Hiking and biking with a song in your heart

Thursday, October 4, 2012 - 01:16

People are debating issues such as the economy, energy and health care, but someone has to talk about stuff like this: I’m talking about how when you’re hiking or bike riding, the same song keeps repeating over and over again in your head and you can’t get rid of it.

It becomes monotonous, almost maddening. You introduce a new song, but it’s not long before you realize you’re back to the original one.

For those readers who dwell on a higher intellectual plane as you engage in outdoor activities — people who mull over differential equations or ponder the complexities of the Birkhoff-Grothendieck theorem on vector bundles---this article is not for you. This is for we down-to-earth mortals who use music to keep us company during hikes and other activities.

For one thing, it helps a lot to not to start out with a rotten song or one you don’t know very well. It’s best to have something catchy and energizing rattling around in your brain, perhaps Credence Clearwater Revival. Because people’s music tastes vary tremendously, I won’t make any other suggestions. Enya makes me sad and my brain can’t emulate all of the weird synthesizer sounds.I also like Vangelis, but my cerebrum can’t play all those instruments simultaneously.

Secondly, you’ve probably realized that changing your song isn’t that easy. I’m certainly not a neurologist, but I believe that after a certain song has been playing over and over in your head for a considerable time, the neural pathways are set up and the electro-chemical dance that you started wants to keep repeating. Tires follow ruts in the road.

The only way to change the song, I’ve found, is to actually stop, introduce the new song---and it’s got to be a stronger, better song than the one you’re replacing---and run it over and over before you resume your activity. I think Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (“da-da-da-da”) would definitely overpower MacCarthur Park (“Someone left the cake out in the rain”). But that’s just me.

Sometimes your brain will fasten itself to a really horrible song. I hate to mention rap music, but I can’t help myself. Perhaps it’s the subconscious mind punishing us for some ill deed in the past. Anyway, such an experience intensifies the urge to bring in a new song.

Once you’ve finally found a new song and are ebulliently making your way down the trail, it’s very possible you’ll catch yourself reverting back to the old one. Don’t be disheartened. To preserve the new song, you’ve got to immediately take corrective action. In computer terms, you’ve just ripped a new music track from your memory file and you now have to burn it into your cranial music disc, or library. It sounds painful, but it isn’t. It just takes repetition and a little concentration.

I’m from a fairly musical family, so I’m no stranger to music playing in my head. I often think of composers and music conductors who probably hear music all the time. That would drive me batty, I think. One has to have some peace once in a while.

But on solo hikes and trips, it’s nice to have some accompaniment in the form of music. I must confess, I’m not very skilled at changing a song once it starts playing in my head. On a recent hike up Harp Mountain, however, I was able to bounce back and forth between a couple of lively Yanni tunes. (I’m sure a lot of readers wouldn’t care for my selections).

I’d be curious to hear from folks on whether they’ve mastered this tune re-set feat, or if they don’t hear music in their head at all. And then, I wonder how many carry iPods and have hundreds of new songs at their fingertips!

The only advantage of imaginary music over iPod music, I guess, is that the former doesn’t require ear plugs that block out ambient sounds of the Great Outdoors. For those of us in Alaska, that might be bears crashing through the brush -- bears which might also be in a bad mood about hearing the same song over and over again.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. frank[email protected].

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