Staying Sane in the Saddle

Some people have hinted at, and a few have straight-out asked, “How do you and Joy handle so much together time without driving each other crazy?

Joy and I typically spend 5-6 hours each day actively cycling. Once you add in time for “second breakfast”, snack breaks, lunch,  a bunch of “butt breaks”, photo & pee breaks, our usual cycling day is 8-9 hours of elapsed time. Even though it would be awesome if Joy and I could spend all those hours riding side-by-side chatting about the random stuff you talk about during road trips in a car, this rarely happens. Most of the time we ride single file because we’re riding in a bike lane or along a narrow road shoulder and keeping as far right as we can. It’s a rare treat when we’re on dedicated bicycle trails that allow us to ride next to each other without worrying about cars.

The result is that even though we try to ride within 100 feet of each other, we spend a LOT of “alone time”.  Alone time with our own thoughts. There’s a reason our blog tag line is “Periodic thoughts of ephemeral value from the bike lane.”

So really, the question is, “How do we keep from being bored out of our minds as we cycle across the country?

We each do a lot of things.

Really Look, Listen, Smell

We’re steering clear of cities and taking small highways and backroads that have us meandering through the countryside. And the US is blessed with amazingly beautiful countryside and breathtaking landscapes. Even the Nevada desert was beautiful in subtle ways. Admittedly, it was a lot of days of subtlety, but it didn’t last forever before we were hitting Utah’s stark, dramatic landscapes.

Unlike a car trip, where the combination of air conditioning, the stereo playing your iTunes music, and the speed of travel combine to isolate you from what you’re driving past, we’re having a much more visceral interaction with what we’re passing. We are hearing the crickets, frogs, and birds claiming their territory (or looking for a sex partner). We are smelling the warm aroma of wild sage baking in the sun, fresh cow poop, or ripe road kill bloated with gases and waiting to explode just at the moment Joy rides past. (Ask her about this phobia some time.)

We are cycling along slowly enough that we can really look at the farm houses we ride past, wave at folks sitting on their porches, and even stop to chat with folks who ask us, “Where ya headed with all that gear?”

The way our senses are engaged by the places we’re passing keeps us entertained in ways that sitting in a car never does.

Chatting with Each Other

Our headsets

Joy and I have headsets that allow us to talk to each other or to listen to our iPhones. These headsets cover just one ear so we can listen to our music while also listening to traffic – an important safety requirement.

We’ll occasionally point out something interesting (geology, wildlife, an upcoming hill) or let each other know that one of us needs to stop. But when using our headsets, we mostly don’t tend to have long conversations the way you do when traveling in a car. We’ll often go 30 or 45 minutes without chatting.

Listening to Our iPhones

We each prefer to start each day listening to the world around us rather than to our iPhones. About 90 minutes into our ride Joy and I sync our headsets to our iPhones spend a few hours listening to music or to podcasts, though our approaches are completely different.

When it comes to music, I often choose a genre and then just “spin the dial” and listen to whatever album I land on. Joy decided to listen to all 8,743 titles in our iTunes library in alphabetical order by song title. She went through days and days of songs beginning with “Concerto.” And a few days on songs that begin with “Do” and then a lot more days on “Don’t“. She’s currently deep into a long section of songs that begin with “Ha” (hand, happy, hard, have…)

Although Joy will only listen to relatively recent podcasts, I’ve been working my way through a year’s backlog of different podcasts:

  • Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me
  • This American Life
  • Science Friday
  • Moth (story telling)
  • TED Radio Hour
  • NPR Politics

Collecting Things

I always keep an eye open for things that I can collect virtually. Like weird or funny signs. Mostly I post these to FaceBook and FB friends get a good sense of things we are seeing that are either straight-up funny or that strike San Francisco Bay Area sensibilities as eye opening.  I’ve also recently started collecting photos of unusual mailboxes.  And, of course, I always have an eye out for roadside memorials.

Thinking Deep Thoughts

We obviously spend a lot of time thinking.

For the first several weeks of our trip, I did a lot of math in my head. Those were hard days with a lot of climbing and/or heat. I was constantly calculating how far along we were at any given moment: “We’ve ridden 7 of of 47 planned miles today. Each mile is roughly 2.1%, so that’s just under 15% of our total ride. That means we’ll be cycling for another …” Now that we’re past all the mountains and the riding is easier, I don’t do anywhere near as much math.

Sometimes I compose chunks of these posts in my head. I used to spend a lot of time reflecting on my most recent job and how I could have done things better, but I’ve finally let that go. For better or worse, those folks are on their own!

We each also spend a lot of time thinking about and planning future adventures.

Sometimes I Get Bored

And sometimes I’m just plain bored and find other ways to entertain myself. Rather than explain what I do when boredom sets in, I’ve compiled a video that captures these moments, almost all of which happen behind Joy’s back.

(click the arrow to watch the video)

4 thoughts on “Staying Sane in the Saddle

  1. I cannot describe how much I enjoy the insights and the photos in your posts. I admire how you post so regularly, each one as good if not better than the last. Thank you so much for contributing to my summer delights.


  2. We met in London on the bike-path here, while you were on your way to Woodstock, Ontario.

    Since then my son and I completed our measly 180-ish km ride from Kingston to Ottawa, where he will attend the University of Ottawa. Actually, he rode further after sprinting ahead while I took a photo, and missed the only unmarked turned in over 100 miles! He was closer to 150 kms!
    We had two spare tubes, a couple of tire levers, and a multitool, two rain-shells and that’s about it. And Day 2 at 130 kms was a killer. I don’t know how you two do it day-after-day with all the stuff you need to bring.
    Keep going, and I know all about trying to stay sane in the saddle!!


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