; riding to find the limits of endurance, of strength, of courage. Riding to clear your mind as a monk's chanting intends. Pedaling, pedaling.

Exhileration. The descents following the climbs. Steep, winding. Arcing through space crouched low and tight, a razor cutting the air. Speed. Adenalin. Rush. Rolling, rolling.

But this smooth float across the desert, picking my way around tufts and clumps of tough little plants, is about something else. To ride. Only to ride. Pedaling, pedaling.

Today, already, down loose, rocky steeps. Saddle in your gut, hips low over the back tire, arms extended fully. Stones scramble under tires, rolling not skidding. Light pressure on the brakes. The sharp-angled bottom. Let the shocks compress, let the forks absorb the impact, let the bike do what it was designed for. Then climb back up. Low gear. Pedaling, pedaling.

A fast descent over gravelly dirt and dust. Centred over the pedals, off the saddle. Absorbing, absorbing the ripples, the bumps. Head in a smooth line over the bucking frame. Gathering, gathering, gathering speed. Brake for the corner. Lean, counter-steer. Pedaling, pedaling.

And now, across the sandy flats, Great Wall mingling with the sand to my right. Later I will pay the piper. Thorny clumps scattered amongst the sand. In the morning, I will pay. Pulling thorns from a flattened tire. Patching, patching, eight times patching. Grin a mile wide. Remembering: Pedaling, pedaling.


Zen and the Art of Bicycle Riding
Wed, 19 Aug 1998 19:20

Taken from the May/June 1989 Utne Reader, which took this from Shawn Gosieski, New Cyclist, Fall 1988. (and it has come in from other sources -ed)

A Zen teacher saw five of his students returning from the market, riding their bicycles. When they arrived at the monastery and had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, "Why are you riding your bicycles?"

The first student replied, "The bicycle is carrying the sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!" The teacher praised the first student, "You are a smart boy! When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over like I do."

The second student replied, "I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path!" The teacher commended the second student, "Your eyes are open, and you see the world."

The third student replied, "When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant nam myoho renge kyo." The teacher gave praise to the third student, "Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel."

The fourth student replied, "Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all sentient beings." The teacher was pleased, and said to the fourth student, "You are riding on the golden path of non-harming."

The fifth student replied, "I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle." The teacher sat at the feet of the fifth student and said, "I am your student!"

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn't laugh,
it wouldn't be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest [fare] seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.
  graphical element Attributed to Lao Tse
The Tao Te Ching
Chapter 41
trans. Stephen Mitchell

[note: the web edition of this specifies the line as:

the greatest are seems unsophisticated,

clearly a mistake. And this mistake is repeated all across the net, in numerous reproductions of this translation. I insert "fare" because it's the only simple variant I can think of which makes any sense. I'll repair it completely when I get my hands back on the book itself.]