Ritual is a part of cycling as it is for any other sport. I use ritual instead of routine because the latter evokes the mundane while the former seeks to elevate the mundane to the sublime through certain intentional acts.
In sport, rituals sometimes reach the realm of superstition. But no matter how bizarre, they all share the common thread of preparing an athlete mentally for a task through adoration of the mundane—a lucky sock, always placing one shoe on before the other, or even wearing the same underwear.
Now, with that out of the way, I must confess: I don’t have a ritual for cycling. My preparations are confined strictly to the realm of the mundane, kind of. Yes, I shave my legs, which at the moment remain unshaven because I ran out of shaving cream and of fucks to give whether they’re shaven or not, and I always fill up my water bottle last before leaving the house, because it also doubles as my in-house hydration container. These things, though, aren’t rituals (although, shaving my legs feels SO pro, and therefore fast as hell. This is more in the realm of ritual).
Since beginning this sojourn of man and steel to 1610km during August in some of the best weather of the year, I’ve been bathing myself in sunscreen, which, if one were to put on one’s theologian cap, as I do from time to time as a learned, Hebrew Scriptures and Judaism scholar, could be construed as a ritual.
Yes, maybe I’ve been out in the sun too long, but bare (no, that’s not a typo) with me.
I know: you put on sunscreen to, well, keep the sun’s pleasantly harmful rays from causing you problems. Yet, this is like going to a mikveh, emerging oneself in the bath to become ritually pure owing to certain conditions—impurities— prescribed by scripture (Torah) and those kings of riddle and allegory, rabbis in rabbinic writings. Back in the biblical day, one had to be ritually cleansed before entering the Temple in Jerusalem. Purification of the body to immerse—live — in the spirit; the quotidian was given spiritual relevance through purifying immersion.
Back to sunscreen. Sunscreen masks, not washing away impurities as the mikveh, but does ready the body to be given over to, in my case, cycling, and more to the point, finding, confronting, and stretching my limits. And, particularly in this weather, it is a critical, practical, star in the constellation that I call cycling.
Sunscreen’s power, thus, is relational, mainly owing to my perspective on the event, cycling, which is very much the ritual itself. Cycling is the ritual because I have imbued—read: given. This is the “intent” apart— the mundane with personally meaningful qualities through a certain perspective on how to engage my limits, and re-think the concept of limits and my relationship to them. In this play, sunscreen has a bit part, but is part of the narrative nonetheless.
This is all very existential. Maybe I should rename this part of my website “the existential cyclist” . . .