Athletes and Aesthetes: Two Kinds of Travelers

Chinle, AZ; September 29, 2010: In cycling as well as in other kinds of travel, there are two modes of being. The goal for one kind of travel is to see, hear, and study. Travel is the practical necessity that makes it possible to be in the places that the traveler wants to experience and understand. What happens after arriving at the destination is more important than the travel itself. Cyclists on PACTour’s Grand Canyon Tour 2010 encountered many travelers of this kind, a few journeying on their own, but most of them moving from site to site by the busload, eagerly discussing–in French–what they saw.

The goal for the other kind of travel is travel itself: the kinesthetic of movement, the strengthening of body, mind, and spirit, the competitive urge, setting new goals, making new personal records, establishing friendships with companions along the way. The terrain adds texture to the physicality of the event, providing challenge, interest, and motivation, but the activity rather than the destination remains primary.

Call one kind of traveler the aesthete and the other kind the athlete.

PACTour event are designed for athletes who are committed to the intensity of the ride itself, paying little attention to what they find on arrival (other than food and rest). What else could be expected? Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo, founders and operators of PACTour, started out as extreme athletes, record setters in long-distance cycling events. Lon’s cycling career is most closely connected with RAAM, the annual Race Across America, which he helped found. From the beginning of PACTour, their objective has been to create unique cycling events that enable non-competitive cyclists to ride close to the limits of their capabilities.

The three days from the Grand Canyon to Canyon de Chelly show this principle at work. Although the day out of the Grand Canyon was only 83 miles, and half of them a nice descent to lower elevation, the next two were the most demanding of the tour: from Tuba City to Mexican Hat, 119 miles with long grades and beat up roads; from Mexican Hat to Chinle, 114 miles with one 10% grade (mercifully short) and roadways that pounded even the strongest and best mounted riders into a mass of aching bodies by day’s end. The daytime temperatures were unseasonably hot, with the one that brought cyclists to Chinle in the middle or high 90s.

The route cards did mention some of the places along the way where people could stop to enjoy cultural attractions: Mary Coulter’s Lookout Tour at the eastern end of the Grand Canyon and the Code Talker Museum in Kayenta. Nothing was said, however, about two of the historic Indian trading posts or other opportunities to understand Hopi and Navajo culture along the way. Cyclists were left to their own devices to learn about the history of the region such as the Mormon settlers and their experiences in this land. A short stop at the bottom of the 10% grade, for example would have enabled them to learn its name—Comb Ridge—and see a record of the impediment it had created to the Mormon pioneers.

PACTour events are effective for several reasons. They are meticulously planned and supported by efficient, thoughtful, and skilled people, with uniquely designed support vehicles and equipment. Even though these events are designed to challenge participants to perform at a high level, the support staff is willing to provide limited “bumps forward” when cyclists are falling behind or reaching their limits of strength before the day’s trip has been completed.

The character of the registered cyclists is another reason. They come from many walks of life—business, medicine, contracting, the law, theology, civil service, education, retired, engineering, manufacturing. Their athleticism as aggressive cyclists is added on to their main identities as productive members of contemporary society. Many of their friends and coworkers can’t understand this fixation on the hard-core cycling that takes up so much of their time.

PACTours succeed because registrants find fulfillment and friendship in this kind of athletically defined travel. Some return year after year to PACTour trips. At the Swinging Steak Steakhouse in Mexican Hat, one of this year’s company reported that on that very day he had crossed the 10,000-mile mark. Next time he rides with PACTour, probably one of the weeks of Desert Camp this coming winter, he hopes that his name will be added to the list of 10,000-Milers mounted on one of the PACTour vans. Later in the week, a couple riding a recumbent tandem completed 30,000 miles with PACTour!

Athletes these cyclists surely are, but closer to the surface than one might expect the aesthete waits to be released. More about that next time.

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One Response to Athletes and Aesthetes: Two Kinds of Travelers

  1. Rodney Allen Reeves says:

    Been following closely your blog during your ‘down under’ cyclist adventure & enjoyed all the entries during your participation in the PACTour Grand Canyon 2010 Tour, but think “Athletes and Aesthetes: Two Kinds of Travelers” is my favorite. Shirley & I are rather extensive travelers (especially international), and decidedly only of the latter type. It is so impressive Keith, that you embody both types, even if as you observe, the demands of the tour place some restraints on taking the time to experience the “aesthetes” dynamic of travel into history & culture. Rod (see back in the Pacific Northwest soon)

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