Bicycle riding lesson

August 10, 2022 Comments Off on Bicycle riding lesson

I went riding with a young fellow this morning. He is about 20 years younger than I am and so I thought it would be a good opportunity to give him some instruction on the finer points of bicycle riding. It is always a great feeling to be able to give back to the younger generation.

One of the things I taught him right away is not to push down so hard on the pedals. This causes a lot of lung turbulence and cardiac disorientation for the person who might happen to be behind.

Another thing I taught him is that when the road goes up it is important to greatly reduce speed. Otherwise the person behind might happen to become behinder.

As we rode along I gave him a lesson on conversation. Often times the person who might be behind is not slower or weaker but is simply desirous of conversation. So it is important when the person who might be behind, even though he appears to be gasping, is allowed to talk about something, but this means that you must push down on the pedals a lot less.

Stopping. Many young and ambitious cyclists do not stop enough. This can be a huge problem for the behind person who usually is just as fast and strong but who wants to show scenic highlights to the younger, inexperienced bicycle rider.

Downhill pedaling can be treacherous. Young bicycle riders often move the chain onto the littlest cog and push extra-super hard on the pedals in order to go much faster. This is okay. But the behind person can lose the ability to see clearly, concentrate, and breathe which could result in a bicycle-falling-off incident, so I instructed him how to downhill pedal with more of a coasting technique.

Few new bicycle riders appreciate the importance of full-body breathing. This is what you do after the bicycle ride and it allows full perfusion of the heart, lungs, intestines, teeth, etc. I demonstrated this after the bicycle ride by lying down for a few hours and breathing with maximal depth and power. Closed eyes help the person who might have been behind, too.


END

The sun doesn’t rise in the west

August 9, 2022 Comments Off on The sun doesn’t rise in the west

For a couple of decades now, biologists have been trying to patiently explain that all the things they taught us about lactate were, well, how do I say this diplomatically? Completely fucking wrong.

Wrong on the scale of “sun revolves around the earth.”

Wrong on the scale of “bleeding with leeches fights infection.”

Wrong on the scale of the “spontaneous generation of germs.”

Unlike religion, where once mistaken, always mistaken, science at least has the potential to reverse itself because it doesn’t claim infallibility but rather accuracy as far as we know now, subject to being disproved tomorrow.

And the “old school” mistaken view of lactate really was a temple of sorts for performance sports.

Remember how when you got serious about cycling and you learned that once your body runs out of the ability to produce energy aerobically, it kicks into anaerobic respiration by using the waste product lactic acid? And how it’s the lactic acid that causes the burn?

None of that is true. Your body has virtually no lactic acid in it ever because lactic acid cannot exist in the blood’s neutral ph, and is therefore instantaneously converted into lactate. And far from being a waste product, lactate is the fulcrum for all human metabolism: It is the inexorable product of glycolysis, it is an omnipresent and abundant fuel, it is produced anaerobically and aerobically, it is the brain’s preferred energy substance, it fuels other internal organs, it is created when exercising and when at rest, and it performs complex signaling and shuttling on an inter- and intra-cellular level that have earned it the moniker “lactome” for its pervasive effects and importance in human metabolism. Nor does lactate cause your muscles to burn. That’s caused by a molecule named “hydrogen.” You may have heard of it.

So the next time you hear someone talk about their lactic acid burn, just imagine them saying that the sun rises in the west. They are clueless.

Although this “news” is more than twenty years old, I was still living in the world of “lactic acid burn” until a couple of weeks ago, when Kristie sent me a review published in Cell Redox by G. A. Brooks, the scientist who began unraveling the secrets of lactate back in the 1980’s. Kristie likes to send me complex things that I can’t understand so that she can later explain it to me with simple words and gestures. Her pantomimes for “Cori cycle” and “oxidative phosphorylation” are Oscar-worthy, to say nothing of “peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha.”

After reading Brooks’s review, along with some ancillary reading about lactate signaling and shuttling, not to mention looking up the phrase “cell redox,” I tried to figure out how or why any of this matters.

So what if everything I knew about lactic acid was wrong? Who cares? How does it affect my cycling?

Here’s why you should care, and you can thank Kristie for this handy-dandy explanation, which I have twisted up in my own words and likely made a mess of: Viewing lactate as a waste product used only in anaerobic respiration obscures its real function, one of which is the body’s single most important fuel and as the crucial fuel for virtually all cognition. Once you understand that lactate is pervasive as a fuel source, leaving aside its other signaling/shuttling functions, you have to ask why that matters? Why would the breakdown of glucose, not to mention exercise, result in the creation of an even more abundant and metabolically important fuel source?

Answer: Because humans were ALWAYS MOVING. Since hominids could not depend on Gu trees, Gatorade creeks, and Energy Chew bushes for instant, massive supplies of sugary energy, we evolved with an always-on, system-wide energy supply system that fueled muscles, organs, and especially the brain without needing a constant supply of glucose. This makes complete sense. Sugars like sucrose and fructose are only very recent additions to our food supply. In the past we obtained less energy with greater difficulty from relatively energy-poor sources.

In the past, food sugars were harder to come by and often large periods of time elapsed between meals. In the interim, the body still had to fuel itself, and most crucially the brain had to obtain a continual energy substrate regardless of whether or not there was any food in your belly at a particular moment. So we evolved a lactate-based fuel system that could create an energy source even as glucose was being broken down, and that would simultaneously serve as a the major precursor for the formation of glycogen. Glycogen is the molecule that allows the body to store glucose and then make it available when needed. All of this would take place whether at rest or exercising, aerobically and anaerobically, between cells and within individual cell mitochondria.

The point to all this is that humans were always on the go. They didn’t sit on the couch for ten hours, or sit in a car for five hours, or sit at a workstation for eight hours, or spend most of their waking time with their neck bent over their dumbphone with only intermittent activities loosely described as “exercising.” They did not adhere to the lunacy that we need, according to current U.S. national guidelines, a piddling 2.5 hours of high intensity, or 5 hours of moderate intensity exercise weekly.

Humans evolved moving much of their waking time and it wasn’t simply to lumber over to the fridge for some more alcohols. A more realistic activity guideline comporting with evolution and the proper functioning of our bodies would be something on the order of 5-7 hours of activity per day. That is certainly what the molecular biology of cell and brain fueling indicate.

Early hominids, and humans up until agriculture, walked an average of 10-20 miles every single day. Warrior Zulus ran more more than double that distance … daily. The human body evolved to move and to move a lot. Rather than motion being the exception to sedentary ass-spreading, sitting was the gross exception to a hominid’s waking hours. Doubt it? Look no further than our evolved sitting position: It’s a squat. You can hold it for a while, but certainly not for hours at a time.

Understanding lactate provides a crucial key to understanding cycling, and sports in general, which is this: Sports and exercise are dumb. They are modern inventions that turn human physiology on its head. Humans were made to move while waking, and be sedentary while asleep. Lactate’s real function is to support a fully-engaged, always-moving, mobile organism.

Anything less? Might as well be measuring lactic acid to feel the burn.


END

Couldn’t stand the weather

August 4, 2022 Comments Off on Couldn’t stand the weather

I was standing at the counter. It was a big shopping day for me. Milk, an onion, a green bell pepper, a pound of brown rice, five mushrooms. The clerk looked at me. “Another hot day,” he said, and he looked miserable.

I suppose it was hot. 105 degrees or thereabouts. But he was sitting behind an air conditioned counter. I was on a bike and about to ride 1.2 miles up a long hill.

The weather is just one more excuse to stay fat, lazy, and indoors. And when people complain about it, it’s always underlain by this implication: If the weather weren’t so fucking coldhotrainymuggywindydry then I would be out there killing it.

Which brings to mind this saying of Tore the Norwegian: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”

I’ve spent a lot of my life out in bad weather, but not as much as Russell DiBarbieris, a/k/a Ol’ Grizzles from Houston. One day it was about a hundred degrees with 95% humidity and he, Tore, and I were doing a hundred mile ride. I collapsed at mile 80 on the pancake flat feeder road of I-10. Russell and Tore nursed me to a Stop-n-Go, gave me change to buy a Gatorade, and left me for alive, barely.

Russell was 62. Tore was from Norway. Apparently the fact that it was “another hot day” didn’t have much meaning for either of them, other than the fact that it was, well, hot.

Fields was another character who viewed weather as a variable to which one adapted rather than an iron law that dictated whether one cycled or sat on his ass. If it was really cold, he wore really warm clothes. If it rained, he wore a rain jacket. If it was hot, he took a lot of water and suffered. He also did that wacky thing you do on hot days, he left really early to minimize his time in the furnace.

The problems with letting the weather tell you what to do are twofold. First, it makes you fat and lazy. The weather’s never perfect. Even in the Weather Heaven of LA, it’s never perfect. Some days it’s too cool. Too warm. Or it might rain for five minutes. Or it’s windy, a wee bit. Very wee. When the weather tells you what to do, you do nothing.

The people in Wofford Heights are always inside even though they live on the doorstep of the world’s most astounding playscape. In summer it’s too hot and in winter it’s too cold. In spring it’s too windy and in fall it’s so beautiful but hey, NFL. People here are fat and lazy. Outdoors to them is anathema, which is fine except for the underlying implication that if it were just a little different and more perfect and more fill-in-the-blank, they’d go out and fucking set the world on fire.

The second problem with letting the weather tell you what to do is the fallacy that there is such a thing as “weather,” some kind of fixed atmospheric condition that only Dog can overcome. In fact, weather is a many-colored thing. In the early morning it’s cool and breezy, in the late morning it’s cool, in the afternoon it’s hotter than fuck, and in the evening it’s cool again. Compare that to Texas, and its four seasons of summer-summer-summer-winter.

When the clerk complained about another hot day, we both knew that whatever the weather he was going to go home after his shift, flick on the TV, crack open a beer, eat some bad food, and jerk off on #socmed until bedtime at 3:00 am, all under climate-controlled temps.

And the more you grovel at the feet of the weather, the less your body can adapt to it. Fat is antithetical to thermoregulation. The fatter you are, the less you can adjust your temperature to the heat. One guy I know told me that his wife “is allergic to the heat.” And even if you’re not fat, the more sedentary you are the less you can adjust to the swings in the day’s temperature gradient.

As Kristie said, “It’s global warming. The earth is hotter and will get moreso. Better get out in it and teach your body how to adapt.” Because your body can and will adapt, but only if you force it to do what it was designed to do.

Funniest of all, it’s only by being outdoors that you realize what a load of crap the “weather” really is. I went for a walk this morning on a day that should have been scalding, a short 3.6-mile stroll with 1,300-feet of climbing. It was cool, breezy, beautiful, refreshing, invigorating, mind-clearing.

Then I came home and had breakfast, got on my bike near ten o’clock, when the last vestiges of cool are going to be replaced by the blast furnace of the day. It was hot until I got to Limestone, when I experienced a first–a huge summer rain in the Southern Sierra. It had rained so hard on the pass that the river ran black with the runoff. The road was soaking wet and so was I. Rather than baking in the heat I was cooled in the blissful summer shower.

There were a few miles homeward bound that counted as hot, but as soon as I left Kernville the clouds reappeared, and the final climb home was anointed with the sweet smell of ozone and the miracle of rain. Can’t stand the weather? Maybe it’s life you can’t stand. Put down the phone and the TV and the excuses and do what you are uniquely evolved to do: Live and move outdoors.


END

E-excuses

August 2, 2022 Comments Off on E-excuses

Don’t hate the rider, hate the bike. Or is it the other way around?

Please don’t remind me how each e-bike means one less car; it doesn’t. Each e-bike means one more lazy, weak, fat person on a bicycle who also has a car.

Please don’t remind me how delivery people use e-bikes for their livelihood. I’m not talking about them.

Please don’t remind me that e-bikes provide mobility for the old and impaired. I’m glad that e-motorcycles are available for all.

And please, please, please don’t remind me that e-bikes aren’t motorcycles. Because they are.

E-motorcycles with Pedals, or EMWP’s, as I just now decided to call them, have overtaken bicycles, which I define as things you have to pedal to make move.

And even though I think they are silly for 99.9% of the people who use them, believe that they encourage obesity, laziness, and weakness, and though I understand that they aren’t simply the future, they’re also the present, that’s not why I hate them.

I hate them because the riders talk to me, and I can’t understand why.

I’m on a bicycle, they’re on a motorcycle. We have nothing in common. Before e-bikes, I never talked to internal combustion motorcyclists and vice versa. They were for the most part arrogant pricks who thought that because they could twist their wrist and flop their ankle that somehow they were badasses. They buzzed me, flipped me off, and oozed attitude because it’s easy to feel superior to a car but really hard to feel superior to a person lugging a bicycle up a mountain or riding through traffic with nothing but their leg power.

If anything, motorcyclists were nastier than cagers because they took such affront that there was another two-wheeled vehicle on the road doing exactly what they were doing, only doing it without the force multiplier of an engine.

But for some reason, EMWP’s think that we’re not only allies, but friends. And even though I look through them, scowl when our eyes have to meet, and am the least friendly person they’ve seen all day, they ALWAYS want to chat.

And the chat? It’s always the same thing. The EMWP’er always explains to me two things: 1) He’s not using the throttle. 2) It’s just as hard as riding a bicycle.

One time Kristie and I were riding up the back side of Ganado with 35-lb. backpacks. We dismounted to squeeze through the gate, and up came an e-motorcyclist. “Hi!” he said, with great enthusiasm. Of course he was in his 40’s, fat, and barely sweating. Kristie and I looked like we’d been standing under a hose.

“Wow, you guys are in good shape!” We said nothing. “This is tough on an e-bike, just as tough as a bicycle. In fact, there’s only a 15% advantage.”

“Really?” I said.

“Yeah!” he answered, twisting the throttle and zooming out of sight as we slogged our way up the impossible grade.

Another time I was riding south to Ragged Point and a guy on an e-motorcycle pulling a fucking trailer, fully loaded, roared by. I almost caught him on the downhill but when the road turned up he blazed away, twiggly legs barely even moving. I got to Ragged Point and sat down on a bench to eat. He came over, sipping a latte. “Mind if I sit here?” he asked.

I said nothing. He sat. “That’s a fully loaded bike you’ve got there.”

“Yes.”

“I used to ride just like you,” he said, belied by his gut, his toothpick legs, and his pasty face.

“Really?”

“Yeah, but now I’m too old. I just turned 58. And this e-bike is amazing. It’s just as hard as a regular bicycle.”

I looked at him and telekinesed “You are full of shit,” then I went back to my tortilla and peanut butter.

“Well, bye!” he said. I grunted. I hated him.

I descended off Ragged Point into a fairly stiff tailwind. About five miles later I saw Mr. E-Motorcycle parked in a lot, bent over his bike. I swung over. “You okay?” I asked.

He looked like a different man. His hair was matted with sweat. His face had turned green. His hands were shaking. He looked like he’d been sitting in the trenches at the Somme in heavy rain and artillery fire for a month. “I think so.”

“You look like shit. What’s wrong?”

“My, uh, battery died and I had to pedal to here before I could pull over to change it.”

“Okay,” I said, and continued on. There it was. Five fucking miles with a tailwind big enough to blow a locomotive and he was a melted mess of flesh and flab. Just as hard as a regular bike … without wheels, maybe.

On Sunday Kristie and I were coming back from our bike-and-hike up Brush Creek. It was 105 degrees. We were destroyed. About halfway up the 1.2-mile climb to home, down came a trio of e-motorcyclists. They were all fat and old. The fattest was a woman.

Suffice it to say that going up Old State Road isn’t for the faint of heart on a bicycle. It’s long, soft sand, windy, and bitter. These three nabobs clearly thought they were the most badassedest things since the invention of the wheel, riding up it on e-motorcycles and then, even more badassedly, descending. They were chagrined to see two old, tired, sweaty people with large backpacks daring to go up the same road.

I’ve been riding longer than most people have been alive. And I’ve never had a passing cyclist shout out what the fat lady sang: “How far are you going?” she said, angrily, doubtingly, denying that skinny, sweaty, old people on bicycles could even dream of doing what she’d done on her e-motorcycle.

I glanced up. “Home,” I said.


END

That thing you was gonna do

July 31, 2022 Comments Off on That thing you was gonna do

Everybody has that thing that they were gonna do.

That place they were gonna go.

That person they were gonna see.

That adventure they were gonna embark on, lead where it may.

We were gonna ride our bikes out to Limestone and then lash them to a tree and then hike up Brush Creek to the giant natural slides and the waterfall.

We were so gonna do that.

We were gonna do it a whole bunch of times but each time we got ready to do it life got us ready to do something else instead, so we never did it.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. The road to Brush Creek is paved with good intentions. We’d be 24 miles in and beat to snot and it would be the perfect day to do what we’d been saying we were gonna do, but we never did. This is people, never doing what they were so gonna do.

Then she showed up on Friday night after an unforgiving drive and a beatdown of a work week, and on Saturday morning, with the dawn sky breaking, she said, “Are we gonna do it today?”

And I said, “Yes, we are.”

We saddled up and she found the eleven, me hanging on for dear life and doing my damnedest to pull through and the heat smashing down and the headwind plowing into our faces and the 15-mile climb sapping the fuck out of my legs and what normally takes me over two hours took us one-and-a-half and when we got there I was spent and she was looking fresher than a lie on Instagram.

We hiked up the trail a ways, locked the bikes, and continued on up the creek past pools and tall pines, hidden swimming holes and green-lined banks, over rocky outcroppings and giant boulder scrambles, ascending a hot dirt path strewn with rocks until there were no more footprints but ours.

Down the last giant stones we heard the rush of water and were greeted by the clearest pool, the most translucent stream, the slickest chute of rocks plunging off into a blue depth of the chillest mountain water, fed by secret springs or melting snows a hundred miles deep in the Sierra hence.

I clambered over the boulders, time-smooth, and slid off the ledge into the icy pool. The dirt and sweat and exhaustion of triple digits vanished and was banished.

We hiked back down the long trail and blazed home.

That thing we were gonna do? We did it.

You should, too.

_______________________

END

Local motion

July 28, 2022 Comments Off on Local motion

“Are you local?” the nice lady asked me.

“Yes. I live in Wofford Heights.”

“You look local. We have an account for people who live around here in case you forget your wallet or something. You can just put it on your account and we bill you every month.”

“That’s awful nice but I won’t forget my wallet again. It’s a one-hour round trip of hard pedaling. I sure appreciate you trying to just run my number.” I keep a photo of my debit card on my phone.

I was once friends with a guy who was always trying to be a local wherever he was. Even if he was just passing through, he was never a mere tourist. He always knew something about the place or someone who lived there or who had lived there, a friend of a friend whose friend knew someone there important.

He had grown up there, so he was a local, went to college there, so he was a local, worked his first job there, so he was a local, played a gig there that time with his band, so he was a local.

Always a local, even the time he went to Shanghai on a business trip.

Of course this never fooled anyone except the non-locals. Locals know their own. I learned this in Miami, Texas, when an old boy and I were talking one day. “It ain’t that hard to be from here,” he said.

“Really?” I said. Because the place seemed incredibly insular.

“Yep. Ain’t nothin’ to it.”

“So what’s the trick?”

“All’s you need is to have grandparents in the cemetery.”

From that conversation on, I stopped trying to be from anywhere besides where I was from. I’d been schooled on “where I was from” at age 17, working as a phone sales agent for the Houston Post. I was in the middle of my pitch and the kindly old lady said, “Where you from, honey?”

“Where’m I from? Here, ma’am.”

“No, you ain’t.”

“Yes, I am. I’ve lived here all my life. My mom is from Daingerfield and my dad is from a ranch in West Texas.”

“Where was you born?”

I swallowed. She had me. “New Jersey.”

“I knowed it!” she said, and hung up.

I can’t really describe what it’s like to look local around here, but unwashed, same clothes all the time, no car or car from the 80’s, deep sunburn, hair in a ponytail, pays in small change, rear windshield missing from the car if you have one, shaggy beard, and no apparent source of employment is definitely one genre of local in the southern Sierra. Tattoo, riding everywhere on a bike or walking, going into the store and buying odd stuff like a single onion, or a jug of milk and a jug of wine, or being really stoned and trying to figure out if you have enough for the Fruity Pebbles AND the extra-long Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, these are all indicia of localdom. Smelling kind of gamey doesn’t hurt, either.

No one cares. At all.

It had been a crisis there at the Sierra Gateway supermarket in Kernville because I’d ridden all the way there, 6.2 miles, and had a backpack ready to be filled with a half-gallon of chocolate milk in a glass bottle, two onions, some mushrooms, a bunch of green onions, two grapefruit, two steaks, a pair of Triple A batteries, and some multicolored hair bands for my ponytail.

But I’d forgotten my wallet, so it was a stroke of great luck when the lady was able to run my card anyway.

After getting everything rung up, I opened my bag to load it and realized that it was filled with trash. You see, it costs $30/month for garbage service, and why pay that if you don’t hardly have much trash, and if there are public dumpsters at the campground on the highway, and all you have to do is drop it off on your way into town?

Problem is, I’d forgotten to drop off the trash, so first I had to take it out of my backpack, along with a couple of glass bottles I was going to get the deposit back on.

“Just a sec,” I said. “Gotta dump my trash.” I hurried outside to the gas pumps and dropped the plastic bag into the can.

I came back in, and loaded up.

No one batted an eye.

No one.


END

No. 5

July 27, 2022 Comments Off on No. 5

Kristie sent me a list that Michelle had sent her of the biggest and baddest climbs in California. Out our back door is No. 9, CA 155 to Shirley Meadow. Not out our back door is the 84-mile round-trip, 8,500-feet of climbing beast called Sherman Pass, a/k/a No. 5, topping out at 9,200 feet.

Funny thing is, there are much harder climbs nearby, like the Sawmill-Portuguese Pass debacle, 28 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing up dirt, much of which is soft sand. I did that with Boozy P. back in May, with fully loaded bikes.

We walked a lot and it only took 4:49 to go less than 30 miles.

And then there’s the unmentionable, Bodfish to the back side of the climb up Piute Mountain Road. Kristie and I gave up at 7,500 feet, but still clocked 8,500 feet of climbing in less than 60 miles. Oh, and the front side, up a 19-mile dirt road to Cold Spring Camp, just below Piute Peak at 8,200 feet. We walked a lot on that monster, too. She forgot her sleeping bag and it was a balmy 17 degrees that night. Pro tip: loaded bikes and backpacks are slower going, but sleeping bags are worth the extra weight.

But back to No. 5.

I lit out at 4:53 today because the ride is bitter no matter what, but unbearably so if you get a late start and have to make the 15-mile climb in triple digits. I have done this climb ten times and only made it to the top in seven of the attempts. Actually, the climbing starts way before the turnoff to Sherman Pass. The whole ascent is 31 miles, but it’s the last fifteen that really wreck you. Me.

I always keep an eye out for Summer Sale goodies, items that thoughtful tourists toss out the car to beautify the pristine Kern River, and this morning I was rewarded for my keenness. At first it looked like a pink t-shirt all wadded up, which would have been a perfect addition to my bike cleaning rag bag after a wash. I stopped and uncrumpled it and it turned out to be a pillowcase. Even better!

But then I noticed there was a portion of the material that would not uncrumple, as if it had been stuck together with some type of organic material. On closer inspection it did indeed appear to have been used as a mop-up for some sort of car-based extracurricular activity, so with deep regret I let it fall back to the roadside, where it will eventually get washed into the river and wind up in the LA or Bakersfield water supply, which is fitting, since the amorous folks who deposited it likely came from one of those two places.

I reached the base of the climb and got up it quickly, for me, in under 3 1/2 hours. Along the way I stopped and snapped photos of each 1,000-foot elevation marker, except for 8,000, which is no longer there, and 9,000, which is within an infographic at the overlook. From the overlook you can see Mt. Whitney, the highest bragging point in the lower 48.

I was going to eat my pancakes when the rain started. It had been incredibly cool the entire morning, but rain at 9,200 feet is extremely cold if not freezing, so I headed down the hill. About a mile into the screaming descent I almost hit a bear that leaped across the road and dove into the trees.

“Seth Davidson, 1963-2022. Killed in a bike-bear collision. Helmet would not have saved him.”

Not the best epitaph. But not the worst.

At the bottom it was very hot. I slogged along for a few miles before pulling over and eating my pancakes along the river. It was a nice day-use area that visitors had decorated with cigarette butts and my favorite item, shit-stained Kleenex thoughtfully wedged into the bushes.

I’d planned to get a half-gallon of chocolate milk in Kernville but had forgotten my wallet. So I rode home hot, worn out, bonked. I wondered what numbers 1-4 were like.

END

A story with a lesson

July 26, 2022 Comments Off on A story with a lesson

Now that I have begun writing regularly again, a few people have written to say hello.

Two years ago I was camped somewhere in Washington, I think it was not too far from Seattle. Kristie and I had gotten settled in and were excitedly talking about the most amazing thing we had ever seen at a campground, a junk hauler whose occupants had the foresight to carry the most indispensable item that any camper will ever need, a table saw. They had set it up and although it was idle, they were ready for any major construction projects that might need attending to such as building a house or a bridge or simply cutting up a stack of 2×4’s.

It was darkening. I don’t recall whether we’d eaten, but suddenly a man and his son appeared at the edge of our campsite. “Seth?” he tentatively asked.

“Yes?” I tentatively answered.

“Brent. I read your blog. Here’s something for you.” He handed us a jar of jam made from hand-picked berries. We spoke for a few minutes and then they left. It was one of many unforgettable moments, but especially sweet because of the jam and because he had brought his son, a handsome young man of twelve or maybe thirteen years.

This morning Brent sent me some photos of him and his son. They had been hiking in Washington and the backdrop was summer ice and craggy peaks. The beauty didn’t look real, it was possessed of such depth and breadth.

But the most beautiful thing in the photos wasn’t the glory of external nature, it was the beauty of internal nature, of a dad and his son hiking together in what’s left of our wild world.

There is nothing more profound than a father passing on lore, knowledge, and time with his son, and by father I mean mother, and by son I mean daughter. This is how our human race evolved, parent to child and then, all grown up, child to the child of its own.

When you are me, the ship has sailed, the window closed, the brief moment passed forever. They were young once and once only. Each day, each hour, each moment was precious, and you either buried yourself in it or you lightly skipped over it with “later,” “I’m too busy,” or “not now.”

The lesson? Now never returns.

END

Hobbits, windmills, and rocky trails

July 25, 2022 Comments Off on Hobbits, windmills, and rocky trails

I read Don Quixote in junior high school. Several years before that I’d read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Some weeks ago I found a new translation of Cervantes’s masterwork lying around the house, by John Rutherford, a huge improvement from the Modern Library version I read in the 70’s, as Rutherford’s creative and exacting translation has surgically removed almost all of the humor and Iberian-ness of the original, replacing it with a kind of perfect translation that says everything but captures nothing.

Translation is notorious, and when done well is always a monstrosity that gives the canvas and grammar of the immortals to people who are neither artists nor writers, but almost inevitably deep and brilliant scholars, and therefore the archenemy of art, alchemists who think that the right admixture of newt and spider web will turn their leaden prose into gold. For all that, here’s what you can’t escape from the Quixote, no matter the translation: madness is in the eye of the beholder, so behold well.

Although the Quixote is the greatest book ever written, its antithesis and therefore equally influential is J.R.R. Tolkein’s great epic. My dad read The Hobbit to me, a chapter a night, when I was eight years old. I still remember his big arm snuggling my small shoulders in bed as he mimicked accents, invented pronunciations for dwarvish names, and scratched the top of my head with his bushy beard. I remember the sadness of the ending, not the ending of the book, but the ending of the reading.

I descended into the Rings trilogy on my own and like many people was waylaid by it, living much of my elementary school years as Frodo Baggins. No one ever knew it except my mom, who one day asked me why I was crying.

“Because,” I sobbed, “Frodo is going through so much! It’s too much for a small hobbit!”

“Who?” she asked. “And what’s a hobbit?”

“You’ll never understand!” I shouted, and ran off to my room where I cried inconsolably for an hour or more, even though I knew the ending, having read the damned books several times.

Now that I’m at least chronologically older than when I was eight, I see the Rings trilogy a bit differently. It’s bad writing but imaginative, poorly plotted out and filled with ridiculous, gaping holes, yet still charming and infused with Tolkein’s love of Chaucer and Middle English, and still able to draw me in, a little, just enough so that even though I know the Nazgul’s knifepoint won’t be fatal, I still get nervous enough to have to put the book down and busy myself with a bit of dusting, vacuuming, or chopping wood.

The Rings trilogy was of course the very bane of Cervantes. Its modern take on Amadis of Gaul and tales of knight errantry, or in this case hobbit errantry, performs the selfsame mental capture of gullible readers that made Cervantes so wrathful. With dragons and trolls and weird figments that behave foolishly and contrary to all reason, Tolkein’s was exactly the prototype literature that drove the good hidalgo Don Quixote mad, not to mention the countless people still stumbling around this earth scrawling “Frodo lives!” and “All who wander are not lost!” To add to Cervantes’s genius, an impossibility, is the fact that he made fun of the Rings and the saps it ensnared almost 300 years before Tolkein was born.

And yet these two books circle back upon themselves as journeys. The Quixote, a journey of madness cloaked in knight errantry, and the Rings, a journey of hobbit errantry that makes readers mad, if madness includes falling headlong into the fantasy world of Middle Earth with minimal coping mechanisms to escape from it. For the Quixote, we look at the tragically insane hidalgo as he jousts with windmills. For the Rings, we look at a fantasy world of the wholly unreal and imagine that it is genuine, thereby becoming mad ourselves.

In both cases the mainspring is journey.

There is a 7-mile hike up behind the house that goes from about 3,000 feet to about 6,100. It starts sandy and rocky, high desert scrub interspersed with stunted oak and ghost pine, and turns into manzanita, massive ponderosa, towering lodgepole, giant red cedar, and eventually sequoia itself. It starts hot and finishes cool.

You will almost certainly never see anyone else on the trails that lead from here to there, though bobcat, cougar, and bear are always possible. Scrub jay, trending to Steller’s jay, is a certainty as you ascend. Underfoot your bare feet will transition from hot and rocky sand to softer, cooler loam.

All along the way your mind will seek and find contact points with reality, contact points of sky above, ground below, and the mountainous relief all ’round. Yet your mind will simultaneously disengage from reality and float into a kind of madness, “Do the trees hear me? Is the birdsong a secret code? Have I completely lost my mind, wandering these deserted mountain paths unshod, looking for a purpose and an enlightenment that does not exist?”

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Scottish Anti-Defamation League Demands Apology from L39ion Los Angeles

July 18, 2022 Comments Off on Scottish Anti-Defamation League Demands Apology from L39ion Los Angeles

Kilblarney O’Doulaghan, president of the Scottish Anti-Defamation League, today demanded an apology from Justin Williams, lead talker of the L3gion Los Angeles Unknown in Europe Professional Bicycle Racing Club. After engaging in name-calling, chest-thumping, timber-checking, and nyah-nyah-nyah-ing with Michael Hernandez in a post-race blubber-up, the orthographically challenged L39ion team posted a statement that said:

… everyone else seems to be getting away with it, scot free.

Velonews

“This is precisely the kind of racist language and racist stereotype we have been fighting since even before Braveheart,” said O’Doulaghan. “Scot-free is one of the most pernicious, nasty, racist, and demeaning phrases in English or Gaelic. We have been fighting since the early 1600’s to eliminate this pejorative reference to Scottish people, and it is sickening that L39ion of Los Angeles, despite their orthographic challenges, would continue to associate Scotsmen and Scotswomen with cheapness and the avoidance of paying one’s fair share.”

According to eyewitness accounts, L39ion of Los Angeles, after failing to field a team for any meaningful European race, let alone the Tour, gathered its forces for a run at the Salt Lake Criterium, America’s richest one-day bike race, with a combined prize list of $75 going 25 deep in the men’s field, and 15 deep in the women’s field, which had 15 riders.

On the final lap, Not Ready for Prime Time Michael Hernandez got boxed in by Over The Hill Cory Williams, and, according to Hernandez, Williams jammed him into the curb, making it impossible for him to latch onto the L39ion train and compete for the $15 winner’s purse.

After the “race,” Hernandez approached Williams, called him a nanny boo-boo and a bully and a pooky festersore. At that moment, Williams’s big brother Justin, who has never raced, let alone won, anything in Europe, hopped off his bike and called Hernandez a dooky-whoop, a flummadiddle, and a nasty poopy.

Before onlookers could intervene, Hernandez had spit at the elder Williams (42 years old and still dressing up in clown costumes), and the elder Williams had meanly mashed Hernandez’s little toe with his poky bicycle shoe, causing Hernandez to squeal “Ouchies!” and “Yip!”

Hernandez began to cry and pulled Williams’s hair, which led Williams to flick a booger onto Hernandez’s helmet. Officials pulled the two children apart, made them say they were sorry, and disqualified both racers from further Bike Races That Are A Farce, which, as L39ion later pointed out, was tantamount to a lifetime ban in the USA.

O’Doulaghan has appealed to sponsors, USA Cycling, and the 27 extant fans of US crit racing to join him in condemnation of this “racist” statement. According to O’Doulaghan, “It’s not until we treat all people with dignity, even cheap-ass Scotsmen, that our society has a chance of becoming just.”

When contacted for comment, Williams said, “What the fuck is that guy talking about? Scot-free is no different from other shit we say all the time here on the team like ‘Indian giver,’ ‘Chinese eyes,’ and ‘Jewed him down.’ Lighten up, Francis.”

Francis X. Hardiman of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was quoted as saying, “Idgaf. I’m Irish.”

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