BikeWalkLee Column ‘Go Coastal’
The News-Press, September 10, 2020
by Ken Gooderham
Mindfulness is an overused term these days, but it’s still a great way to describe the smart way to approach movement – whether cycling, walking or driving a vehicle.
Being present, being aware and being engaged is also being safe, at least when it comes to motion.
Too many cyclists, walkers and (especially) drivers work hard at being as mindless as possible. By that I mean being distracted, doing too many things at the same or letting emotions take over the wheel (or the handlebars). That’s a recipe for ruin.
What would mindfulness in motion look like?
For cyclists, it would be losing the headphones or the phone and paying attention to the world around you. It would mean watching out for potential problems – cars turning into your space, pedestrians on the path ahead, path conditions that might be unsafe, etc. And it would mean taking control of any threatening situation by taking steps to reduce or avoid the danger... not relying on outside forces or fates to keep you safe.
As an example, mindful cycling would be aware of all the surrounding activities that might impact you as a cyclist… from the cars at the intersection ahead waiting their turn to turn, to the walkers ahead on the bike path who are more engaged in conversation than they are in walking a straight line, to the debris on the shoulder where you’re riding that might force you into the traffic lane or that might be masking a sloppy surface for cycling.
For walkers and runners, it also means either losing the headphones or, at least, turning the volume down enough that you can also hear what’s going on around you. It means watching where you are in relation to others (especially vehicles) and proceeding in a way that’s predictable and protective. And it would mean being visible, being predictable and being careful.
For example, moving mindfully on foot would use all your senses (not just vision) to know what’s going on around you, especially to be certain the other (bigger and faster) things in motion around you are as aware of your presence as you are of theirs. It would mean being careful and consistent, looking both ways rather than just darting into traffic, adjusting for those around you who are moving faster or slower, and looking at the path ahead for hazards and hindrances.
Finally, for drivers first and foremost it would mean doing nothing else when you drive… no phone, no texting, no personal grooming or feeding, just keeping your eyes and attention on the road and what’s around you. It would mean acting rather than reacting, recognizing that as the biggest thing on the road you similarly carry the biggest responsibility for the safety of all. And it would mean leaving your ego and emotions back in the garage when you head out to drive, so that you’re driving with your head more than your heart.
So no distractions, no road rage, and no assumptions that the walker, biker or vehicle up ahead will act in a responsible and predictable fashion. It means being a little patient, a little forgiving and a little cautious any time you’re behind the wheel. And it means treating the cyclists and pedestrians you encounter the same way you’d like to be treated if the roles were reversed… as they inevitably will be.
Now, I understand that one of the attractions of walking, running and biking is to be able to let the mind wander, to enjoy the repetitive routine of motion as a way to shake stress, unleash your creativity or just reboot after a busy day. Being eternally mindful would take that luxury away, you say.
That’s why mindfulness really matters when you’re sharing space with others in motion, as all the example above makes clear. If it’s just you on the path , lane or road, you can zone out for a minute and let the muscle memory take over while you enjoy the rare opportunity to just walk or run, ride or drive.
But when there are others nearby, you need to pay attention – and you need to hope they’re paying attention as well. That’s how everyone gets home safe and sound, to bike, walk and drive another day.
Ready to ride or run?
While there are some October events tentatively sticking their noses out on some race schedules, still mostly virtual offerings are all that’s to be found. Unfortunately, until large-group activities are medically prudent, most events – especially running events, where social distancing is almost impossible to achieve – will be on hold. Keep checking the usual websites for updates… be prepared to sign up, but also be prepared to deal with postponements if the rules on gatherings don’t change.