It’s the end of August as I write this. I’m not big on anniversaries. They are mostly fake, ways to make you remember and fixate on something that may have been important then but really might be not be important at all now.
There’s one date that I like to celebrate, however, it’s August 17, 2019. That was the last day in my life that I ever drove a car. It is hard to believe the changes that has led to. I have conversations about it with strangers sometimes and the exchange is for me often surreal.
I was talking to a lady in an RV park. “I don’t drive anymore,” I said.
“Because cars are ugly and uncomfortable and expensive and horrible for the earth and they kill people and they are inimical to the well-being of bicyclists.”
“Oh. Is that all?”
“I would never do that.”
“Because I love my car.”
“Yes. I mean, I actually love it. I really, really love it. I love the way it looks and the way it feels. It gives me freedom and happiness. It takes me places. It’s like magic. My car is so special to me.” Her eyes were shining with a certain intensity that you only see when people talk about their pets, and rarely their children.
I’ve seen people feel that way about their bikes, too. To me, it’s just a thing. I enjoy it and my lifestyle revolves around it, but the bike is fungible. I don’t love it or care about it any more or less than any other roughly equivalent bike that operates mostly the same way for mostly the same amount of money.
A few nights later I’d bivouacked along the river, then set out for White’s Pass, a roughly 25 mile climb. A few miles from the top I saw a couple of small waterfalls and stopped to refill my bottle and empty the peanut butter jar.
The water was amazing. I thought about all the microbes and syphilis that were probably in it but you know, the taste was astonishing. I wondered why it tasted so good. Sure it was pure (except for the gangrene), and sure it was ice cold, and sure it was free, three things that usually add up to yum. But why was it SO yum?
I thought about wine and about how blind taste tests show that Two Buck Chuck meets or exceeds the palate of $100+ bottle of fine Napa wine for the great majority of educated wine drinkers. Then I considered that even though Two Buck Chuck tastes better, it only does so in a blind taste test, and few people drink wine blindfolded unless a dare is involved.
No, the reason that people pay a couple thousand bucks to weekend in Napa and drink great wine is because the esthetic makes the wine taste better. The view, the knowledge that you are at a great chateau, the specifics of the vintner, the vineyard, and the setting sun all create a panorama of knowledge and sensory perception that make the wine taste a thousand times better than Two Buck Chuck.
All of this made me feel sorry for the wine folks, not because there was something missing in the esthetic, but because the water I was drinking tasted far, far better than their most fabulous wine. Why? Because my esthetic was so vastly superior.
My esthetic was a glacier perched on the side of a vast mountain, set beneath brilliant blue skies. My esthetic was the trickle, then the rivulet, then the stream of translucence tumbling down the face of a cliff for thousands of years, scoring it, marking it, carving it into a unique stone face that was broad and vast and more impressive than all the vineyards in Sonoma put together.
My esthetic was the combined effect of hundreds of millions of years of natural processes, not the half-century efforts of a few farmers to cultivate and ferment a grape. On this canvas, the esthetic of the pure glacier melt pouring into my humble water bottle or spraying across my salt-stained face was so grand and all encompassing that it explained perfectly why a simple drink of water was grander than all the grand crus ever vinted.
I finished my glorious lunch of peanut butter and water and pedaled on. It took over three hours to get to the top, and after that I bombed the descent, tearing around a corner only to be smacked in the face with an astounding view of Mt. Rainer.
The road kept falling and eventually led through a small town, where I lunched in earnest on milk and ice cream. From there I pedaled on to a beautiful RV camp site under giant firs. Tent up. Dinner cooked.
The next day was supposed to be easy. All I’d have to do is go over “some gravel” on a “forest road.”
Should … be … fun!
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