The Bicycle in Spain is like life…pleasure, pain, pleasure and pain. Also David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries.

Chris and I love to see the Spanish terrain at different speeds. We look from a plane, a car, a train, during a walk and perhaps my favorite perspective,  seeing Spain from a bike. I was very surprised after I wrote these words to find a very similar quote in the marvelous, Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne.

“ The point of view - faster than a walk, slower than a train, often slightly higher than a person - became my panoramic view…” David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

Byrne, who cycles like I do at home, (only better because he is a rock star) has written a diary chronicling 7 years of thoughts, sights, and experiences on his bicycle. He uses his fold-up bike, commuter style while on tour and at home; he goes here, there and everywhere. This style of riding differs a bit from strapping the bike onto a car rack and heading to the country for long tours or races. He, instead, carries his bike and utilizes this mode of transportation to connect and find center in a lifestyle that could otherwise be stressful and filled with a sense of separation. As B.K.S. Iyengar says,  whole living is learning to live between the earth and the sky.

“ I found that biking around for just a few hours a day - or even just to and from work - helps keep me sane. People can lose their bearings when they travel, unmoored from their familiar physical surroundings …… It (biking) sounds like some form of meditation, and in a way it is.” David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

His connection to Baltimore was also a nice surprise bringing me more pleasure from the read.

“ I’ve been riding a bicycle as my principle means of transportation in New York since the early 1980’s. I tentatively at first gave it a try, and it felt good even here in New York. I felt energized and liberated. I had an old three-speed left over from my childhood in the Baltimore suburbs, and for New York, that’s pretty much all you need.” David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

While here in Spain, Chris and I start out on our bikes early. We begin before the sun rises too much and the cool dry air of the Lliber valley warms. In fact, the air in the wee-hours of morning contains a slight chill, even in July.

In his book, Byrne shares his perspective from the bike on a wide range of topics: city planning, matters of the heart, and quality of life. His realism is inspiring. His view far more clear than the blur one might experience from a car or a tour bus. He says,

“Living "in" a story, being part of a narrative, is much more satisfying than living without one. I don't always know what narrative it is, because I'm living my life and not always reflecting on it, but as I edit these pages I am aware that I have an urge to see my sometimes random wandering as having a plot, a purpose guided by some underlying story.”  David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

When we ride, Chris and I talk a bit but mostly we just look at the Spanish landscape. Costa Blanca is magnificent. At one point the UN declared this part of the world as having the best climate on the planet. Our part of Spain is a little nose that sticks out into the Mediterranean. This coupled with a landscape that was built by giant edges of the last ice age provides some of the most interesting riding in the world. Effort on the mountainous terrain is a challenge but the roads are good and the scenery is unbelievable. There is rarely a car and we are free to pedal, climb, and down hill soar.

“ Where is this all going? I’m optimistic these days. I envision transformed cities, often with more people on the streets. People who aren’t made to feel that they are intruders, secondary to cars.” David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries.

When we travel by bike, I see the side of the road and the distance as a collage of two realities, far and near. One is no truer than the other. They become like poetry. Each it’s own metaphor, a picture of now, as it is.  The distant view of Spain often contains terraces and medieval history, crumbling towers and hillside towns. In a way the distance wears a whitewash of nirvana while close by the scene includes orchards, birds, plastic, concrete, and a dry version of the earth. Glue them together and you have Costa Blanca, our home.

“I wouldn't be surprised if poetry--poetry in the broadest sense, in the sense of a world filled with metaphor, rhyme, and recurring patterns, shapes, and designs--is how the world works. The world isn't logical, it's a song.” David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

Chris and I always set moderate goals when we head out. We will just ride a few kilometers today. This way neither one of us will balk or say, oh no too far, we cannot go! Then off we ride, first down the cobbled streets of our village, then onto the smooth paved roads of the valley.

“Bicycle Manufacturers are responding to urban development as well. Many more models of city bikes are available…. These bikes, -many loosely modeled on the Dutch style bikes or the old school bikes some of us had as kids- aren’t for racing or doing tricks, but for getting around elegantly and cleanly.” David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

The first climb arrives quickly. Our valley is an ancient seabed filled with vineyards. Originally the industry was dominated by the production of sweet Muscat raisins but today it is known for its wines. We cannot travel far before finding a hill. The first thought is: oh, we are too old for this, too weak, or too scared. I can recognize this habitual thinking; it is part of the narrative, a result of the pain.  It only takes a few minutes of breath for this part of the story and these thoughts to pass; the ride is too much fun. It only takes a small piece of concentration for everything to change and over the first hill comes the second sensation of joy. This joy surpasses the first thrill of getting on the bike and starting out. The fun moves to the next level where we are overwhelmed by a sense of accomplishment mingled with the freedom a bike brings.

We often get to our intentioned finish line quicker than we would have expected. We decide we want more. The pain and pleasure has come and gone often enough that we are comfortable and we can immerse in the joy. The balance and the trust is coupled with the exhilaration of new lands and empty roads. Time has no hold on us, we continue.

“In a way this was one of the best and most memorable bike rides I have ever taken. In a car one would have sought out a freeway, one of the notorious concrete arteries, and would never have seen any of this stuff. Riding for hours…was visceral and heartbreaking- in ways that looking at ancient ruins aren’t. I recommend it." David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

Today we climbed toward Bernia Mountain, the full loop is 30 kilometers and the views are not only beautiful but the landscape is silent. You know how I feel about silence, just the sound of our breath as we climbed straight up. We climbed for 8 KM then whoooosh down hill, down hill, down hill.

David Byrne in his book travels to many different cities on several different continents, some, which were surprising, like Manila and others  more expected like London or San Francisco. The 42 pages of American cities are a perfect snapshot reflecting my lifetime. His perspective includes, time before revitalization of cities through the regeneration of these same urban areas in the 21st century. He notes some of the urban planning mistakes in our era and as a rider, he endures some of the consequences

“ Various disastrous urban renewal schemes of the 1960’s and the 1970’s have yet to be undone. A beautiful freeway cuts the North side in two, insulating the stadiums and all their attendant businesses from the local neighborhoods.” David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

This morning I noticed as we pedal through the village, it is like we are moving through a castle with hallways that are made for royalty. The roads are quiet and simply beautiful. The materials are stone and brick and residents are out washing the sidewalks, watering the plants, and painting the walls. Everyone is present. Nothing here is an imitation of some image seen on television. American malls and even neighborhoods are imitations of this; a real village where the community works together to be the heart of the system.

Our cities, Byrne says,

“are physical manifestations of our deepest beliefs and our often-unconscious thoughts…. Our values and hopes are sometimes awfully embarrassingly easy to read. They’re right there- in our storefronts, museums temples, shops and office buildings and in how the structures interrelate and how sometimes they don’t. They say, in their unique visual language, “ This is what we think matters, this is how we live and how we play. Riding a bike through all this is like navigating the collective neural pathways of some vast global mind.” David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

I guess I’ll stop here although the ride continues and I haven’t quite finished Byrne’s book. I still have two chapters to go. I guess that means Bicycle Diaries will continue. Perhaps I will write about one of our loops around Parcent or Murla or Orba? Perhaps I will gain more understanding of the yoga practice and how it relates to riding?

“Ride a bike in Istanbul? Are you nuts? Yes… and no." David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries


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