Thoughts on the bike

by Raymond Parker on March 25, 2013

in Cycling, Touring

“Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling.” ~James E. Starrs

Second Thoughts
(click to enlarge)

The sky was dark at noon, hidden by roiling charcoal clouds. Thunder rumbled, it seemed, from the depths of the shadowy forest. I battled an angry headwind, laced with stinging rain.

Nineteen years ago now, on a solo 2-month tour, I found myself, or rather had ridden myself onto, a winding, unpaved section of the Alaska Highway, between Teslin and Swift Current.

The current I fought was a river of orange sludge, which caused the bike to fishtail in a terrifying manner downhill, while gripping my tires like viscous glue on flats and climbs.

I pondered the esoteric ideas of P.D. Ouspenski and G. I. Gurdjieff, who theorized that we–those of us yet stumbling in the murk of illusion–are a jumble of undifferentiated personalities, each struggling for dominance.

As an example, “we” might say: “I am going to quit drinking.” The next day, a different I might deny the pledge was made, or rationalize it away.

Out on the desolate road, my ego fragments were dancing a bedraggled waltz, or was it the masochism tango? While one of my Is thrilled at the adventure, the one in charge of physical labour wanted to quit, while another part of my addled consciousness indignantly answered the complainer with an accusatory: “You wanted to do this!”

Yet another observer found the whole performance thoroughly amusing. Evidently, I had some way to go, not only to the day’s destination, but in my journey towards unification.

Last winter, I poked my virtual nose into a social media debate on cycling and its mental effects. A mountain biking practitioner asserted that they didn’t have time to think about anything other than dodging rocks and trees–a kind of survival satori.

I appreciated the zen-on-a-bike affectation–what cyclist hasn’t pedaled themselves to a happy place in the here-and-now?–but I’m not sure the master of single-track achieves long-term transcendence any more than the acid-head finds a shortcut to Lamahood.

Yesterday, as I rode alongside sun-dappled hedgerows, bursting with buds forced by Dylan Thomas’s “green fuse” of spring, I found myself no nearer to escaping the inner debate. Nor do I (which I? You may ask.) expect to escape the chatter any time soon.

I celebrate the bicycle as a wonderful thought made whole. It represents the best of our inventiveness. There is a certain gentleness in its conception. But, as I’ve said here before, I’m no bicycle fetishist, notwithstanding VeloWeb’s examination of bicycle minutia.

I reject the opening quote. It’s a facile assertion ignoring our frailties. While the chirp of courting birds in hedgerows and welcome splendor of unfolding leaves on grey twigs lightens the burden of opposing worry, the bicycle is simply a conveyance. While it demands neural and muscular input to return benefit, it’s no miracle cure for the human condition.

Perhaps it is enough to observe the flow of the conversation, whether on a bike, on foot, or sitting in meditation. It’s all practice on a road leading, one day through sunlit meadows, the next into storm and uncertainty.

“Man is a machine, but a very peculiar machine. He is a machine which, in right circumstances, and with right treatment, can know that he is a machine, and having fully realized this, he may find the ways to cease to be a machine.
First of all, what man must know is that he is not one; he is many. He has not one permanent and unchangeable “I” or Ego. He is always different. One moment he is one, another moment he is another, the third moment he is a third, and so on, almost without end.” ~P.D. Ouspensky

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