Skip to main content

Cycling and Writing, nonfiction by Albert Hoffmann

When I tell people that I have cycled unsupported nearly 3,000 miles of winding roads along the west coast of the United States, along entire river paths of the South Korean peninsula, or up hopelessly steep mountains and volcanoes in Costa Rica, a common response from non-cyclists is simply, “Why?”

The question echoes from voices of incredulity, faces skeptical of my motives, my self esteem, and especially my sanity. That sounds painful, like hell, they say. And there are moments in every journey in which their dubious instincts are correct, in which dehydration causes cramped, twitching quadriceps, when saddle sores on my ass burn like hellfires of my own creation. But after each of these trials, the destination comes with an enormous sense of accomplishment accompanied by the bittersweet knowledge that the journey is over.

Unlike cycling, few people ask a writer upon writing their first novel, “Why did you do it?” There seems to be an automatic admiration for the talent and dedication needed to complete the final product, the reaction being more of an I could never do that rather than a you are crazy for doing that. But creative people who work regularly–whether they publish their work, get paid for their work, or keep their work locked away in a desk drawer–understand that there is little difference between cycling across a mountainous country and writing a novel. The only way to do it, is to do it. 

Creative thinking does not simply manifest into creative work, no matter how many self-help gurus say otherwise, just as thinking about a destination won’t get you there. You have to do it. The work can be thrilling, inspirational, dull, racked with anxiety and fear, and exalted, all in the same hour. And the next day, you do it again. The path towards good work, complete work (if there is such a thing) is incremental, many tens of thousands of repetitive, undulating pedal strokes, some bringing creators to sublime vistas and some causing them to stumble and smash their teeth on asphalt and gravel. Indeed, you might need to be a little crazy to want to keep going. 

When teaching writing to my students, I emphasize nothing more often than that good writing comes from a process. A final product that you feel proud about writing rarely comes from a last minute blaze of scribbling and typing. Yes, inspiration does strike, but if you only write when you feel motivated, just like if you only ride when you feel motivated, you won’t get very far. It is a chance to make a plan, wander, get lost, check the map (or even create one), regroup, and eventually make it to the final destination having accomplished something. 


About the Author:

Albert Hoffmann is an English and Theory of Knowledge teacher originally from the Midwest United States. He has worked in US public schools and international schools in South Korea and Costa Rica, and currently resides in San Jose. He is a musician and songwriter for the band Island Hill, an avid adventure cyclist, a home cook, and rescuer of dogs.

Image: Horydczak, Theodor, Approximately, photographer. Bicycles. Many bicycles in a line near a tree. ca. 1920-ca. 1950. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.