This story was originally published on June 5, 2015.
A few weeks ago, Brian Siewiorek, the Production Director at Pittsburgh’s public radio music station, WYEP, and a few friends rode their bikes along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Towpath from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. But amid the peace and quiet of nature—Brian still couldn’t leave the music behind.
Every day we are bombarded with so many different kinds of sounds: conversations, traffic, the notifications on your phone. (Mine actually sounds like a bike bell). For me, though, music is the most inescapable.
So a bike ride from Pittsburgh to D.C. sounded like the kind of distraction-free vacation that I needed. I was curious about planning this bike trip: Where would my mind wander while riding for six-plus hours each day? For the most part, I assumed that this would be a vacation from my day-to-day distractions.
LISTEN: “Even on the Trail, the Music Never Stops”
On the ride, there were conversations with friends. In the background, there was only the sounds of birds, the wind, and my bicycle tires speeding over the dirty trails along with the spinning of my gears.
But my musical mind was not quiet. It was digging deep to unveil songs hidden in my surroundings. A nearby train whistle would remind me of the opening line of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” Passing a large rock, it was the B-52’s “Rock Lobster.” Gradually climbing up a lush, tree-covered mountain with my bike, I could hear Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” As the majority of the ride moved along rivers from the Monongahela to the Potomac, countless river songs flowed into my head, like “Proud Mary” and “Take Me to The River.”
Here was one I didn’t expect: While passing among the many different kinds of wildflowers lining the trails, I came upon a large patch of the flowers I know as “buttercups”—you know, the little yellow ones you held up to your chin as a kid? Into my head came a song I remember from a movie I watched a lot as a child: Martin Short and Steve Martin singing “My Little Buttercup” in ¡Three Amigos! It was stuck in my head for miles and miles and miles.
I couldn’t control what popped into my head. One song just lingered there until a new one was triggered by something in the environment. One distraction I could have avoided was trying to record myself with my phone as I was riding. I think I’m a pretty safe biker, but out in nature, just like when you’re on the city streets, you have to be alert. There was one moment I wasn’t, and when it came time to hit the brakes, I broke too hard and flew off my bike and hit the ground. I’m really not proud of this. I am pleased that I walked away with only a big fat bruise on my leg.
The moral of this story, at least for me: Even when you are out surrounded by trees and rivers, there are still those physical distractions (like our phones) that you can avoid. But the mental distractions, especially if you have a jukebox brain like mine, are unavoidable. So you might as well just enjoy the ride.