A Ride To Remember

No, that’s not a shitty movie reference.

I started working on this blog after my 17-mile ride on Saturday, but quickly lost any idea of what it was that I wanted to write about.  So, I decided I needed to put myself through a refresher course and go on another ride.  Here’s the breakdown of my Monday:

Monday started like every other day has during the past four months.  I woke up, so very slowly, put pants on, went out for a smoke and came back in to shower and brush.  Halfway through thinking of what it was I wanted to do that day, I decided, fuck it.  I’m going for another ride.  By 9:00 I had the rack and bike on my car, a half-gallon of water in bottles and another 32oz to go on my back.  I plugged the route into my GPS, because I’m horrible with remembering where the place I’ve been to seven times before is, and set out.

I got to the Potomac around 9:30, unloaded my bike, strapped an extra water bottle to my Camelbak and set off going north on the C&O Canal.  There was very little wind, the sun felt great and it wasn’t too hot yet.  The high was 87, but I wasn’t worried too much about it.  I would be under tree canopy for the entire ride and wouldn’t be too beaten down on by direct heat.

At first, like the beginning of every ride I go on, there was a part of my brain that wanted me to stop and turn around.  It kept telling me that maybe it would get too hot, maybe I’d get stuck or fall off and break something.  Maybe I’d stumble across a secret pot field and be shot by roving bands of retarded Appalachian coal miners escaped from West Virginia.  Thankfully, I overcame all that noise and continued on.  While focusing on the heat growing inside my legs, my lungs ability to keep pace and my heart being surprisingly happy when being pushed as hard as it was, I actually almost did fall off my bike and into the canal.  I found that I wasn’t looking where I was going, I didn’t notice the trees and their branches, the seed pods spinning in the air, the clouds of gnats circling over day-old horse dung, the bright blue beetles scurrying away from the path of my tires or even the three ducks that flew inches in front of my face, causing me to swerve and almost fall into the rocky canal.  After recovering and promising myself to pay more attention to the wildlife, I pushed on.

I kept having a stray length of hair poke me in my eyes and I decided that at 10:00, I’d take a break and fix a few things.  Thankfully, at about that time, I came to the aqueduct, a perfect stopping place.

I decided to check how far I had gone and was happy that in 30 minutes, I had a great gain of eight miles.  I was going too fast.  I walked around a little bit, stretching my legs and back, enjoying not being hunched over the handle bar.  I watched two hawks circle over a bank, looking for food.  I smoked a cigarette and had an energy chew.  And, of course, I took some pictures.  Hopping back on my bike, I quickly reached my usual cadence and convinced myself not to go too fast so that I could last a decent amount of time.

After the aqueduct, the path looked a lot like this.  For a long time.  Just trees on either side, some dirt going down the middle and water somewhere.  It was really hard to see either the canal or river, but, at the same time, it was incredibly enjoyable and relaxing.  Twenty minutes of riding in this seemingly closed kind of tunnel, I was hoping for a landing or lock house so that I could rest a bit.  Unfortunately, nothing.  Ten more minutes and still nothing.  Finally, I saw two brown signs, or, what I thought were signs.  As I approached them, they started running, which scared the holy fuck out of me.  You see, when you’re riding, looking at the gravel and trees and occasionally some water, things start to blend in with each other and it makes the dividing line between what is alive and what isn’t very blurry.  Almost crashing my bike into two cottontail deer was the second time I nearly crashed.  I was very happy they noticed me when they did; I don’t have insurance to cover my “deer-related emergency room visit.”

I continued on.  I kept pushing myself to go further and further, hoping for a break in the path.  Finally, after my near-death experience, I came to Lock House #19 and took my second break of the day.  I had gone an additional 10 miles, giving me a current total of 18.  I wanted to do at least 40 that day, so after a 15 minute break, I took off again, looking forward to the last two miles I’d be doing in that direction.

But wait!  Something felt weird.  Something felt… flat.  Yes!  1.6 miles shy of 20, my back tire went flat.  I had no patches or extra tubes, or hell, not even a pump.  Why?  Because that’s the curse of being spontaneous.  Preparing isn’t part of the deal.  So, I turned around and walked back to the lock house, hoping there was someone there who had at least a pump.  No one.  The three cars that were there just a few short minutes before were all gone, leaving me with nothing.  The path suddenly felt very empty.  To be honest, it felt uncomfortable.  Here I was, 18 miles from my car with a flat tire, limited water and no food except for energy chews.  I did panic a little bit, but then my rational brain took over.

So now what?
I guess we’ll walk.
It’s almost 20 miles to the car!
Well, what’s the alternative?
I guess we’ll walk.

And yes, I did talk out loud, not just in a whisper, but loud enough for anyone else who happened to be on the path to hear me.  Why?  Because I was fairly dehydrated at that point and it seemed like the normal thing to be doing.

I started walking with my bike back the way I had come.  The trees looked great.  Peaceful.  Relaxed.  Twenty minutes of walking and I was getting fairly bored.  I wasn’t prepared for a hike.  I didn’t bring my poles with me.  I didn’t bring any protein snacks.  No bandana.  Just… water and my bike.  I checked my mileage and had walked about one mile.  That’s three miles an hour.  Three miles an hour would put me at my car in six hours, or around 5:30pm.  Again, to be honest, that wasn’t the best motivator I wanted.

I noticed this little creek on my right.  It was so comforting that I had to stop and just watch it for a while.  I say comforting because it helped me remember that I willingly put myself out here in this secluded part of the District.  It helped me realize that the worst thing that could happen would be that I would die and the chances of that happening were extremely slim.  So I stopped looking at things in a bad light and enjoyed what it was I was doing.  I had an 18 mile bike ride that felt great, so what would be wrong about an 18 mile hike?  I love hiking.

The river soon came into view again and I found a foot path that led to it, so I parked my bike against a tree and walked down to the water.  Holy crap it was beautiful.  Not just, “oh cool, it’s quiet.”  But, more of a, “oh cool, I can hear the buzz of beetles and the gnawing of that squirrel!”  Looking up the river, I could see the edges of the Appalachian Mountains.  Looking south, the air traffic of Reagan National Airport.  I kept looking north.

I sat on the shore and took a short nap, more to rest my eyes than anything else.  Shaking myself awake, I walked back to the main path, grabbed my bike and started walking again.

Two hours had passed and I felt as though I walked a marathon.  Finding a mile marker, I saw that I had only gone six miles.  A third of the total.  I wasn’t even half done yet.  Fuuuuuuuuck.  The positive attitude I had disappeared instantly.  I grew angry and bitter.  I cursed myself for my lack of preparation.  I wanted to throw my bike down and beat it for going flat.  I wanted to throw my Camelpak in the woods.  I didn’t want anything that would remind me of how shitty my day was going.  I was fucking livid.  I sat down in the middle of the path because I really was the only one out there.  I lit up a smoke and angrily flicked the ashes into a little puddle of water I created.  What the fuck am I doing?  Who am I kidding?  I’m not a cyclist.  I’m not a hiker.  I’m a fucking loon.  I decided that when I got to my car, I was putting my bike in a dumpster and never coming back to this type of situation again.  I finished my cig, doused it with some water and put it in my pack.  Again, I started walking.

I was so bored.  My fingers on my left hand were going to sleep.  My right elbow felt out of whack from holding the bike up.  Sweat was dripping down my shorts, creating a very uncomfortable slickness in certain areas.  There wasn’t much point it wiping the sweat from my forehead; as soon as it was gone, newly excreted sweat would take its place.  I started to hear sounds and convinced myself it was a song.  There was a good beat.  A constant but weak drum line.  I couldn’t make out the words or the tune, but there were definitely words.  My brain kept turning the volume up.  Louder.  Louder.  Fuck, louder?  Really, Brain?

“Do you need help?”  Weird song.
We have a pump, we’ll help you.”  What the hell?  Sure enough, in my dehydrated state, I completely failed to notice four cyclists come up behind me.  In a sort of drunken haze, I took off my back tire, handed it to them and promptly sat down.  Thirty minutes later, a patch set, the tube pumped up and put back on the rim and a surprisingly full water bladder, I was asked if I wanted to ride with them until the next lock house.  Of course.

Immediately, my mood perked up.  I had more water.  They had given me an energy bar.  They set the pace at 12mph, a little fast for my current state, but I didn’t want to be left alone again, so I convinced myself to keep up.  Five minutes in, my back tire ripped open.  I did what I could to not crash into the other riders or the trees.  It took a couple seconds for them to realize that I wasn’t keeping up anymore.  Almost as quickly as my mood rose, it fell again.  But then, they came back.  With a new tube.  And they fixed my bike again.  I pulled out a ten and handed it to one of them, but he refused it.  “Everyone needs things once in a while.”

I rode with them for 7 miles, bringing me within spitting distance of my car.  We all stopped at the next landing area and I thanked them profusely for helping me.  They asked if I wanted to go with them into the nearest town, to try and get a lift back to my car, but I turned it down.  Even if I were to walk, I’d be at my car in an hour and a half.  No big deal.  We shook hands and split.  I was just a few miles from the end of the trail and didn’t pay much attention to what was going on.  I was aware of my surroundings, but I was lost in thought.  I wondered how many people would stop and help someone in my situation.  How many would willingly give up their own supplies for some complete stranger?  This, I thought, this is what Humanism is all about.  Charity without gain.  This is what humans do for each other, regardless of who it is.  Soon, I reached Lock House #23, the landing where I parked my car at 9:30 that morning.  I packed my bike on the rack, pulled off my shoes and sweat-laden socks and put on my shower shoes.  I grabbed my second bottle of water, some Motrin and a half pack of smokes and went to sit under the trees and relax.

All in all, I’m very glad I went on that ride.  I’m very glad I won’t ever give up biking like I have in the past, no matter the shitty circumstances that arise from it.  I learned to always be prepared.  Always have plenty of energy available, plenty of resources and an ability to keep my head up no matter how hard the shit is falling.  Yeah, I had some bad experiences, but I learned a bit more about the way I think and the ways I treat situations.  I learned new reasons for what it is I believe in.  The way people are genuinely good creatures to each other.  I also learned how to swallow my pride and accept help when I really do need it.  The whole ride felt great.  Refreshing.  Cleansing.  Everything about it, no matter how dark those negative parts were, I ended up enjoying.

I’ve got an extra tube, a patch kit and a hand pump.  Now, I’m trying to decide if I want to get that 40 mile day tomorrow.


Long Walks

I’ve started walking a lot more than I did back in Kansas.  It may be a boredom thing, because I have so much of that from the whole unemployed thing, but it may also be my body telling me it wants to get up and go out.  I’m perfectly okay with that because I enjoy walking.  I love hiking and exploring and seeing new things.  I’ve gained a bigger appreciation for the natural aspect of the world while I’ve been out here.  I’ve never lived this close to the Appalachian Trail, something I’ve had mental orgasms over for five years or so.  Taking advantage of where I’m at is helping me think in ways I haven’t been able to convince myself to do since I lived in Europe.  While being outside, I can just simply walk and ponder why things are the way they are.  Why squirrels flick their tails so often when it doesn’t look like they need it for balance.  Why some birds are okay with me walking close to them and others fly away as quick as possible.  Why certain plants attract certain insects and not others.  Why I’m walking and audibly talking to myself.  All sorts of fun things.

I’ve started to take pictures of plants in a slightly serious way.  While I lived in Spain, I loved photography.  Not in the way that everyone “loves photography”, but I took actual pictures of ancient buildings, had them blown up, framed and sold for a huge markup.  I think I’m starting to get back into that, and I know I’ll do great at it because I have an eye for perfection.  I wish people still enjoyed film cameras because that’s what I learned, and also because I’m frightened of technology.  I tend to unintentionally break things that need to be plugged in.  I enjoy capturing the things that I see and being able to share them in a way that others who can’t be here can appreciate.  Also, I love all things biological, especially plants.  I love the colors that nature provides, the stories it has to tell, about how it is the way it is.

Nature is its own religious experience, one that is so profound and so expansive that I often wonder why we need any other.  I’ve been caught up in thoughts while camping about how the trees evolved from what they originally were, to what they are now and to what they’ll become given a few million years more.  When watching birds fly, I often think of the dinosaurs they came from, how the smaller ones outlasted the larger ones.  Why turtles stopped at the stage they’re at now.  How there are so many different types of one kind of flower.  Which insects died off when they couldn’t keep up with natural selection.  It’s all so vast and exciting, something that we have actually no control over, but at the same time, it’s something that we’re actively destroying.

But, while I’m out walking, I don’t think of anything negative.  I don’t dwell on my mistakes, man’s mistakes, any mistakes.  I just simply enjoy where I’m at, what I’m doing and where I’m going.  It’s a time where I can be stuck in the now, taking in the nature I love and thinking about how what I’m seeing reached the point that the two of us came together.  While being out in nature, I realize, over and over again, that this is MY god.  This is what I’m here to respect and worship.  This whole world of amazing architecture that grew on its own, with no external source save for the sun and maybe a space rock with proteins on it.

While thinking about this this morning, I remember a conversation I had with someone about what my arm tattoo means.  The girl saw my ink and asked what it was supposed to mean, since it isn’t very obvious.  The symbol is something I created in middle school and carried around in my head since.  I told her the circle represents me, my place on Earth, my existence.  The triangle is the future and whatever it does, all I can do is stand and accept it.  In a way, it’s Death.  It will come and I will embrace it.  There won’t be anything I can do to stop myself from eventually dying and I’m at peace with that.  She then asked about the leaves, what the point was.

The leaves are a constant reminder of what I am.  I’m nothing more than an end product of natural selection, something that was made from eons of life and death and that I’m not any better or more important than seemingly simple oak leaves.

The reason I have this tattoo is because it’s a constant remind of my thoughts and what it took to get me here.  The mental trials and tribulations I’ve endured.  The hateful speeches I’ve been an audience to from the religious convincing me I’m going to burn in an afterlife I don’t believe in because of my convictions and reasoning.  It reminds me of the weird ways I think and observe the world.  The interactions people have with others, the interactions they have with themselves, and, most importantly, the interactions they have with the natural world.  It reminds me to stop and enjoy what’s available to all of us, if only we’d just go outside and look at it for a few minutes a day.

I guess do my own sort of worship every day that I do this, and I make sure I do it at least once a day, rain or shine.  I worship the knowledge and experiences that nature has gone through to be where it’s at today.  I worship the smells, the sounds, the awe-inspiring patterns and order that is present in everything.  I convince myself that I don’t ever need to take advantage of what the natural world is willing to offer, that I should respect it in every way that I can, because, it really is the only miracle that has ever existed, and it’s a damn good miracle at that.

The Not-So-Squeaky Tire

Recently, on a Facebook thread, the question, “Is it typically just politics and religion that people joke about not talking about, or is there a third?” was asked.  Abortion, sexuality, drugs, and sports were all brought up with (what I assumed were) valid reasons.  Abortion is such a hot topic in the country because it fringes on biology and religious beliefs, both of which people are very passionate about, and usually, one against the other.  Sexuality is another that’s big on people’s minds.  Gay marriage is being threatened because of religious bigots that think the country they live in is a Christian one, rather than a secular one.  Both abortion and sexuality are things that many people talk openly about, usually in a heated debate with one side telling the other, more rational side that they’ll be burning in Hell in just a few months.  You know, after the Rapture and all us godless fools perish or whatever.  Since they are heavily talked about, I’m going to take those off the table.

Drugs, I really don’t see as being a “silenced” topic.  Legalization laws, those for and those against it have been huge during the past six years.  Case studies for and against marijuana are being conducted all the time, some paid for by the government, some by private interests.  I’m taking drugs off the table too.  There was one left off, my contribution; racism.

Racism is such a disturbingly fucked up topic for anyone to bring up, and because of the negative connotations that stem from anyone talking about it, mostly it’s just cast aside and people go on with their lives.  And that sucks because it’s such an important thing, such a crazy part of our American history that we NEED to talk about it.  We would learn so much about ourselves, our country and those things that threaten to break us apart, but, we don’t.

Maybe it’s because we’re so afraid of pissing the wrong people off.  Maybe it’s because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and make them cry.  Or maybe, it’s because we’re a nation that consistently refuses to acknowledge our past, and instead, we just shove it into that closet that no one opens and hope it’ll stay shut.

Racism isn’t just about whites hating blacks, or Mexicans (a country, not a race, I know), or Arabs, or anyone who isn’t white.  No, it’s such a universal thing, with everyone having issues with everyone else.  There’s ethnic racism and class racism, prejudices against the Jewish, prejudices against the atheistic, agnostic, religious, everyone gets some hate.  But, what do you think of when the word ‘racism’ is said?  Probably the KKK, angry whites lynching a black in the South, something horrid some white folks are doing to the minority, right?  Hardly anyone calls a black person ‘racist’.  Or anyone else from any other ethnic group.  It’s because the whites have such a dark history when it comes to the elitism they’ve shoved in the faces of others.

What brought my thought process up on this was the Trayvon Martin case.  Yes, Zimmerman probably shot the kid out of some sort of feelings of hate, I’m not denying that.  What bothers me though, is the really odd way society has dealt with the issue.  On Facebook, blacks started posting “pro-Martin” threads, saying how this innocent child was taken from his family because of racism.  They started in with the, “just because he’s black, he was shot” thing.  Then the pictures of everyone wearing the hoodies.  Those damn sweaters and bags of skittles.  They would post all these things, but refused to have discussions on why they were posting them, other than they were showing support for a dead kid.  My problem with this is that the whites were not allowed, in a socially acceptable way, to talk about why what they were doing was wrong.

I know it was wrong and immoral to shoot ANYONE, but I hate the fact that it was a black child that was shot by a white-looking man (who, actually, looks more Latino than Caucasian).  I hate the fact that THAT’s where the attention is going.  That that’s where everyone wants to focus on, not the actual death.  I hate that the black community is taking this as a new chapter in the war on racism and I especially hate that I can’t voice my opinion in public without being branded as a guy who hates someone else, simply based on skin color.  I hate that by doing this, they are the ones being racist, yet I can’t call them so.  I can’t point out that they are the ones being bigoted, hateful and vile.

It angers me because telling a black person that they’re saying racist things is an open invitation to be scorned.  Some say they’re allowed to be, given the history they have in this country.  First, no.  Stop.  Your history in this country is probably very close to mine.  If you’re my peer, then you were born in the 80’s, probably in America somewhere, from free-born parents, who themselves were also children of free-born Americans.  That makes both of us Americans.  Not African Americans, not Swedish Americans, not Scottish Americans, not Native Americans, just simple, one-worded, Americans.  That’s it.  Your history is the same as mine.  The history of your ancestors, if you can actually trace yourself to them, is the one that people remember.

It’s almost half-way through 2012, the second decade of a new century.  Why can’t we leave this stuff behind?  Why can’t we just focus on the things that are really tarnishing our image?  Why can’t we stop this “he said, she said” bullshit that gets us so damned worked up, with one side raising their fists in anger and the other side just sitting down, ignoring the problem because of the color of OUR skin?  Why is it that we are so infatuated with such negativity?  There’s so much more in the world that if we paid it some attention, things would get so much better for everyone.  We could solve the religion problem.  The hatred and ignorance that it breeds.  The greed and adulterous desires that manipulates the minds of its followers could be wiped away.  We could solve the hunger/over-population problem.  The one that threatens our very existence, the one that will destroy our food reserves if we don’t say something about it.  We could focus on alternate fuels, better agriculture, humane slaughter-houses, education reform, better infrastructure… better life.  But, for some really, really stupid reason, we have this cool way of ignoring the solutions and focusing on the problems.

It’s aggravating that I can’t do anything about it.  It’s annoying and pathetic and sad and upsetting and disturbing because we’re at a point in the history of OUR country that things need to change, in drastic ways, to save ourselves from what happens to all major civilizations.  Yet, those are the things that we ignore and shun, maybe because they’re so hard to think about, whereas mutual hatred is such an easy thing.

I hate it.