cycling · fitness

A tutorial on fear and cycling: Joe Cruz and bikepacking

Earlier this summer I went to a talk by cyclist (and Williams College philosophy professor) Joe Cruz, who travels by bike (road, cross, mountain and fat) all over the world, exploring seriously off-the-beaten path locales. And when I say “off the beaten path”, I mean it (photos from Joe Cruz’ blog):





exotic 3


My friend Rachel, who guest blogs here and does lots of bike touring herself, invited me to join her for the talk. I admit to being a sucker for exotic travel talks; it eggs me on to do even more fantasy travel planning than I already do. Rachel was in the midst of organizing a bike tour of Switzerland with her partner Ethan, and was looking for route-planning advice.

What I (and everyone else at the talk, sponsored by a local bike shop) expected from Joe was a collation of lively and colorful stories about his exotic travels, amusing bike mishap anecdotes, and technical tips on what to pack and what gearing to set up for say, Mongolia. And the Q&A part was largely just that. Here’s the publicity poster for the talk.


But in fact the talk didn’t go that way at all. Joe is a cyclist, but he is also a philosopher. And a poet, or at least his words struck me that way. His talk was not about trip planning or gear or what’s the next cool spot for bike touring.

His talk was about fear.

Fear exhausts itself, he said. Fear exhausts itself.

This happens on long trips, on short trips, during races, tours, maybe difficult traffic-filled commutes. We experience fear. Fear of how our bodies feel—tired, bored, out of shape, in pain, uncomfortable, anxious, antsy, sad. Fear of the unknown—when we will arrive at our destination, how we will arrive there, what will it be like, how we will feel then and later on. Fear that we cannot go on, that it will be too hard to go up that hill, down that hill, to the next town, to the next turn.

Joe’s experience with fear is this: all those fears, they get tired, too. They exhaust themselves on these trips. And then it’s just you and the bike and the path or the road or the swamp or the desert or the mountains.

Try it, he said. Try packing up your bike and going to a nearby park to camp overnight. Go for a weekend with some friends. You don’t need to rack up big mileage. Just go.

Samantha and Natalie and Susan and Cate and Sarah and Val and Vanessa and Johanne and Sydney and Ananda—part of the Switchin’ Gears team—are riding out today on a 6-day PWA bike rally with specific destinations, long mileage, and maybe hot temperatures. I was supposed to go with them, but because I was having knee troubles and training woes, I didn’t join them. Yes, there was some fear involved too.

But I’m looking forward to hearing about their adventures and also what happened when any of them encountered fear.

My fitness-related fears, I must say, are remarkably well-rested, raring to go whenever I embark on any activity these days. But what I’m remembering from this talk is that, if I just get going, those fears will eventually get tired. That’s a nice thought.



2 thoughts on “A tutorial on fear and cycling: Joe Cruz and bikepacking

  1. Thanks for this. I like the idea of fear exhausting itself. It actually does, now that I reflect on it. Once I’m out there I just sort of do what is in front of me, because really what else is there to do? Sounds like it was a great talk.

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