October 11, 2022 Comments Off on American redemption at Gravel Worlds
Against a stacked field of pro European road riders, Team USA showed why the “unroad” racing in America exemplified by the BWR series and the Lifetime Grand Prix are the finest gravel training grounds on earth.
In perfect conditions featuring an ideal mix of cobbles, dirt, and pavement, US riders Griffin Easter and Michael Garrison pulled off stunning upsets in Veneto, Italy, dominating the world’s top pro riders with a shocking 46th and 76th place, respectively.
“American gravel can go up against the best and win because the fields here have such depth,” said BWR organizer Eddy Marckx. “Our race is the most unique cycling event in America, all seven of them, and they’re each the most unique in their own unique and amazing way.”
Phlimm Phlamm, director of the biggest and richest US series, the Lifetime Grand Prix, agreed. “Next year you can expect to see an American rider in the top 30, no question, and if our elite riders can ever pass a drug test we may crack the top 20.”
Sally Snuffles, noted notary public, pointed to the features of US gravel racing that make it a proving ground for world-beaters like Easter and Garrison. “Look at the results for the Quadrupel Krown of Grafull. Even though the leaderboard isn’t posted anywhere on the Internet, and it’s likely that at least four people are battling for the $35 purse, we can be certain that every one of those retired pro road competitors is going to come back someday and beat Mathieu van der Poel. Our races are that amazing and competitive and unique.”
Teddy Tuba, longtime gravel racer from way back in 2019, attributes American success to tradition. “Here in America we are old skool. We ride hard, play hard, drink hard, puke hard, rehab hard, binge eat hard, and pay ridiculous entry fees hard. Them Euro weenies ain’t never going to beat us. USA! USA!”
America’s top gravel racer, Keegan Swenson, did not participate in the event. According to a spokesperson, he was still recovering from “Crushing the pro elite road field at the world championships in Wollongong,” where he left the competition choking on his dust, narrowly missing a podium spot by 73 places.
October 8, 2022 Comments Off on The dog of small things
I got into photography when I was a kid, shooting in black and white with my dad’s Olympus on Ilford film, then developing the negatives and making the prints at a little camera store around the corner where you could rent darkrooms by the hour. My principal subject was my dog Fletcher. I’m not sure how he liked the photos but when he saw the camera come out he knew it was time to go out into the yard and play.
In my 30’s I began taking photos for my job. I was one of the first people I knew who used a digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix. My mentor, a horrible photographer who was also my boss and mom’s husband, had the typical parochial view of photography: Take beautiful pictures.
Of course all his work was anodyne, lifeless, antiseptic, infinitely edited, perfect. There was nothing that could put you to sleep faster than one of Ted’s slide shows and later, digital photo galleries. He was like Wynyon Marsalis, a genius trumpeter who knew nothing about music. He had art inside himself, which was a good place for it.
This approach to photography was savaged indirectly in an essay I recently read. It didn’t critique travel photography per se but it pointed out the pointlessness of trying to newly interpret any major travel destination with a camera. The thing that has made digital photography ubiquitous is the same thing that has robbed it of its interpretive qualities. When you can take a hundred shots in a second and edit them to perfection in a few more, you are no longer in the sphere of art, which is the sphere of chance, and you’ve landed squarely in the sphere of the Philistines, also known in college as the School of Engineering.
If a picture is simply a carefully designed interpretation of light that leaves nothing to chance and is infinitely tweakable, why do it? Or rather, why give one twisted fuck whether or not it’s beautiful? Since the only role left for the camera is to document, why not simply snap the pic and move on? You and your camera have nothing to say besides an aside to the selfie: This is my amazing body and face, and here is where I was, looking at this perfect thing.
So I decided to cast off Ted’s crippling camera-ism, as represented by all of social media, and strip my phonamera down to its most essential function (besides tracking my every move and thought and purchase). I would allow myself no more than a second or two, snap the photo and move on. No edits and no filters of any kind. What I see is what you get.
It’s harder than you think, snapping and moving on. Your whole body will scream “No! Take more!” and when you sit down to review you will positively shudder at the unflattering images, which shudder will morph into an irresistible urge to hit the edit button. So deeply has Ted’s fake perfectionism worked its way into a lifetime of picturetaking that it’s virtually impossible to break the habit. And indeed for the butterfly I took about fifty pictures.
Old habits don’t die in an outing.
Otherwise it worked out fine. There is plenty of random unfocused capture of subjects that aren’t even proper subjects. No ugly artifacts or distracting items were harmed in the taking of these photos, the collation of which I’m calling “The Dog of Small Things.”
You see, there are a host of tiny oaks that have begun growing since I began watering the trees. Though my brown thumb is omnipotent, I’ve carefully not killed anything and have simply given regular water to what’s already here, and oddly enough, native plants know what to do with sunshine and a little extra water.
In addition to the oak babies, I sprinkled some Sequoia seeds when they began to spill out of a green cone I’d brought home. They once grew all over these hills. Why not in the yard? In 1,500 years or so I might have some really impressive shade to sit under.
I also took pictures of things that no one can see but me, for example the leafy mulberries that may not look impressive but which have doubled in size and which now throw out ridiculous amounts of shade and cover for the birds. Or the dead apricot that holds the seed feeder, a perfect perch for the finches and jays, the nuthatch and occasional house sparrow. Or the shrubs that are now busting out all over with golden berries–this time a year ago they were almost dead. Or the things that were hewn to the ground, now making a fine recovery. These photos of things that are invisible are the best of all.
A more satisfying series of pictures I’ve never taken, unblemished by fake colors that were never there, unamputated of ugly appendages that were, free and naked and running wild beneath the soil and sky, a prayer to just moving on, motherfucker.
October 8, 2022 Comments Off on Why we travel
Escape, novelty and its mirror image boredom, human restlessness, narcissism, social status, genetic curiosity, family, isolation, discovery, conquest, social media, insecurity, money, sex, material for your blog, to inspire and be inspired, fomo, yolo, adventure, duty, knowledge, and of course no reason at all.
I read an interesting critique of modern travel on Medium by (of course) a travel writer, Henry Wismayer, in which he identified the obvious fact that travel has rapidly distilled itself into posed images for social media, a vapid exercise within a vapid exercise that neither inspires, ennobles, elucidates nor enriches.
Wismayer exempts himself from the definition of tourist of course, having made a career of trying to write meaningfully about his own voyeurism and therefore seeking deeper meaning than the average schmo, educating us about the human condition while obliquely suggesting that we amateurs should stick to Disneyland, or better yet, to home. He has a good point, even though he thinks he’s exempt: Travel is dumb.
The idea that you should visit strangers in order to better experience life is dumb. The idea that you can better understand the human condition by going outside your own neighborhood is dumb. And the idea that you can mitigate the economic, environmental, cultural, and social harms of tourism by touring is really, really dumb.
In essence, travel writing sells to gloss over the harsh meaninglessness of travel and imbue it with qualities it no longer has. In chronological order, travel began as discovery, turned into conquest, degenerated into experiential enrichment, and died as a post-modern extension of our online existence, which for most of us is the only real existence we will ever have. Your journey is what fits online for others to read about and see, nothing more and nothing less.
Originally people moved from place to place seeking food. By the end of the last Ice Age the world had been fully explored and populated. There were no wildernesses in fact, only in perspective. When Europeans reached the great uninhabited forests of North America filled with people, they immediately began pushing the local inhabitants out of this uninhabited region. Uninhabited by Europeans, that is. The 30-100 million Amerindians who lived in the Americas had fully discovered and inhabited it. As with the rest of the world, however unknown it was to the white men who “discovered” it, every inch of these new continents was without exception someone else’s backyard.
The Age of Discovery concluded in prehistory and gave rise to the Age of Conquest. Once people had expanded to fill their environment they began fighting over it. Whether Mayans driving out smaller tribes, Aztecs driving out Toltecs, Spaniards driving out Aztecs, or Russians trying to drive out Ukrainians, conquest was for millennia the dominant purpose of travel. Rape, murder, booty, and land were all the incentive that tribes, races, and nations needed to engage in tourism.
With the relative peace created by the relative stability of borders, early Christianity led the transformation of conquest travel into a new form of travel, the personal experience. Chaucer’s pilgrims exemplify this form of tourism, where well-to-do, rather bored people take a trip in order to eat, drink, fuck, tell stories, and escape the monotony of material well-being by going to visit someone’s backyard and bring home a souvenir of the trip.
For centuries the personal experience and the travel trinket expanded until it encompassed virtually everyone who had access to a donkey, bicycle, car, bus, train, or plane. Freud’s upper-class, intellectual excursions to Italy, memorialized by souvenir Etruscan vases, eventually trickled down to Moron Joe’s family bedecked with mouse ears and each member carrying a stuffed rat made in China and sold for $50 at a glorified parking lot that costs $235 simply to enter. Carcinogens and junk food are extra. Way extra.
In between Disneyland and guided hikes to the top of Everest there are as many variations of travel as there are people because this form of travel is tailored to you. Bike across the Gobi? Rape children in Thailand? Watch the Stones in Amsterdam? See the ruins of Chernobyl? Learn Malay on Kalimantan? Whatever your hobby there is a trip for it. You can’t discover anything because it’s already been discovered. You can’t conquer anything because you’ll be thrown into prison. All you can do is experience something and hope that the something turns out to be something. That’s the essence of experiential travel. Go, see, do, hope, talk about, repeat.
About the time that experiential travel lost fashion favor, which was around the time that “The Ugly American” was published in 1958 as a literary footnote to failed US diplomatic policies in Latin America and Southeast Asia and became synonymous with American, then Japanese, then Chinese tourists. “A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They are loud and ostentatious.”
In sum, it was no longer cool to be an experiential traveler, and it became necessary to convince people like Henry Wismayer that he could still travel without being a tourist. The trajectory of travel continually refined itself so that other people were tourists. You, however, were a traveler.
Around the time that “The Ugly American” was finding its way into travel mirrors across the USA, computer scientists began thinking about, then working on, the idea of transmitting information in packets that could be read by other computers. One revolution led to another and by 1989 the World Wide Web had debuted, beginning the nearly completed process of trapping everyone in its sticky strands.
Like the invention of the CD, the highest and best use of the Internet was to watch other people engaging in sex, but ancillary uses soon developed. Not as enjoyable as viewing sex but infinitely more graphic was the invention of the phonecamera tracking device, which brought tourism into the post-modern age of travel, also known as the Selfiecene, an epoch partially concurrent with the Anthropocene. The Selfiecene began as a way to ostensibly share, but in fact to impose, one’s own ugly image on the eyes of others through social media.
Initially the selfie was an extrapolation of the travel snapshot, and after it became its own art form the selfie turned outwards and inwards simultaneously, capturing one’s own inner beauty and capturing the external beauty of the place being visited. This duality, enhanced and made ubiquitous through hashtags, turned the act of moving from place to place into an experience for other people to view and ponder and compare, by the millions, simultaneously. Think you took a great shot of the sunset? Check #sunset on Instagram and get back with me.
Discovery, conquest, and experience have now been compressed into an electronic exchange of information packets that wholly obviate the need for any movement at all. As Wismayer threatens in his critique, are you really going to take a new photo of Stonehenge or the Taj Mahal? And by extension, is your own image next to such an icon anything less than a grotesque profanity?
The answer of course is no and no. Travel and tourism have merged into the shared consciousness that early researchers posited would occur as the Internet became a functioning world brain, the repository of all that is known, opined, believed, and experienced. What this means is that the awe and wonder of travel are as mundane as the awe people once felt at seeing a written word and hearing it read aloud, so that after a few centuries reading and writing aren’t the sign of god’s messengers on Earth but required subjects for small children. It’s not simply that there is nothing new under the sun, it’s that the sun no longer shines on anything. All objects and experiences exist in a microprocessor. No sunshine need apply.
Does this mean that travel and its cachet, along with sunscreen and diarrhea, are obsolete? Yes, emphatically. The problem is that although moving through time and space to stimulate our senses and sort through danger, security, food, shelter, clothing, and companionship is an anachronism, our brains and bodies are stuck in drive, and it’s a manual transmission that no one knows how to operate, much less repair.
Walkabout resides at the genetic level and at the level of a stroll in the park or down the Champs Elysees, but it no longer connects to our minds, which are ever turned towards a tighter integration with the Internet.
Iridium service makes it possible to call from the South Pole, or the North. And why wouldn’t you? Your smiling face at the ends of the earth … it may not be novel, it may not even be travel, and it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it can’t be. It’s just you somewhere else stuffed into a phone for everyone else to see.
October 7, 2022 Comments Off on Getting used to all the silence
After getting divorced and moving away from Los Angeles to a small town in the southern Sierras, things got really quiet. I deleted Facebook a couple of years before leaving LA, and deleted Instagram after one of my bike tours; I don’t remember which one.
The only social media I had left were the comments on my blog, and I finally turned those off, too.
Once I’d left the center of the fake world I’d created, of course people stopped calling, texting, emailing. A couple of fishermen pinged me now and again, not because they liked me but because they were hoping I might provide some entertainment/gossip, or simply so that they could tell people they were “still in touch.”
Even the tiny cadre of people I’d considered friends never called or reached out, which made sense because they weren’t friends. I woke up one day not too long ago and realized that I’m almost completely alone. Over the course of a day I talk to one person, and on a very busy day I speak with two, that’s if you don’t count the brief exchanges at the store or the odd work-related phone call.
They say that being lonely is incredibly bad for you, but I don’t think that’s true for being alone. You can be lonely in the middle of a city of ten million people, but being alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely, at least not for me, and at least not when it’s by choice.
The biggest benefit to being alone is not having any responsibility for how people react to what I say and do. At first it was a shock, the withdrawal of reactions. But now it is completely normal and relaxing. There was a time when I would have moved to a new place and immediately made friends, tried to be part of the community. Though I’m no recluse, I now avoid any unnecessary contact or communication. People are so noisy. Why would I want more noise?
Because I already have plenty. The scrub-jays, acorn woodpeckers, titmice, ravens, quail, doves, hummingbirds, honeybees, and house finches make a racket all day long, but unlike human racket, it’s very pleasing. The wind blows or soughs, and that’s pleasing, too. Even the ugly barn next door makes odd creaking and groaning noises when the aluminum joints expand in the heat, and the raucous barking of dogs at odd times, the high-pitched calls of coyotes, or the crackle of logs in the fireplace mixed with the purr of the cat, all these noises are noises enough.
I don’t need to hear much else.
What’s more to the point, I’ve become maladjusted to social environments. We went to a brewery last week and it was very uncomfortable simply being around people. No matter how much I tried not to listen, snippets of their conversations wafted in, annoying, empty, vain, vapid exchanges fueled by booze and the kind of loneliness no one wants a slice of. We left quickly.
As someone who has written in this format for more than a decade and been addicted to the chatter generated by his writing, the biggest silence is the silence of readers. Once in a great rare while someone will email me but other than that the biggest payback of writing, which is to hear the praise and the criticism, has vanished. This is of course its own topic, the idea that you can write publicly with little or no feedback from your audience and still maintain interest in it without the dopamine, but after a while I can tell you that the withdrawal goes away and I find myself wondering how I ever survived all that distraction in the first place?
There is still some feedback in the form of viewing stats but that’s optional and it’s anonymous and it’s machine-generated. It’s not noisy and it doesn’t scream “You’re awesome!” or “You suck!”.
When you pull away from the noise you realize that you’re not that important, and that the only people who really care about you can be counted on a few fingers. That your life isn’t the architecture of the 0’s and 1’s you’ve curated online, and that opinions, including your own, are like armpits and assholes: Everybody has ’em.
And of course the less you speak the more you think before you speak. Scarcity creates value. Silence makes you understand why people once spoke so little and why words once had so much heft, why the right word moved armies to peace and the wrong word to war.
Silence also has a way of reflecting back the enormity of the universe and its central message of utter coldness, utter randomness, and its unblinking stare of pitiless infinity. It’s not for the religious, the certain, or the faint of heart.
There was a time when I would have tried to tie this in with cycling first and the South Bay second. There. I just did.
October 5, 2022 Comments Off on I saw ’em when they opened for Douchebag!
In small towns everyone knows everyone else and in the process confirms the essential quality that people are lonely, that they accept others’ oddities, and that they love to gossip. It doesn’t matter where you are in a small town. All these qualities are always on display.
At the Dollar General, for example, where there is always a line, people not only talk to the person in line next to them, but they comment on and join conversations they aren’t initially part of, like the lady who was complaining to the cashier about the hot weather, only to be interrupted by a customer four people behind her who reminisced about the week in 2015 when it was 117 degrees.
The post office is a guaranteed place for human contact but not on Mondays because everyone is so hung hover. It’s not until Tuesday that they can get showered and dressed up to go collect the Social Security check from the PO box.
Yesterday I was there to box up and mail some items I’d sold on eBay. On the way there I got passed by Billy Badass, a local guy in his 60’s who looks like he’s a hundred. He rides a Harley; he and his buddy tried to throw me out of a campground last year when I had evacuated during a fire. He was dressed up in his baddest Harley rider outfit and with the tattoos and long hair and pristine torn up clothes he looked like he was headed straight for a rumble of the Hell’s Angels instead of where he was really going, which was the post office.
I got there and was trying to figure out which box to use when he walked over from the PO boxes, looked around bewildered, and shouted, “Oh, fuck!”, slapped his leg, and stormed out. No one else seemed to notice or care.
Then a guy came up to the counter. “Hey,” he said to the clerk.
“I sent a package outta here about a month ago and I lost my receipt and it didn’t get delivered so now I’m wondering how to find it.”
“Did you pay with a credit card?”
“I don’t know.” He looked as confused as if the clerk had asked him the distance from Earth to Andromeda in centimeters.
“Well go home and see if it’s on your credit card statement then bring it back.” I thought the clerk was going to say that they could trace it from the credit card, but no. “I’ll look at the date and maybe we can figure out which package it was.” That’s when I realized they send so few things in a day that merely knowing the date would narrow it down to a dozen or so items.
“Okay,” the guy said and shuffled out but he didn’t look like he’d coming back with a credit card.
Another guy walked in and paid for sending a package, swiping his card. “Whoa!” he said. “What’s that?”
“It’s a new option for cash back. Just hit ‘No’ because we don’t have any cash.”
“Only about forty bucks or so.”
“You need more?”
“I got a couple thousand dollars at home in quarters and dollar bills. I save it up all year for Christmas gifts for my grandkids and my annual trip to Vegas.”
I easily imagined the breakdown of kid gifts vs. Vegas money, and it wasn’t in favor of the kids.
He continued. “I’ll bring you as much as you need and you can buy it from me.”
“Okay, let’s start with a couple hundred.”
I wondered if this was how other departments of the federal government supplied their till, just buying cash from the random customer who saves his quarters in a jar. If they do, it’s a heckuva way to pay for an F-38.
Then I overheard two people meet in the lobby. “Hi there, Susan!”
“Hi, Sam!” And without a single word of other greeting, she launched into “I’m so glad the boys are back in school!”
“Yeah, the homeschooling wasn’t working out.” This guy didn’t look like he could spell “school” much less administer one at home. Bloodshot with black rings of death under his eyes, sallow skin, thinning hair, fraying life, I see it everywhere, all the time.
“They need to be around other people and learn to share so they don’t fight all the time,” she continued.
“They are hellions. Don’t matter how much I whip ’em.”
“You know it got so bad that after you’d drop ’em off I’d have to threaten to turn off the TV if they didn’t quit fighting.”
“That’s about the only thing gets their attention.”
“Well I’m glad Daisy Mae’s out of jail and they are back in school.”
“Me, too. I hope she stays sober. Me, too!” he laughed.
She guffawed with him. “We could all use a little sobriety.” And I’m sure that’s all anyone was getting, and they appeared to be getting it at the post office, but I was pretty sure that it would vanish once they’d returned to their respective bottles of cheap vodka.
But the best interchange was between a guy who was leaving and a guy who was coming in wearing a t-shirt stretched across his enormous belly that must have been donned with the help of a spatula and stick of butter. Guy One stopped in his tracks. “Dude!” he said. “I haven’t seen one of those t-shirts in years!”
Dude snorted with satisfaction and pride. “Yeah!” he said.
“I saw ’em in ’92 at the Palladium when they opened for Douchebag! It was fuckin’ awesome!” I couldn’t hear the name of the band they opened for; it wasn’t actually “Douchebag.” I don’t think.
“I was so fuckin’ bummed when they broke up. Best band ever. I saw ’em twice at the Forum when they opened for Venom.” He chortled. “That was a blast, all right.”
I glanced at the guy’s giant gut, which was turned towards me. It had a skull with an axe through it and a faded logo that said “Slayer.” Of course. After the Beatles, the most popular band in rock history. And before I could even wonder who keeps t-shirts from 1992, especially ones that were probably too small even then, they began the one-upsmanship of who had seen Slayer more times than the other, and where.
The extraordinary relish with which they reminisced confirmed that time had stood still. Those days spent following Slayer, a band noted for lyrics eulogizing the Holocaust and Josef Mengele, were life’s high point and emotionally these guys were stuck in amber. I figured that the t-shirt probably was a good idea, as without it there would be hardly any memories of an evening spent drowning in drugs and alcohol and a brain-killing racket consisting of three badly played chords and a vocal accompaniment that sounded like a piano falling through a plate glass window.
The more they talked the more excited they got until the excitement, combined with having to stand on twiggy legs supporting massive stomachs hiding swollen feet they couldn’t see brought the conversation to an end. I followed them out, realizing that in twenty minutes I’d been the only person who’d simply gone in, boxed up his shit, paid, and left.
Who’s the weirdo?
October 3, 2022 Comments Off on What people really want
A reader sent me this with some very funny commentary.
In short, here is a well-researched and carefully marketed product that addresses the two most important things people feel about their shoes, and it isn’t comfort or fashion: It’s first and foremost having to bend over, and second, not getting dirty.
In case you missed the sales hook there’s even a little infographic with a red bar through a bending person and then, if that’s not enough, a tag line that says “Never have to touch your shoes again.”
Why don’t they just say what’s really happening, aside from the fact that it would repel buyers? The real tag line should be, “You are so pathetically fat and lazy, your ankles are so stiff and swollen, your knees are so worn out carrying that massive gut and man-boobs, and your back is so inflexible due to your sedentary lifestyle, fat ass, and completely degenerated abdominal support musculature that these are the only sneakers you will ever be able to put on without fear of a herniated disc and stroke.”
The secondary tag line should be: “You have an unnatural and unhealthy aversion to dirt, sweat, and grit, which is why you never go outside, never exercise, and are paralyzed by fear when it comes to flushing a public toilet. Worry no more, even about your own feet! With the new Sketchers hands-free Slip-Ins, all of the germs on your feet will stay there and never migrate up to your hands, allowing you to maintain a clean-room hygiene that keeps your immune system weak, inactive, and unable to fight off so much as a sniffle.”
My reader was more succinct, saying, “I bet this guy owns a Yeti,” and “The long term cure for never bending again is of course death, and these shoes not only deliver on the promise today but hasten the inevitable. That is some serious truth in advertising right there.”
Well said, and thanks for writing today’s blog.
October 2, 2022 Comments Off on Me time
I made my third run at Split Mountain yesterday, #fail. It was a little over four hours of hard hiking up steep sandy slopes, then forcing our way through dense brush, then wobbling over boulders before I thew up my hands, begged for a clean diaper, and went back the way I’d come.
I got up this morning with aching legs, and we decided to ride up the 155 and then go for a trail run from the forest service fire station. Everything went according to plan because the plan was to do a hard ride, a hard run, and get home absolutely beaten to shit.
Somewhere along the way, or maybe before we started, we had a funny conversation about “me time.”
Where the fuck did that come from? I see it and hear it all the time, a self-serving, pity-party phrase that suggests how deprived you’ve been of enjoyment and fulfillment, and that yeah, it might be indulgent to spend $200 on a pedicure or $50 on a Bundt cake or $300 on a night out with the boys a/k/a shitfaced drunk at the bar, but you know life has been so hard lately, such a grind of total dedication to the needs of others that you just gotta give ol’ Number One a little TLC.
You especially see this in divorce books, lots of reminders about “taking care of yourself” and “treating yourself to something special” and all kinds of similar crap.
And I suppose the reason it gets me is that society and modern life are nothing BUT “me time” and “taking care of Number One.” Isn’t that the very definition of social media, gazing narcissistically at yourself, curating selfies, endlessly fapping off on your IG feed that loops back to you?
This is to say nothing of the crazy amounts of time people spend taking care of themselves with every conceivable luxury food, fancy alcohols, cars/clothes/accessories/entertainment precisely to reward themselves for their hard life of self-abnegation, suffering and sacrifice. Sorry, but I call bullshit.
“Me time” is a capitalist marketing tool designed to sell you shit and designed to force your gaze ever deeper up your navel. “Me time” is what you do every time you buy fast food, buy prepared food at Trailer Joe’s, watch the NFL or anything on TV ever, shop online, dick off on #socmed, do the group ride, read or participate in a chat forum, travel for fun, hang out at the mall, share a meme, work in the yard, in short, virtually every waking moment outside of work is time for you.
Even childrearing for most people has little if any sacrifice when compared to life a hundred years ago. Daycare, giving the kid a phone so they can perpetually “entertain” themselves without human input, school that goes from age five to adulthood, even or especially driving their lazy little butts to school … parenting has its stresses but capitalism has created so many goods and service providers to contract out the hard work to someone else that few parents experience the life-draining hardships that childrearing entailed even forty years ago. And although being a parent always involves some degree of sacrifice, it’s hardly the brutal grind that necessitates the constant escapism of the “me time” philosophy, especially when there are two parents.
If you have to build in constant and regular long-term escapes from parenting, you’re doing it wrong.
The real problem isn’t that you have this crazy hard life whose difficulty can only be militated by a pedicure, it’s that your life is so fucking distracted with stupid shit that by the time the day ends you haven’t gotten the important stuff done, so you have to cram like crazy, stay up late, or engage in other unhealthy behaviors that result in greater exhaustion and frustration. Distraction is what fuels modern capitalism, in fact, whether it’s the constant noise of sirens and traffic, the racket of the TV, the racket of #socmed, the racket of your playlist, the marketing racket of online shopping, and most especially the racket of being attuned to what’s in fashion and what you have to do next to not look poor and needy.
These things are incredibly exhausting, especially that last one, but they are all voluntary. You are beset by distractions because you’re in the vortex of capitalism. The minute you switch off the devices and begin ignoring what other people wear, drive, say, and do, you create incredible amounts of time in the day. And it’s this creation of time that instantaneously sloughs off stress and aggravation. Study after study shows that screen time correlates with depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and what I nonscientifically call “feeling like shit.”
But rather than reducing any of the above, we double down on the very behaviors that steal from us the only thing anyone is ever born with, which is time.
Not being pressed to respond to people’s online idiocy, not being in the thrall of the talking heads, not caring what the latest weather catastrophe is, never watching anything on TV ever, and especially refusing to buy things you don’t need are all behaviors that create a sense of luxury and ease. The converse of those behaviors results in maddening stress and the realization that something’s not getting done, you’re just not sure what. It’s that feeling you have after watching a 4-hour NFL advertising festival and saying to yourself, “What a waste of time.” Until the next Big Game, which usually happens at a time known as “tomorrow.”
Me time is everywhere, the real me time, which is to say unfilled, unscheduled, unplanned time. It’s what you have to have in order to sit on the porch and enjoy it. It’s what you have to have in order to make things that taste good from scratch. It’s what you have to have in order to go stomp around and get lost. But it doesn’t come easily in 2022. You have to go get it.
September 30, 2022 Comments Off on Travel prep
I have a couple of things to get before I leave. One is footwear. My current hiking shoes have mostly fallen apart, and the road to Antarctica is going to be a long one. The other thing I need is an auxiliary battery for my phone. The one Tom Duong gave me in 2020 on my way to Canada finally rolled over and cried “Uncle!” so I’m getting a new one.
Aside from those two things, a grand total of $274, I pretty much have everything I need. The only thing I’m struggling with is whether or not to take my heavy wool pants. I have a pair of fancy hiking-biking-restaurant trousers with lots of pockets and stuff, but they are made of plastic and I’m afraid that in the Andes they aren’t going to do that well. Wool never lets you down, but it’s heavy. Taking two pairs of pants seems excessive.
But in fact the real travel prep isn’t things, it’s between the ears.
I’ve been told I’m crazy, I’m just a character in a weird comic strip that I’m writing for myself. It isn’t real, that I’m literally becoming Don Quixote, that I’m casually tossing out a melodramatic scenario to cover up the pain and sorrow and self-inflicted tragedy of my life, but I remind myself that if it’s self-inflicted, it’s never tragedy, Hamlet notwithstanding.
Of course it seems to me that everyone has their own comic strip and tries to write themselves into it. Most people do it with #socmed nowadays, but everyone, crazy or not, creates an image and tries to mold their life so that it fits. The alternative is having an inner self already molded, and forcing the world to conform. I’m not sure that works, if only because the universe is random and DOES NOT CARE ABOUT YOU AT ALL. So forcing it to conform is kind of like trying to get into those pants from 1997. Ain’t happenin’.
God-believing people will disagree and say that Jesus has a Plan, but idgaf. As Chris Lotts used to say, I don’t care about your invisible friend.
The core travel prep for something like this is believing that you’re leaving and not coming back, at least not anytime soon. Images of well-seasoned frying pans, sharpened kitchen knives, happy cats, breakfast on the porch supervising a sunrise over the southern Sierra, and small oaks sprouting from acorns, these are all things to which you have to say adieu.
And it is hard.
September 29, 2022 Comments Off on Turn left for Antarctica
The other day I was wondering if there were any convenience stores in Antarctica. Because if there are, it would sure make a bike ride to the South Pole easier. I also wondered if maybe they had built a bridge from Argentina or New Zealand, which would also greatly increase accessibility.
Turns out there is neither, which put a temporary damper on my plans.
And there are lots more hurdles to overcome, such as -136 degree weather, and of course the $80,000 price tag of getting squired all the way to the South Pole on skis while pulling a 160-lb. sled. Even a simple cruise for a few days to set foot on the ice continent will set you back $10k or more.
As tough as all that sounds, there’s an even bigger obstacle, which is getting to Bakersfield.
Bakersfield is the first place I’ll have to stop on my trip out of Kern County. I’ve tried all the different ways to the coast and there are no easy ones from here. They say the hardest step on any trip is the first one, and it’s true. To get to Bakersfield I have to take a winding canyon road that follows the Kern River, then take the main canyon road a final thirteen miles, two narrow lanes that absolutely do not have room for a bicycle.
So you have to pull onto the tiny 1-foot strip to the right of the fog line to let trucks and cars pass, then hop back into the lane before crashing, while making sure that you’re not also hopping in front of a car that’s barreling down behind you. If only there was an invention that could be attached to a helmet or handlebar that would let you see what’s happening behind you.
And before even getting to Bakersfield you have to consider the Bad Idea Fairy Theorem, i.e., is this simply another mad idea that struck me late at night, a manifestation of crazy that under the bright light of midday will be revealed as a super terrible idea that should be disposed of immediately? Seems so, but it’s pretty bright outside and the idea hasn’t dissipated. I mean, lots of people have been to Antarctica before. It’s actually a trendy destination. So what if I get most of the way there on a bike instead of on a plane?
I know, I know. Bakersfield.
September 28, 2022 Comments Off on The old lessons
These are the ones you are constantly having to re-learn, which calls into question whether in fact you ever learned them. One of my favorites is Lemond’s line, “It doesn’t get easier, you just go faster.”
I love this because it’s untrue and thus must be committed irrevocably to memory. It does get easier, and you don’t necessarily go faster. In fact, you typically go slower, until you give up cycling altogether in a process known as “death.”
But it does get easier, really, it does. And it gets easier in two ways. First is relatively easier. The second half of the 12-mile dirt climb up Old State Road is the sandiest, switch-backiest, and hardest. Many times in the last couple of miles I’ve seen human footprints, usually with a dog’s, marking out a pleasant 4-mile walk for someone who lives up in Alta Sierra.
But I’ve never seen the person, or any person, ever riding, running, or even walking on the road.
Two days ago I had climbed the 155 and was taking the dirt descent on OSR when I saw the tracks again sans dog. They were fresh. “Oh,” I thought, “the guy is out for a walk.”
I descended for about three miles, still seeing the tracks, until I actually came upon the guy. He was mostly bald, chubby, and mid-40’s old. But here’s the thing. It was already a 6-mile run for him, eight if he’d begun back in Alta Sierra, and it is a damned hard section to run up or down. He waved, and to make matters worse he was running fast, by which I mean faster than I’ve ever run, which sets the bar low.
Still … the longest run I’ve ever done was twelve miles but it was on the bottom section of OSR, yes, in the dirt and uphill, but I turned around about a mile into the really steep and sandy section. Just the fact that this guy was out there running was impressive, let alone his pace, which was humbling. So I started following his footprints in earnest, almost crashing numerous times as I did, disbelieving, as they continued on and on and on.
Finally, when it would have been about a 20-mile run, the tracks ended. I forgot to mention that it was already hot. This guy’s run made my ride relatively easier because it reminded me that running is way harder than riding and that I’d had to screw myself up for an 8-mile climb whereas he’d had to screw himself up for a near-marathon. My ride got relatively easier just thinking about it.
I took the next day off, tired from the crazy climb up the 155, and this morning shouldered a pack that I’d loaded down with about ten pounds of water, and rode up the 155 again. It was so much easier than two days ago, and yes, I went faster, fifteen or twenty minutes faster. This is the second way it gets easier: Although Lemond is right about trained athletes trying to improve their times, he’s wrong about old doofuses trying to dislodge themselves from the clutching embrace of the recliner.
The first time in a long time that I’d climbed the 155 it was bitter hell with a dash of gall and wormwood thrown in. There is a huge difference between something so hard that you barely have the strength to turn your legs over, and having the fitness to ride the same route where the discomfort is pace rather than the sheer effort of not toppling over. It really was easier because strength fatigue is different from fitness fatigue.
Which brings us to the old lesson.
Whether it gets easier and whether you go faster isn’t the point. The old lesson is that you have to get out and do it, period. I thought about that guy pounding out twenty miles on the hardest road I know of. I’ve no idea if he was going faster or if it was getting easier, but it didn’t matter. He knew the old lesson; he’d laced up and done the run.
If I ever see him again I’ll stop and thank him for the reminder.