Remember, even if you win the rat race, you remain a rat. Life comes at you fast, and that pace will only ever get faster. Yes, there’s a thrill to be had from ducking the knocks life throws your way in time, but there’s something even better: taking time out. Step out of the rat race, even if only for a little while. And the best way to do that is to travel slowly.
Have you ever sat in a high-speed train, looking out the window? When looking into the distance, you can see the landscape through which you’re travelling, but when the train passes through a cutting, and the distance of your view is restricted, all you’ll see out the window is a blur. Now I’m a huge fan of travelling by train, and often take my bicycle on the train when heading off on an adventure, but the very fact that what you see is blurred should be ample evidence that on that train you’re not travelling at a human pace.
What does “travelling at a human pace” mean? Quite simply, it’s travelling at a self-propelled speed. In simple terms, humans are still very much the new kids on the block here on Earth. If the time period Earth existed for was exactly 24 hours, modern humans (as we’d recognise today) only came to exist in the very last second. Until around 200 years ago, the fastest any human being could travel was to gallop along on the back of a horse. In the 1820, steam trains first started travelling at speeds as high as 20mph, then progressively got faster.
The point of this is simply this: 200 years, in evolutionary terms, is the blink of an eye. 200 years certainly isn’t enough time for humans to have evolved bodies that deal with speed better, as the blurred view out the high speed train window proves.
Sure, we learned to cope with higher speeds, but the horrifically high death toll on the UK’s roads prove that, despite what we like to tell ourselves, we are still rubbish at travelling at high speeds. Remember, drivers kill an average of five people per day, every day, on the UK’s roads.
Like you have, I expect, I too sometimes drove at high speeds. I once rode a motorcycle certified to be capable of 312 km/h (194 mph!) as fast as it could go, and it was extremely stupid, but also extremely thrilling. My personal cycling speed record was set on 2014, during a sportive called the Dartmoor Classic, coming down a long hill and hitting 53mph. That too was very thrilling, especially the bit where I had to bunny-hop a cattle-grid at that speed! I know from first-hand experience just how addictive speed can be.
I was lucky enough to discover the deep joys of travelling at human speed. Of travelling slowly. When you’re pedalling a laden touring bike up a hill, you will be riding slowly. There will be time to observe things that will simply have flashed by if you were in a car. You will see birds in the hedges by the roadside, and often enough, a stoat or two. In fact, I was fortunate enough to see foxes, badgers, hares, rabbits, stoats, as well as a myriad of different birds, all surprisingly close.
Once, on a dark commute home, I had a stunning encounter with an owl. The rural lane I was riding on is overgrown with trees from either side, forming a green tunnel. The owl suddenly flew in front of me, at head height, and was pacing me, flying perhaps two metres ahead of me. This went on for at least half a mile, and I still smile when I remember it.
You simply cannot get experiences like that when driving in a car!
The benefits of going slow
Humans simply didn’t evolve to travel at speed. We’re just not designed for that, and though we can adapt to it, there’s a price to pay.
- Cycling saves you money. With the cost-of-living crisis, and fuel becoming ever more expensive, choosing to cycle instead is a huge cost-saver.
- Driving makes you tired, and usually leaves you feeling stressed, even if you don’t realise it.
- Cycling makes you fit, helps you lose weight, and boosts your immune system.
- Travelling at a human pace allows you to relax. You experience the landscape, instead of trying to rush through it.
- You get a sense of freedom that simply isn’t otherwise possible.
- If cycle touring for your holiday, you will will come to realise the joys of the journey, and understand that anywhere is a destination. After all, the magic is in the journey itself.