Do me a favor and picture a road in your mind. Don't overthink it, just go with the first road that materializes. Chances are that the road that comes to mind is either connected to a journey or a destination. A road that is stuck in your mind because you enjoyed the journey. Perhaps as a driver or cyclist or simply because you experienced something special on that road. Or it is a road that you know very well and have travelled on many times that gets you to a place that is special to you, a destination that warms your heart.
We are all constant travelers as we move from our home to our places of work, to visit our family and friends, to visit a town for a special occasion, or on vacation. Every year most of us travel thousands of kilometers on the roads below us. Most of these kilometers go by unnoticed, even if we are the one driving. The human brain has a way of switching to auto pilot when we perform tasks that we know extremely well. The sensory input slowly buy surely moves to the background. That doesn't mean we are not alert, it means the brain is processing everything without 'us' being extremely involved. The kind of journeys where you wonder where the last ten minutes went. I enjoy these drives a lot as they allow my mind to wander and I often find useful thoughts in those moments.
The other side of traveling is the kind where we are 100% focused on the road. Maybe because we are in a city we don't know and we need to find our way. Or we are driving at a zesty pace, either in a car or on a bicycle, and the simple act of steering our machine to keep it on the road is no longer something we can not be let run by a background process in our brain, it requires every single active neuron we have. Some of these drives can be exhausting, others can be exhilarating.
I don't really think there are boring roads, just boring drivers ;). Every road has a story to tell and it is up to you to find it. It might be a place to contemplate, letting your mind take you to places you did not know you needed to go. It might be an invitation for an inspiring conversation with your fellow traveler. Or it might be a road that takes all your focus, pushing your everyday worries aside and allowing you to think about nothing else but the road in front of you.
I have never tried motorcycles but I do like a spirited drive in my car. The kind of drive where your car is communicating with you not just via the steering wheel but you can feel the feedback from the road through your seat, through the forces that work through the chassis, suspension, and the bodywork as it aches under the shifts in direction as you turn in yet another corner. That doesn't mean you need to speed or go ridiculously fast at all, it all comes down to the way you accelerate, brake and steer along a curvy road.
The place where I live is not blessed with many great driving roads that really demand your total presence. This summer I am traveling in Europe in search of such roads. On four wheels and on two. And there is a big difference. On four wheels I like the b-roads that flow through a forest, preferably with some elevation as well. The best are the ones that aren't fully straight but straight enough to have a look two or three curves down the road with a nice mix of sharper turns every once in a while. This creates a nice mix of faster flowing driving with engaged breaking and accelerating. The car I drive has limits that are so far beyond my own that you might wonder why grown men like myself buy these things in the first place. I have a sportscar that is almost twenty years old. It is the effortlessness that excites me on these roads. It lets itself be steered with confidence and it tells the driver that it can do so much more. I like that feeling of reserved power on flowy roads. No need to go flat out.
I once drove what is called a 'hot hatch'. The difference with the sportscar I drive today is a factor two in terms of horsepower and torque. To imagine what that means, you can think of a normal person carrying a heavy cabinet up a flight of stairs. They might do it in the same time as a well-trained CrossFit athlete but the effort will be very different. The athlete will have plenty of reserves whereas the normal person is straining to the max to get the damn cabinet where it needs to go. The same with the feel of the driving, the sportscar tells you so much more about what is going on compared to a normal car, even a fast one. That communication is part of the joy on a really nice and mixed road. Receiving the messages from a well communicating car on the road is something that is hard to describe but once you have experienced it on a beautiful road, you cannot go back.
The roads that excite the cyclist in me are quite different. The same flowy road where you can drive up to 90 or 100 km per hour in a car tends to be pretty boring on the bicycle. But the mountain pass that is a real challenge on the bicycle, both ascending and especially descending, is really noy that great for the car. Different machines provide a different level of engagement and therefor need a specific kind of road to prosper and get you in the zone.
The other big difference is what propels you forward. In the car you are being propelled forward by exploding fuel (likely if you are driving a sports car today, this will change) and your job is to transfer that power on to the road as best as you can. You can work with your gears to find the optimal delivery of power that fits the part of the road you are on but you don't have to actually do anything to move forward, besides push the throttle. This makes driving a car feel like you are riding a beast where as on the bicycle, you are the beast. It is just you that creates the forward motion and nothing else.
This is why climbing a mountain pass on a bicycle is such a joyous and torturing experience at the same time. When you ride up a long and steep climb in the Alps, Pyrenees or whatever mountain range you desire, there is no joy in the actual steering of your bike. In the really tough sections where you are happy you can maintain a speed that is measured in double digits, all you care about is how to keep going. The road is no longer an exciting partner for you with flowing curves when you are driving a car. Instead, on the climb up it becomes an opponent. You have to beat this road. You want to make it to the top and the pain in your legs is telling you that the road doesn't want you here.
The part about the journey for a cyclist on a climb usually becomes better in memory. In real time, the effort and pain needed to keep going puts all emphasis on the destination, the top of the mountain. I have done climbs where I truly wondered why I put myself through this, questioning my sanity to voluntarily have spent quite a bit of time and effort to get to the foot of this mountain, only to suffer for the next 1,5 hours trying to get to the top. However, reaching the top creates lasting euphoria and a short moment where you tell yourself to not do this again. That thought disappears almost immediately as you look down at the road you just climbed up on. The same road you cursed only minutes ago now becomes a glorious companion, the hairpins now look like celebration ornaments instead of the staircase of hell. The mind is a wondrous thing.
The next gift you get after you climbed up a mountain is of course the descent. And here the feeling is actually quite similar to the car. A bicycle is the ultimate communicator. Every crack or hole or change of grip in the surface of the road flows through the tires, the frame and your bar handles. Just like with the car, speed is not necessarily the goal here. It is the flow that matters, riding down in synchronization with the way the road curves along the slope of the mountain.
I am still on my travels along beautiful roads in Europe and will add more photos to this post over the next few weeks. For now, enjoy the ride, whatever the road you are on.