Wednesday, July 4, 2007
I've been thinking some about what keeps me motivated, what inspires all of us to get out there and live life intensely. I was blessed by a father who took me into the woods when I was young, hunting and hiking. While most of the other hunters who used the ranch would storm off in their 4X4's, Dad and I would rise at 4am, quietly pack our light day packs--he used to love those chewy, layered raisin cookies--shoulder our rifles, and slip off into the fog shrouded forest. The early, groggy feelings, the growing sense of excitement at the possibility of finding a deer or wild boar, the long, quiet walks through the oaks and tall grasses all filled me with a sense of wonder and connection with the outdoors that has never left me. We almost never got anything, though there were some exceptions, of course. The greater point was in the ritual, in spending time together, in blending into those grand and rugged hills.
Like an addict, I kept upping the dosage of my outdoor activities, and by the age of fifteen, I was hooked on rock climbing and mountaineering, but before that I had sampled some cycling in my local area. Once, at about the age of twelve or thirteen, a handful of us strapped sleeping bags to our bikes and pedaled many miles away, spent the night camped in the dunes by the Pacific, and pedaled home. That freedom and sense of power was an important lesson for me. Before we could drive, we could ride, and look how far we could go! Now, I'd rather ride than drive if I can help it. I've entered my second childhood, it seems, and none too soon. H. G. Wells said, "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race." Damn straight, old man. When gas is $40 a gallon, many more of us should rediscover the joys of the bicycle.
I did a couple of other overnight bicycle tours in my twenties, and once rode part of the Oregon and California coast but failed at my tour due to knee problems. I liked the idea of human power. I hiked and climbed all over the western US and Canada, and on one long drive up Hwy 395 just north of Susanville and headed for Canada, we passed a lone cyclist. There in the vast basin of sage and juniper was this single, solitary young man, a lean figure of muscle and sinew, baggy shirt and shorts flapping in the wind, his bike fully loaded with panniers front and rear. I found something so pure and fantastic about this unknown cyclist. He was up out of the saddle and pulling for glory, no motor, no sag wagon, just the dry wind and scent of sage to fuel his dream.
That image never left me, and I have since had the joys and pains of riding that same country and other wild, remote parts of the western states. The promise of his example has held true for me time and again. I am so grateful to have a spirit and body that allows me the privilege of such travel. To the sedentary public, our struggles often seem foolish, crazy, like, dude, why bother? Because, dude, it's a totally, thoroughly, brilliantly transcendent experience. The Mahayana of the bicycle takes the spirit where it would not otherwise go, from painful depths of exhaustion to sublime peaks, often, of course, at the same moment. That's it, that moment when effort and awareness and the flow of life combine in a timeless, electric current. This is not mediated, modulated, pixelated, virtual experience. This is life, straight up in a dirty glass, three fingers deep and burning down your throat.
Recently, while strapped into one of my smog-belching boxes, I caught a glimpse of another touring cyclist, in our town of all places. Again, a solitary male, bike fully loaded, cut a sharp turn and cranked for the big valley to the west. A lucky bloke, that one. We were in an unusually cool spell for June. I knew what he was going through, the great expectation of the big descent, the satisfaction at having broken another pass. Ride well, brother.
I wondered who else on the road that day really got what he was doing. Not many. Perhaps that is part of the appeal. Cycle tourists travel on the fringes, the edges of a thoroughly motorized society. Still, many, many people are interested and inspired, even if they themselves will never attempt a long, human powered journey. And this is good. It gives me hope.