Monday, September 30

The World According to Chainring

This bloggular existence is for the most part a one way point of view.  I do appreciate all the input I get, and I don’t mean to diminish it by saying this, but there’s not a lot of interaction with my readers.  That’s okay with me because my internet life hasn’t always been a peaceful one.  It took me a while to recognize the dehumanizing effects of a keyboard and computer screen.  Years ago I dehumanized those avatars that spouted silliness, and I dehumanized myself with my sociopathic (though internet normal) behavior.

When I first started this blog I didn’t even tell my wife about it.  When she found out I was kind of embarrassed that she’d read it.  For whatever reason I treated this space as a kind of journal or diary.  Dear diary, I can’t stand hipsters, I don’t like reality very much, and give me more Leadville. 

If you’ve been reading this monotribe very longly you’ll have noted that I might have some issues.  I keep those in a separate tab under my helmetless header.  I have some antisocial tendencies.  I have trouble conforming.  I don’t typically march the party lines. 

You might think I take a great deal of pleasure in being such a rogue.  Most of the time I don’t.  It’s kind of exhausting to be such a rugged individualist (watch the language and skip to about 1:20).  I definitely don’t flow down the path of least resistance.  I’m one of those people that only seem to learn the hard way and who would rather hack his own trail through the wilderness than take the road more travelled.   

The bike is an escape for me.  I spend my days scheming to ride my bike, riding my bike, or writing about riding.  Alternately I daydream about scheming to ride my bike, actually riding my bike, or writing about riding my bike.  As a career I’d like to scheme about riding, ride, or write about riding.  So when I shirk responsibilities in my early morning cubicle to compose these blog posts each day it’s almost as if I’m actually doing that.  Then that heavy chain of responsibility starts feelingheavy.  I have to nudge it further under my desk.

I’ve not always been so shallowly obsessed with bicycles.  I used to be this shallowly obsessed with rock climbing.  Before that it was hiking.  I think I did a stint as a very mediocre guitarist in a previous life too.  I was an obsessed photographer back when the cost of film made my obsession seem financially unsound.  As you can see, I’ve kept myself busy for forty years seeking to be distracted from reality.  That’s not exhausting (see link above); what is exhausting is trying to keep reality at bay while living the daydream.

I learn best by starting at 30,000 feet and taking in the Big Picture before zooming all Google Earth-like down to the texture of the asphalt.   I learn from the top down, but it seems like the world (Google or otherwise) wants me to learn from the bottom up.  Get the details first and someday we might let you see the Panorama Grande.  Well, by the time I’ve appeased the educational experts I’ve lost all interest in the view they want me to see and have realigned my views elsewhere through daydreaming and escapism.  Thanks, but no thanks.

I don’t miss the details; I’m just not allowed to come to them in my own way. 

Recently at one of the dozens of Mozhican kids’ birthday parties I was talking non-stop about my latest schemes and Jeff looked at my wife as he reached behind my ear and asked: “Where’s the off switch?”

She lovingly rolled her eyes and affirmed that it never stops.  I do go on.

When I look at the world I see endless possibilities.  Where there are gaps, where there are holes…I see niches to be filled, leaks to be plugged, vacuums to be jammed.  As I drive down the road I see so much underutilized land.  When I say that, I don’t mean that I think the land should be developed for residential or commercial uses, but that it should be open for roaming, recreating, enjoying, and learning. 

Only a few short years ago I decided there was no good reason for me to try and be something I’m not.  My mom once told some authority figure during a parent/teacher conference or parent/principal conference or parent/parent conference that if everyone else was wearing black pants I’d wear white.  And I would add that I’d do it in the most annoyingly passive-aggressive way I could muster.  It took me a while to make the connection that the reality of who I was and the image of who I wanted to be could resolve into one form, and I could stop worrying about who I would become someday.  Like the Avett Brothers sing…

I used to worry that there was something wrong with me because I rarely saw things the way everyone else did.  It made me wonder if I was crazy or something.  You can laugh ha ha and say it’s a case of the old “everyone else is crazy and I’m the only sane one” syndrome, and for a long time I assumed that was the case myself, but with more miles on the odometer I’ve realized that the majority isn’t always right, and just because everyone else thinks something makes sense doesn’t necessarily mean it does.

I can disagree with the entire world and still be right.

Of course making this assertion gives me a free pass to goof up all too often and just stomp all over good sound common sense.  It’s a talent I have.  If you’re not dizzy yet from my circular logic then hold on tight…I’m just getting warmed up.  

I’ve been at war with my own self-confidence for decades.  I’d guess I have the self-confidence of a fifth grader at best, and not one of those fifth graders whose parents stand over him giving him the answers for his homework so he can get straight As and get into an Ivy League school,  but one who asserts himself by curling into a fetal position when the bullies approach.  This internet playground makes it much easier for me to speak out on issues I feel are important, and even though I rarely make a defensible argument (though not necessarily unsound) I like to plow on through the China shop and assess the damage at a later date.

I try not to loiter in a state of regret.  Learn from the mistakes and move on, I say.  Again, we come back to bikes and other vehicles of escape…I need them to put distance between myself and my foibles.  I can sometimes almost pedal away from the white noise background that keeps me on edge for far too many hours each day.  I have never been able to still the furious storms of mundane life for very long.  That means I am rarely able to step back and really get a good in-focus photo of the Sasquatch that is tearing up my thought processes at any given time. 

And since no one else can see him…

Long ago I used to write about a concept I called “surreality.”  Without having those pages to refer back to my best memory of it was that the surreality was my perception of reality.  It seemed impossible to me in my late teens and early twenties to discern a true reality due to the complexities of modern life.  I experienced great difficulty in knowing truth and judging what was sound logic and what was spin.  It seemed to me that most people talked out of both sides of their mouths all the time.  People would say things like: “Kids do nothing but watch TV all the time,” and then they’d plop their own kids or grandkids down in front of the TV all the time. 

We have a chronic cultural case of “do as I say not as I do.”  Speed limits apply to everyone else.  I am a great driver.  If I had a nickel for every time someone who is a horrible driver tried to convince me of how amazingly talented they are behind the wheel then this blog would be way more flashy and I’d be paying you to read it.  Of course you’re a great driver; no one is ever a bad driver.  Fifteen DUIs?  No problem.  We’ll say you need to drive for work-related purposes and you won’t really suffer any consequences for your crass and dangerous actions.

The Right to Drive is sacred in our country.  There is little a person can do to lose that privilege.  We can murder and maim with impunity as long as we do it with a motor vehicle.  Like me ol’ da used to say: “If you hit something with your car it’s your fault.”  Unfortunately society rarely agrees with Pop.  We protect the more protected user with greater protections while vilifying the victims, even the dead ones.  If only those pedestrians would just stop walking there…then we could go back to texting with abandon.

And so in my anti-social, anarchistic, introverted, opinionated surreality I find myself trying to be an advocate for those who are marginalized and oppressed by what I believe to be unrealistic societal expectorations…er, expectations. 

It becomes difficult to extricate yourself from the tangled mess that is our cultural norms.  We never admit that we’re so conflicted but we live in a reality where our employers expect us to get by on less, but we’re are expected by society to do it by employing a fossil fuel burning enclosed wheelchair that is exorbitant to operate.  The demands on the average US citizen are a carnival of absurdities.  There’s no way to win this game.  And for many of us it seems like it gets harder and harder just to keep playing the game.

But you can’t quit the game.  The easiest solution I see for the vast majority of my problems would be to take myself out of the economy; refuse to participate…however, we’ve reached a critical mass of land uses and population densities where it is almost 100% impossible to remove yourself completely from the economy.

While you couldlive off the grid, produce all of your own energy and food, and cease to be an American consumer, you would have to do it by breaking the law.  To live you must have the benefit of producing land.  If someone else “owns” the land then you are subservient to their economic demands.  If you “own” the land then you are subservient to those who would collect taxes on the land you claim to possess.  The only other option is to be a squatter.  That’s illegal.

Of course there is one other option:  do an apocalypse dance (like a rain dance, but while wearing a Mohawk and chaps) with urgent frequency.  In a way I’ve been doing that with this blog, but that’s not been the main purpose.  The previous paragraph is why I have post-apocalyptic fantasies that I occasionally share here as graffiti on the dusty back wall of the internet.  It’s why I got excited when I first heard about Peak Oil.  And so yes, I am a freak that would welcome the collapse of our modern society.  But I’m also a realist that understands the meaning of the word “apocalypse.”

The word does not mean the same thing as the poorly understood and most often misrepresented concept of Biblical Armageddon.  I’m not going to go into the true meaning of that concept here and only mention it so that I can push it cleanly off the table of this discussion.

Apocalypseis synonymous with “revelation.”  Revelation (noun) is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

: a usually secret or surprising fact that is made known

: an act of making something known : an act of revealing something in usually a surprising way

: something that surprises you


What I hope for is that the secret will be revealed.  The secret is that the façade of our modern lifestyle is simply that…a façade.  We’re overly dependent on fossil fuels and we do not pay the true costs for our use and abuse of them.  Someday soon that debt will default and that’s when the secret will be secret no more.  The surprising fact really should not surprise us.  And I think what’s truly sinister about the whole situation is that for the most part we’ve allowed ourselves to be duped into believing that our current rate of consumption of resources is our God-given right and that somehow the universe owes us the wealth that we’re currently plundering from future generations.

Its greed and deception, pure and simple.  We’ve been deceived by those with the most to lose/gain, and as a part of that dupery we’ve deceived ourselves into going along with the ruse because we’ve also been duped into believing it’s too hard to oppose the wrong we know is occurring in the world. 

Dupe, dupe, dupe, dupe…me and you are the biggest dupes.

We all have the common sense to see through the sham.  And we often talk about it.  We see that the status quo isn’t the best way to do things.  We talk about “the good old days” when things were better.  We wonder why the world has gone to hell in a handbasket.  We think younger generations have no clue.  We think our leaders are morons.  We think we could do a better job of it, but we know there’s no way we could ever get elected.  That’s all the ruse talking. 

Our current polarized political dialogue in this country is part of the façade that keeps us from seeing reality.  Industrial society’s unrealistic expectations are part of the façade.  Keep us busy trying to make the system happy and we’ll not have time to think for ourselves, or we’ll be too scared to rock the boat for fear of not being allowed to participate in society because the one true thing the powerful have over us that precludes our wiping away the façade to see the truth we know is underneath is the threat of cutting us off from the community.

Outcast! Unclean!  It’s unthinkable that we’d be cut off from our community and family, but if we don’t play the game that’s exactly the threat we face.  Social death is the death we most fear.  I think most of the time even the fear of physical death is less about the physical pain involved and more about being cut off from society.

At some point though you realize that society isn’t what you want it to be.  At some point you realize that if you could just get free of the societal expectations you could truly be free.  Freedom is about choices, not about doing whatever you want regardless of how it affects those around you.  The ultimate freedom in modern times is the freedom from participation.  I don’t think there are very many truly free people in America today. 

Wow!  Maybe that’s too big picture for my mood.  I’ve been wallowing in introspection for a week or so.  I’ve been doing a lot of self-diagnostics.  That usually leads me into a tailspin for a while.  I always pull out.

I am geospatial.  My awareness is predominantly geo-centric.  I’m compelled to collect places.  I don’t like to spend too much time in one space.  That’s why the cubicle crushes, and I feel like I need to move to a new place all the time.  I need new pathways to explore and moving to a new place gives me a temporary wealth of untrodden waymarks. 

It’s why I’m a peak bagger.  Peak bagging does more to satisfy this animalistic drive in me than anything else.  My peak bagging is a broad interest.  I ticked off rock climbs like my life depended on it.  Then I bagged actual peaks in Colorado.  Now I seek out identifiable hills to climb on my bike.  I’ll start being antsy to move once I run out of roads and trails to climb.  Strava helps though.  It makes the repeat experiences relevant where before once I’d ticked a particular node in the universe I had no reason to revisit it.  Now I am competitive with myself on a temporal plane.  It’s a virtual race to see which me can be the fastest. 

But digging deeper there are other compulsions I endure.  I have a deeply rooted desire to move.  I am a sensory seeker.  I crave proprioceptive stimulation.  So while I have a psychological need to collect places I also have a physiological need to move and to feel movement.  A fast drive on a curvy road in a car will satisfy this need, but even better is a good trail run, a bouldering session, or a rocky and rooty mountain bike ride.  And since I can’t divorce my physical needs from my intellectual needs the activity becomes a meditation on life, the universe, and everything in the course of things. 

Advocacy for me is a selfish endeavor.  Yeah, let’s get to the root of it.  I want better cycling infrastructure and more and better mountain bike trails to give myself more opportunities to ride more conveniently.  I don’t really think I want those things because I want to improve the world for the greater good.  It’s selfishness pure and simple.

If I have a good mountain bike trails system near my home then I can ride more often.  I am not motivated by economic factors or a deep sense of community.  Not unless those things relate to other better opportunities for me.  I’m not the least bit interested in the interests of others.  I don’t guess I would be motivated to support the building of a new football field to benefit local kids.  I’m not the least bit interested in football.

On the other hand, I would rabidly obsess over getting mountain bike trails built for the local kids even if not a single one of them were interested in mountain biking.  Why?  Well, I’m not really interested in doing it for the kids.  Fewer kids on the trail means more fun for me.  This is a difficult thing for me to admit and to process.  I don’t consider myself a selfish person.  And I can come up with a thousand nobly good community-oriented reasons for every scheme I hatch.  I’m not motivated by those reasons though.  I just understand intellectually that I need a more marketable justification than “I want it for myself.”

So yeah, maybe I am anti-social.  But I want to be social.  I want to like people and be liked.  I’m pretty self-reliant/sufficient, so for years I’ve told myself I don’t need people, but then during my Leadville journey I realized that—despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise—I actually do need people.  This is a hard pill to swallow after four decades of trying to do it all on my own in my own way.  I share ball now.  That’s not an easy paradigm shift to make on your own on the fly.

I keep this blog to hone my writing skillz, annoy left-brained people, and give me a voice in the greater dialogue.  My voice has evolved in the past half a decade as I morphed from enthused recreational rider to part time bike-commuter to full-time committed bike commuter to pretentious utilitarian car-lite-er to rabidly obsessed mountain biker to wanna-be bikepacker to sometimes dabbling in advocacy all arounder…and now to a regional transportation planner with a broad cycling background.    

I do not like to be bound by conventional thinking.  That means I often challenge conventional thinking, which leads to heartache, frustration, and cynicism on my part.  Somehow I always manage to find the silver lining and come up with a new scheme, or reorganize the old scheme into something more streamlined, but I keep plugging forward with my own vision for the world which includes heavy doses of sunshine and movement.  I keep trying to align my reality with my vision.  I move my pawns around in a seemingly random pattern, but I see an endgame that I do believe can come about if I keep my focus on it.  Oddly, I can’t envision all the moves to get there.  I just know where my pieces need to be for the coup de gras. 

If it were up to me my job would be to just ride my bike.  Unfortunately I have yet to figure out how to craft a resume that will shoehorn me into the position of full time bike-tourer/trail builder/mountain biker/endurance racer/cargo-bike captain.  Still working on the employment history and formatting…

Until then I have realized that I need to simplify my life.  I need to focus on things that are truly important and stop obsessing over my schemes.  Technology is a shiny distraction that keeps me from doing really important things and being successful in what I really want out of life.  I’ve got to pare down the interface and stop running around in the rabbit warrens of social media, personal schemes, and the mundane but necessary complexities of life. 

I don’t know if that means I’m taking a hiatus from this blog or not.  I wish I could say emphatically one way or the other.  The blog isn’t directly benefitting me or my family in any meaningful way.  There’s no financial component to this and I will always refuse to include advertising.  I put a lot of energy into this that I could dedicate to more personal interactions, my job, and the rest of the real world.  I’ve spent five years exploring the cycling lifestyle and culture and in developing my own viewpoint around my experiences.

Deep down I really do abhor technology.  I’ve been dazzled by it for a while and I’d like to stop being in its thrall so I can live a real life.  That, and spending so much time plugged in to the internet makes me believe I can find the secret to success buried somewhere in all the data whizzing through my body at any given moment.  I’m just tired of trying to process it and assimilate it into a coherent picture of the universe. 

No matter what I will still write; I will still be the same old me I’ve been since the beginning of time.  I’m just tired of this façade.  I’m tired of the energy drain.

So now you have my current and disjointed worldview.  By no means is this comprehensive.  It's just an out of focus snapshot in time.  See me there, on the right, forced smile and one eye squinted more than the other? 


  1. Blah, blah, blah. Boy, we are quite the Debbie Downer on this perfectly fine Monday.

  2. Hey, and the government shut down today. Blah, blah!

    I still love you!

  3. Love the Donaldson reference... You just forgot the Leper part.

    Everybody is moody today!