I've noticed a trend in the local news this summer. What with the Relay for Life, Stroll for Epilepsy, Ronald McDonald House motorcycle "Cruise" and many other benefit rides, it seems a large portion of local philanthropy is achieved by groups walking, riding motorcycles and otherwise moving in some way. The amount of time and effort put into these events is remarkable and the heart behind them is inspiring. The walking and riding are simple activities and can be done with almost no intentional thought. This fact is important.

Whenever I go for a run, walk or bike ride, I am usually not thinking about the activity. Only when I am dead tired and wondering if I will survive through my next step do I think about what I'm doing. No, my thoughts are normally focused on other matters. I think most people act this way, treating exercise or a routine activity as an opportunity to therapeutically deal with thoughts and stresses. I find other activities such as weeding and raking to have a similar effect on my psyche.

It is during these moments of monotony that I am able to dive deeper into thoughts I've barely scratched the surface of before. I begin to ask myself the difficult questions of why, how and what if. My intention is always to answer what I ask myself. However, in the time I spend thinking, I hardly ever reach complete satisfaction with my reasoning. Just give me more peas to shell and I'll continue comparing my understanding of foreign policy in elementary school to high school. Actually, it would be more like me to compare the book and movie endings of Harry Potter and evaluate their emotional impact on my life.

I don't quite understand why exercising and doing routine activities can improve critical thinking, but it's downright fascinating that it does. My critical thinking, clarity of perception and environment awareness would always be heightened when I went for a bike ride. As a young boy in Randall, Minn., I lived on a hill. I would take my hand-me-down bicycle, exit the back door of our garage, and walk around toward the front of the house. If the bugs were bad, I would try to mount my bike as quickly as possible and tear down the dirt driveway. I knew my surroundings well enough to see ahead of time if any traffic was coming, and I would cut a well-worn corner of our driveway onto the bumpy asphalt, losing little of the speed I had gained. Handlebars rattling in my hands, I would turn south onto a smoother road and head down, which seemed to me at the time, a rather steep hill. Pedaling hard for a few seconds more, I would allow myself to coast to the bottom and beyond. From there, I would choose to go anywhere throughout and around town that I pleased. I felt free. It was in that carefree attitude I would observe my surroundings and ask myself the deep questions of life.

If my brother, sister, or other family member joined, we would carry on conversation that strengthened bonds, taught lessons and made us laugh. Plus, I would try to beat them in riding back up the steep hill toward home. I got pretty good at it. This was the important part of the bike ride. Biking itself wasn't important. Sometimes, I rode a scooter and my siblings would in-line skate. No, what was important was the conversation, the thinking and the appreciating of the world around us.

I feel that is too quickly lost in much of our world today: a joy-filled awe toward reality. Many of us feel more comfortable filling our lives with virtual reality in tiny screens and media than we are simply drinking in what surrounds us. This is why it is so refreshing to see events promoting good causes while simultaneously promoting outdoor activity.

They also promote the powerful reality of community. I feel our area understands community particularly well, as indicative of the amount of monetary and emotional support shown at these events. It shows we are aware of what is important. How can we improve, then, is the next question.

It's a process, critically thinking. The thinking behind this column certainly had many flaws and, likewise, our day-to-day thought processes are always missing information. However, it has been my experience that people can, even through limited perspective, be more aware and appreciative of the people who surround us. Stopping and pondering helps us find purpose, move forward and do good toward others. The fresh air helps.