As a cyclist, I have a fifth season; Bench Season. It is spread amongst the autumn and winter months and typically only falls on the warmer days, or, mood and time permitting – any day where I pass a bench with views and solitude.
For the last 22 years of my life, I have spent cumulatively about 380 hours a year on a bike… each and every year. Come spring I want to be fit and fast for racing, summer is for multi-sporting where cycling plays a huge role, fall is easy time and winter is prep for spring. Thus, fall allows for me to enter Bench Season.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved few things more than pulling off the road and sitting on a bench. Leaning my bike against the backrest and just stopping everything to do nothing. Away from home, away from distractions, in my element and knowing that once I am ready to go, I get to climb onto my bike and pedal away. It is the most comfortable of experiences.
This love affair with benches began in 1987 in Sacramento, California and a job at REI. I was part of a large group of bike commuters who met each morning, all with thermoses full of the richest, strongest black coffee we could tolerate -and charged posse-like along Sacramento’s American River Bike Trail. Each morning’s ride included a stop at a picnic table to swill our brews and get huge, sweaty caffeine buzzes going.
Years later, as I became a bike racer, I would return to Sacramento on that same trail and stop at those same benches – just to stop for the sake of stopping and to watch life go by. Those pauses remain with me to this day, for there have been few more reflective periods of life. Bench time is for my soul what hill repeats are for my fitness.
In 1997 I spent a season commercial fishing in Alaska. Life was hard, we were offshore for a month at a time and sleep time was numbered not in hours, but minutes. I vividly remember falling into these zombie like states where my mind would flash back to more peaceful and relaxed periods of my life – even on the Alaskan seas, I would go to my benches and they would feel as real as if I were there.
Now, living in the Italian Dolomites, I have a lifetime of bench locations. With fall approaching and the season nearing its end, I am already finding the time to spend on my favorites.