So much is made of the sounds and motions of travel, but little is said of the exceptional silence and stillness that can also be present. I learned just how memorable the quiet moments can be one day during a 6 month African adventure as I was cycling in rural Mali. I started that day by pedalling 3 kms straight up a steep rural road, my legs sweating and burning as the temperature rose with my friend and guide in tow. Once finally at the top, we carried on another 14 kms through rolling calebassefields, peaceful villages and eventually the mangrove that would deliver us to our intended destination: a cool, clear natural pool where we could recharge and refresh. Upon arrival, I jumped in the water and floated blissfully, allowing time to get away from me. The chatter and splashing of other tourists faded away as I drifted across the surface, relaxed and suspended in no particular thought. Eventually, the sound of someone jumping into the pool from an outcrop brought me back, otherwise I may have been happy to float until nightfall.
Enjoying a quiet soak between bike rides
After my long and quiet soak, I ate lunch on a rocky ledge while tiny fish nibbled at my toes and reflected with renewed clarity at how far I had come. 17 kms through rolling terrain, in scorching heat, with asthmatic lungs and my friend wanting to give up the whole way; I could not remember a time where I had been more challenged, both mentally and physically. It was quite a feat, and more excitement was to come.
On the way back, I rode a fair ways ahead of the guide and my friend before realizing I was alone at the top of the hill where I had struggled at the beginning of the day. I stopped to catch my breath and enjoy a moment of solitude and stillness. Interrupted by the sound of cicadas buzzing excitedly, as if they were cheering me on, I started downhill. My pace quickened rapidly and this fast and stealth descent was my reward. I relished the cooling sensation of the wind whipping passed my skin while I was miles ahead of my companions, eyes closed to the wind, soaring down a dirt road in a faraway land. Yet as much as the fast descent was memorable that day, so were the quiet moments. When I think back, I recall the blissful soak and moment of reflection before starting downhill as much as the thrill of the swift ride.
Ever since, I seek those quiet and still moments as much as I crave adventures. I’ve learned that there is peace to be found in the stillness just before cresting a wave in whitewater rapids, or plunging into the ocean in SCUBA gear, or racing a bike down a steep, dusty hill. The quietest moments are easy to overlook but worth celebrating nonetheless, as they will stay with you as long as you keep them close.