For me riding a bike is as much the smells as it is the sights. The things you get a whiff of while out on a ride set a subtle tone to the whole affair. Smells are seasonal, regional, and enable nostalgia. From the sweet petrichor fumes of my native New Mexico to the earthen stove fire musk inside a Tibetan home, the things I smell while I ride (TISWIR) give me the same buzz as that floaty sensation I get once my legs warm up.
Part of my habit in riding developed around the things I get to sniff at while I’m on a ride. Having ridden the same dusty ol’ trails in Chengdu for a half dozen years I got real used to where to go to smell the good stuff. This time of year was particularly floral, with endless fields of rape seed (for canola oil) in full bloom. Summer was the soapy smell of another native tree. The cooler evenings of autumn carried the sugary effervescence of some unassuming shrub, which I lovingly dubbed the Koolaid tree. Winter cloaked itself in smog and the cinnamon tones of a gangly bush and its bright yellow “plum flowers” (interestingly enough, unrelated to the stone fruit bearing tree). More than anything, the scent that said Sichuan to me was pressed sesame and the oily five spice aroma of hot pot.
Being in Seattle I’m having to retrain the olfactory. There’s pros. No more acrid smoky smells of smog. This generally opens up the nose up to other delicate scents hanging in the air. Pine, earth, gravel and the intermittent perfume of laundry day. I can dig it, for the most part.
The majority of my riding keeps me within the suburbia that is Seattle’s surrounding areas. This means the smells of Americana. Gasoline is one such smell. Fortunately it’s avoidable if you keep to recreational trails. The one I find most striking is the greasy smoke of some sort of meat. On any given ride I’m guaranteed to smell fast food. Burgers and fries are a big hit. Most peculiar is the fact that at least once, I usually get a big waft of hot dogs. You know how long it’s been since I smelled hot dogs on the regular? A while. Which means this usually gets the appetite going. I love it.
It’s a funny thing to feel like I’m in hot dog country. Or maybe it has more to do with the fact that I’m re-familiarizing with it all. I might just need another run through the seasons before my nose gets a handle on what’s going on. But where my legs are curious to carry me to new places, my sense of smell is equally eager to build the binds between the experience and memory of riding.