Navigating change

Familiar yet foreign. That’s how I would describe driving the car. It’s something I know how to do, yet now, it feels a little different. In fact, driving the car feels a little weird.

It’s nearly nine months since this experiment began. That’s nine months of driving less. And riding my bicycle more. Much more.

The experiment was never framed to eliminate the car but to test the boundaries of where the bicycle could replace the car in my everyday living. What could I realistically use my bicycle for and where would the car need to step in? And also where could I combine public transport for a better option? After nine months, I drive the car a lot less. The bicycle has taken over. And that means something very interesting has happened.

When I drive the car, it’s a very different experience to nine months ago. I no longer drive on automatic pilot. I have to concentrate. I have to open up the memory of driving. Well not the part about ignition, brake, accelerator, reverse, forward and the techniques of driving. They’re still engrained into my memory and available as soon as I sit in the driver’s seat – which I must add feels very big. In fact, the whole vehicle feels H U G E.

No, it’s not the skill of driving that needs the refresh button. It’s my navigational memory that needs re-booting.

There’s a view in the popular press that women can’t read maps, and although that might be true for some, I’m not one of them. Navigation is something I find easy and enjoyable. I like the mental gymnastics of mapping out a path. Sorting through the different options, noting what each offers, reading over a map, and making a mental image of how the streets and turns relate to each other, is cognitively stimulating.

Whether I’m driving the car or riding my bicycle, it’s the same process. So now that I’m riding my bicycle more, guess what’s in the front of my navigational mind?

Bicycle paths.

I don’t want to tell you how many times I’ve thought of jumping the gutter onto a footpath, only to remember that I’m driving the car! No, no, no, that’s just not possible. Stay on the road.

It’s not endangering anyone. These are fleeting thoughts appearing because, for the past nine months, the footpaths and cycle ways are my most used pathways. They’re the tracks worn into the maps of my mind. It tells me how adaptable the mind can be and how small changes have substance over time.

So I have to concentrate and navigate the way by road. Automatic pilot won’t do… which I think might be a good thing. It means I have to concentrate and be precisely where I am – in the car, driving. Mindfully driving.

12 Comments on “Navigating change

  1. Sounds like your going to have trouble reverting back to driving a car at the end of the year. As always your adventures and storytelling are a great escape from the trials my assignments,

    Liked by 1 person

    • You could be right about that… I think the bike might have won me over though 😉
      Glad to bring a little bit of non-academic reading to your screen Kelli 🙂


  2. Hi Gail,
    To some degree I can relate; since moving to Melbourne my driving has been reduced from a few times week to couple of times a year. PT is more than sufficient for my daily needs.
    Fortunately the Mini is small-ish and handles very well, even so it took a little getting used to (my car was small – a short-wheel base – but an old 4wd doesn’t otherwise compare) – otherwise I don’t know if I’d be particularly keen to take the wheel at all. I look at what are currently described as ‘small cars’ – like those we get as rentals when we visit Brisbane – and I just can’t believe they can be called ‘small’.
    When I do drive, the main thing I need to focus on keeping a constant speed. Being worried about speeding, I usually find myself slowing down.
    As for reading maps – I can do that. It’s finding road signs that tell you where the hell you are that can be the hardest part. Honestly, transport authorities in Australia seem to think that you don’t need to know the name of the main street/road you’re on if you’re already on it! The names of side streets don’t often help.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Dayna,

      It’s an interesting comparison – car and bike – isn’t it?

      I hadn’t expected driving to feel so foreign after a relatively short period of time. The VW Caddy isn’t a big car either – long but not big – yet it feels like a hulk of vehicle since being on a bicycle has become my norm.

      It’s interesting you say about speed because sometimes I feel like I’m travelling so very fast in the car… and have to speed up a bit.

      As for the size of cars – that’s a good point. When I visited northern Europe in April, I noticed how the number of smaller cars is much higher than here. I would love to see fewer large 4WD cars being used for urban transport in Australian cities.

      Very happy to meet another map reader, Dayna… 🙂

      Thanks for writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How curious. Sort of like a sense of the extended body. Large in the car but much smaller on a bike and each requiring different spatial awareness and skills.
    I experienced something similar when I transitioned from bike to horse. I am much taller on a horse so have to accommodate trees etc I wouldn’t encounter on a bike. And pedalling simply confuses my poor mount.

    Seriously though I suspect mixing up our modes of transport or indeed changing anything we do, is good for brain plasticity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s it – the more conditioned experience overlays the lesser. I’m perhaps on bicycle automatic pilot while in the car! Definitely good for keeping the brain nimble to change – with a good dose of mindfulness too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh Gail, I remember how weird it was for me to drive the car after I got my bike and spent many hours on it. I would find myself physically leaning into corners when I was driving the car and wanting to slow right down all the time. I would also feel like gripping the steering wheel when I wanted to brake instead of using my foot. It also just felt so much faster in the car – scarily so! I was also always mentally noting the condition of the road in case I wanted to ride on those streets. In the past, I wouldn’t notice gravel and glass on the edges or potholes and bumps. After riding my bike a lot I seemed to be constantly reviewing the roads for ride-a-bility. Once I started riding my bike I also became much more aware of cyclists when I drove my car. It certainly can change the way you view the road. Strangely, I was always a poor navigator but after cycling for a while my family commented that I was less geographically-challenged! Perhaps going more slowly on my bike and the physical actions of riding helped imprint direction and maps on my mind. Perhaps I just needed to plan ahead more for cycling trips. I did still drive my car often though, so it wasn’t as foreign to me as it has become to you lately. Another interesting post that had me pondering how cycling affects my driving. Thanks, Gail! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes that’s how it is Jane. You know that feeling well 🙂 Since writing this post, I’ve remembered a similar experience some years ago after a three day kayaking trip of simply floating and paddling. Driving at 60 kms/hour felt like Ferrari speed!

      Like you, my awareness of road conditions for a bicycle is much greater now. It makes me hope that road designers are experienced bicycle riders so they know what is really essential for riding safely and easily.

      That’s really interesting about your navigation skills improving. I agree with your thoughts on why that might be. I know I’m more aware of planning my longer cycling trips. It feels more critical. And that makes me wonder about perceptions of the importance of navigating in either mode of transport. For example, a wrong turn or mis-direction means expending physical energy on a bike compared to fuel in a car. So maybe, instinctively, we’re more conserving of energy on a bike (which comes from us) rather than in a car (which comes from the fuel tank). I might need to reflect on that one some more…

      Thanks for your insights Jane 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Gail that’s really interesting. I am sure the general ‘pace’ of life has increased with the more widespread use of the motor car. And no doubt our perceptions of our surroundings has changed too. I despair a little when I imagine that so many people spend much of their day either staring at screens or seeing the world from a fast-moving vehicle. As for navigational skills, I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to help both men and women find their way. I seem to have been born with an inbuilt compass… And oh, surprise surprise, I also happen to be female! Those ads about couples needing GPS navigators in their cars to avoid arguments (because the man always drives and the woman can’t read maps) really annoy me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your thoughts about perceptions of our surroundings, Paula. It makes me wonder if there’s any research around how modes of transport influence our relationship with our physical landscape. My sample of one says it does. But then, like you, I like being outdoors.

      And I wonder if that might contribute to having an inbuilt compass – being interactive with the physical landscape often requires some sense of direction and some understanding of the earth’s elements and their relationship with each other. It reminds me of overhearing an urban artist visiting a coastal village say he didn’t realise the moon was only full once a month. I thought he was joking but I don’t think he was. And then there are people who don’t know the tides ebb and flow. This sounds bizarre to me but there are people who don’t have that knowledge.

      And perhaps less screen time and more interaction with the elements might cultivate real knowledge – primary knowledge – rather than sourced from a screen. My best source for a weather forecast is looking out my window 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Gail, It is interesting to learn how your perception of driving has altered now that bicycle is your main form of transport. Your brain has adapted to accommodate the knowledge and awareness you need to cycle and survive.

    Driving is demanding with many items of information to process in a short period of time especially in urban environments. This processing has to be performed whilst, at the same time, being in control of a rapidly moving, potentially lethal mode of transport – a serious responsibility.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Margaret, it’s quite fascinating how adaptable our brains can be. Driving is demanding and so often it’s done with a mental auto-pilot rather than presence. This experience has made me more aware and probably a safer driver too – despite my momentary glimpses of jumping the gutter 🙂


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