Blogging My Book: Pedaling to Better Powers of Observation

When I was in my early twenties, I set the goal of bicycling through all 50 of the United States. It only took 12 years – and more than 15,000 miles – to reach the finish line. That happened during a predawn thunderstorm outside Las Vegas, Nevada.

Along the way, I met such on-the-road challenges as traversing the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains and the Southwestern deserts. I also experienced many off-the-bike adventures. They include a visit to former President Jimmy Carter’s residence, a brief stint as a Kansas wheat farmer, and a night in an Arkansas jail; I was looking for a place to stay in a small town, and the police chief offered floor space in the visitors’ room.

Traveling without the protective bubble of a vehicle provides a wonderful opportunity to see, hear, feel, and smell the world around you. Add to this the minimalist nature of bicycle travel. Having limited carrying space forces you to rely on as little photo gear as possible. On my bike, I only had room for one camera body and one lens. So, that’s what I worked with.

And, quite often, I still do. I like to call this approach “Bike-tography.” It’s the art of combining bicycling with photography.

How has traveling by bike helped me develop better powers of observation? Well, for one thing, I’m not a speedster. I amble along at 10 miles per hour — or less — and that leisurely pace allows me to see everything.

If I spot something interesting, I can stop on a dime, get off the bike, and take a closer look. In the above photo, I was enjoying a break during a ride on The Loop, a 55-mile trail that goes around the edge of Tucson.

What was interesting? The footprint patterns in the dry Rillito riverbed below my bike, the neighing of the horses at the ranch behind me, and the hellbent-for-leather speed racers who were pedaling furiously as they passed by.

Poor racers. They were missing the best show in town.

These enhanced powers of observation have been very helpful in my latest book project. I’m finding that it’s not enough to write about the transformation of my place into an urban oasis, I need to delve deeply into details.

So, thank you, bicycle travels, for helping me to become detail-oriented.

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