Music Makes Old Bike Routes New

I’m lucky. From my house I regularly choose from among six distinct country roads to ride pastoral loops that range from 50 to 100 kilometers. Further, as it were, I can extend those main routes into longer rides, covering the extensive farmland and hills encompassed within the road systems of Benton, Marion, Polk, and Yamhill counties in the Willamette Valley. Seldom do I need to pedal through city sprawl to enjoy splendid rural riding.

As lovely as my choices are, sometimes I get into a mental rut and miss out on the loveliness of the world around me from any of my half dozen loops. It’s not surprising given how often I ride and how long I’ve used this home as a base. Repetition is bound to foster monotony.

When I sense a day’s ride is going to be more psychologically enervating than energizing, I turn on my iPhone’s iPod app and listen to a playlist. With music as my riding partner I can experience an old ride as something new.

Unlike some cyclists, when I ride solo I rarely listen to music. As a rule, I prefer my own thoughts as my companion. Music can be a distraction. However, at times, it can be an inspiration, both as fuel for ideas as well as the catalyst for encountering well-worn paths with new perspective.

Occasionally, I will even go to the trouble of creating a playlist to match a planned ride. I set songs in an order that I hope will change my attitude at a given point of the route. Being old and slow, while struggling up a steep hill I might like Ray Charles crooning an easily paced Come Rain or Come Shine, an appropriate tune for the damp weather of the Pacific Northwest. Sheryl Crowe’s Good Is Good is also a good song to help me set a good stride when faced with daunting inclines. Plus, it’s good.

Luckily, not all parts of my rides are uphill. On the flats I like to vary my pace from moderate, to quick to fast to blisteringly speedy (for me). So, I’ll string together, say, Fiona Apple’s Criminal,  Bang Bang to the Rock ‘n Roll by Gabin, Bonnie Raitt’s Thing Called Love, and finish up with Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival for a fifteen minute or so sprint.

Naturally, I’ll swap out or add to the playlist with various other songs and artists. Given my advanced years, I have a penchant for golden oldie rock and roll. There’s ample samples of Allman Brothers Band, Kinks, Lynnard Skynard, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, ZZ Top, and the like. But I also appreciate the less antique sounds of Amy Winehouse, Dixie Chicks, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M., The Kills, and many others. All of which can pump up my adrenaline along with my RPM.

Once in a while, I’ll focus on a single artist. I like Nina Simone, the greatest singer I’ve ever heard, for an entire ride. She could hum the phone book and it would blow your socks off. When she’s my riding partner, everything looks and feels fresher.

If I’m feeling pensive melodies by Bill Evans can enhance the mood on a ride, while still making an old route feel new. And, admittedly, a good rendition of Wagner’s Parsifal can revive a familiar route into something strange and exotic, if listened to carefully enough.

All this is to say, is that while I generally eschew music on my solo rides, when I do indulge in it, as I did today, it can make a road I take for granted into something unexpected and fun all over again. Once again I’ve learned that music can make our familiar and common world into a new and vitally different place.

© Mark Everett Hall 2011

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