Is it the journey or the destination?
Bicyclists have a unique view about the above question. On one hand, the end of the ride they are on is constantly in their minds — whether it is a grocery store, a doctor's office, a campsite, a restaurant, or simply home.
But going at the speed they use, perhaps the journey itself is even more important. Unlike a trip in a car, train, or airplane, which involves flashing by the landscape, bicycle travel allows for unlimited views and opportunities for experiencing the country.
Moreover, it's up to the individual. Want to look at something in detail? Just pull over and enjoy. It's possible to do that in a car, but sometimes awkward to find a parking space when and where you want it. And then there's the whole problem of getting out of the vehicle and orienting yourself to the point of interest. Of course, it's obvious that stopping when you want to is impossible in a train or a plane.
But the journey is more than the scenery, the terrain, the architecture, or even the local people you meet while on a bike journey. A good part of it is the pure physical exertion. Those hills that appear so lovely in the distance have to be traversed — and not by external power. No, by human power. And it's you alone who has to do it. No one can give you an assist. You and you alone pushing down on your pedals is what makes it happen.
Somehow using your body directly to move forward comes with a compelling satisfaction — both when you come to the destination, and even more when you are traveling to it.
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One way to note the primacy of the journey is to consider not having it. Staying at a destination — a city or a vacation spot, no matter how attractive — for days on end becomes passe. Once you have seen the local sights (usually through minor journeys), the mind and the body yearns for another journey or more of them. We are not made to be stationary, to be glued to one place without the possibility of journeys.
Or are we? Don't we secretly relish the routine, the hum-drum, the ordinary? Don't we spend much effort, time and resources in setting up our homes — our everyday destinations – to be comfortable places to spend our time?
Sure, don't we go and enjoy the usual everyday destinations — work, school, stores? But isn't the journey to get to these minutia of mundane living somewhat more exciting than the destination itself, especially if it is done on a bicycle? And that, of course, to me is at the heart of the matter. The destination might be the ideal, but what if the getting there is an unsatisfactory act?
What if you are encased in an all-metal body, traveling at such a speed that nothing beyond yourself is hardly apparent? In other words, you're not on a bike, but in car!
Contrast that to traveling on a lightweight, open-to-the-air vehicle, using all of your senses, seeing the whole sweep, smelling the nuances of the passageways, hearing the cacophony of real life, feeling the ups and downs of the terrain, and almost tasting the ending coming up — where you'll enjoy food and drink, comradeship, and rejuvenating rest.
In the big picture, we on our bikes riding through our journeys of life, seeking and searching for the glowing ideal at the end.
No matter what the destination proves to be, we know that it's the journey that counts just as much, if not more than, what's at the end of it.
You've heard it before, but with bicycling it a truism: It's our journeys that are our real destinations.
Chuck Oestreich, of Rock Island, is a longtime cyclist.