To paraphrase Tim Krabbe, nature generously rewards those willing to court her.
In this column each month, I’m going to share something of my experience with the great outdoors. And when I say “the great outdoors,” I’m talking about the great Shippensburg outdoors — the amazing places to be and super-cool things to do that are accessible from campus. Places just down the road. Or maybe in the nearby mountains. But not that far away, opportunities abound.
A few friends of mine and I have a semi-regular practice of riding our bikes in the evening to Gettysburg. We stop at a coffee shop. There are brownies, cake, coffee and hot chocolate. Then we ride in the dark back over the mountain to Shippensburg.
It’s the ride back that makes the experience more than just another bike ride. Alone on mountain roads, we turn our lights off and just soak in the night. Clear skies mean a bright moon. A bright moon means moon shadows dancing across the tarmac. You can almost hear werewolves chasing about in the woods. These are magical moments. It is prayer. It is communion.
Cycling can be a lonely sport. In fact, that’s what attracts many of us to it. The hours spent alone, with only one’s thoughts for company, the miles slipping by as fast or as slow as your body will make them. It’s rejuvenating. It can salve the wounded soul (and aren’t we all, as Tyler Joseph put it, broken people?). Perhaps it is these qualities that invoke such intense devotion.
But cycling is also a social activity. There is an expression that we use sometimes, which I believe carries well the weight of what it means to share something so meaningful with others who find it similarly meaningful: Bike church. Or #bikechurch, if you will. (It’s a legit, though not terribly common Instagram hashtag. Really.)
One reason I like the expression is that it invokes two elements of the sport that cyclists do indeed consider sacred. First, there is the doing of the thing itself (like individual worship). Second, the social environment in which it is done (like church service).
A church is a community built on the commonality of one belief at the exclusion of others. It’s that one core belief or devotion that brings practitioners together.
Butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers set aside whatever differences they might have on the street, if just for an hour or two, to share in the expression of a common faith.
Similarly, #bikechurch brings cycling devotees together who may only have this one thing in common. But it’s enough. Politics, profession, age, gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality and even language; all these things that would divide us disappear in the solidarity of the group ride.
I may find your politics distasteful, but tell me you ride bikes, and, well, you must be a pretty decent person.
Cyclists don’t hold a monopoly on this sort of thing. Hobbyists and sport-lovers of all flavors have their churches. Worlds with unique rules and norms, and unique rewards for their devoted pilgrims.
There might just as well be #hikechurch, #paddlechurch, #climbchurch, #motochurch, #trailchurch, and on and on. (All these hashtags have indeed been used. I checked.)
Find your church. Nature is waiting.
Dr. Goates is an SU business professor. Each month he will be providing commentary under the column “goatspeak” to show students the outdoor activities they can get involved with in the Shippensburg area.