It grabs us. Momentarily we may stop pedaling, inhale deeper, widen our eyes, maybe even get off our bike altogether and take that Instagram-able photo.
Think about the times when you bike to the top of a mountain, looked out over a river, saw a double rainbow after getting caught riding through a storm.
These are moments of awe.
by Sarah Mount — Pactimo Ambassador
Awe is often described as a simultaneous experience of fear, wonder, and reverence. While biking these moments seemed to happen to me more than usual. I didn’t have a word for it for quite sometime… I didn’t even know it was a phenomena. At least, not until I found myself in the middle of the Arizona desert alone and in awe.
While I loved my take-it-all-in rides, my priorities shifted a bit over the last year. I decided to dedicate 2021 to racing, my first full race season - delayed due to the pandemic. Suffering through interval sets (though a secret pleasure) reduced how much of the landscape around me I took in. I did a lot of crits all held at a concrete jungle. In the heat of tough moments I forgot there an anything around me whatsoever. In retrospect, I can see how this was starting to become a default setting during all bike rides - taking in nothing around me.
The seasoned ended and the grind of work picked up. A pleasure and a stressor, I travel to Sedona, Arizona for a retreat which I was coordinating. The hiccups and setbacks felt near constant that week. But, I had the luxury of being in a uniquely beautiful area. And, the conference was on Positive Psychology, which was a reminder to refocus myself as emotions ebbed and flowed.
I learned about the psychological experience of awe. The experience of awe has the power to shift our attention away from ourselves, toward a sense of something “larger”, it can even change our perception of time and allow us to experience more greater feelings of generosity and gratitude.
I thought about how these experiences might dovetail with what happens to us emotionally and psychologically while biking. A simplification but commonly understood is that exercise solicits an increase in the production of serotonin, norepinephrine, and serotonin. All neurotransmitters that might just make us a little bit happier. While biking through the rock beds in Arizona after the conference ended, I started to contemplate:
Are we predisposed to the experience of awe when we’re biking and already generating endorphins and emotions that lead us to happier and more open? If so, how can I do this more often? How can I cultivate awe in every ride?
Here are a few simple ideas:
Go for a ride with the intention of being open and observant. Take the pretty route, even when you’re busy and you think you don’t have time. Slow down, force yourself to tune in.
Follow a cyclist who inspires you. Get to know them and their story. Maybe it’s Pactimo’s own cyclocross athlete, Caroline Mani. Read about their triumphs and their struggles. Cultivate that sense of connect to this person when you’re riding.
Take a stop during your ride. It doesn’t need to be a destination and you don’t even need to plan it. Just stop maybe at the top of a hill, near a stream, wherever. Give the view your full attention for 2 minutes.
Focus on your breathing. Not for maximum watts and VO2. Breathe to connect to your body and you’ll naturally become more aware.
Journal about your rides. Write down what moved you, where you lingered and how it felt. Return to this on days when you’re forcing yourself through a ride, not wanting to train, or nervous about a race.
Awe is simple and it is also profound. It’s known to decrease our stress levels, it stimulates generosity, kindness, and makes us more satisfied with life.
Luckily for me, my home in Northwestern Wisconsin offers plenty of these aweeee-wow landscapes. Silence, forests, ridges, valleys, fields, gravel, vastness, idyllic farms - on every ride something romantic and intimate seemed to greet me. It sort of sounds too good to be true.
If I can let go, just for a moment… let my eyes widen, let my jaw drop, and inhale into the vastness, I remember why I ever started cycling… it’s pure joy and awe.