Tuesday, December 3

A Few Thoughts on Biketopia

Not too long ago the Crash Test Librarian and I were discussing Wendell Berry and Edward Abbey.  I confessed that I hadn't really read Abbey.  At one time I had owned a copy of Desert Solitaire, though despite my best efforts I never got past the second chapter.  And then along the way my copy went missing. [I now own another copy of the book]

Of course Mark was insistent I needed to read Abbey.
Over the weekend I was reading Wendell's What Are People For? and came across the essay "A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey" and was instantly an Abbey fan.  The next day I goggled (yes, goggled) Abbey and came across his essay "Down the River with Henry Thoreau."  I enjoyed the progression (or would it be a regression) from Berry to Abbey to Thoreau.  Now if someone would just write a "With Wendell Berry" essay...
So at this point in my life I have read a sum total of one piece by Edward Abbey and I am now a lifelong fan.  I was also inspired.  Reading Berry's analysis of Abbey and Abbey's sublime analysis of Thoreau (whom I secretly hate) I found myself longing to have been an accomplished author ages ago.  I wished my life away to the point where I could look back and say "yes, I am a prolific and successful writer; one who has found his voice and told his stories."  I'm almost 40.  I could be at that point now.  I'm not now, but I will be.

Desert somewhere north of Moab, Utah
Reading those two essays made me want to write more: to find the stories within me that are fighting to get out and to find my voice.  I also wanted to anchor myself more firmly in my convictions.  I have this problem, you see, of betraying my convictions.  It's not a knife-in-the-back sort of betrayal, but a fall-asleep-in-your-lover's-arms kind of act. 
I used to believe it was a lack of discipline.  And I completely own my lack of discipline.  When I was young and people suggested I might go into the military I felt a cold ball of fear in my gut.  Discipline wasn't something I felt like I could handle.  It's never been a matter of will, but a total inability to hold onto the reigns of a runaway life.
Lately I've been trying to distill my ideology down.  I've been trying to figure myself out.  I've been doing a lot of auto-psychoanalysis.  I hate being in this mode...
For someone who wants a simplistic life my brain sure is loaded down with complex conglomerations of thought.
Abbey seems more authentic than Thoreau.  He seems so especially after reading his own essay on the author of Walden.  Is that fair?  The trial of the murdered by the murderer?  I care not.
In that thought I found my syrup: authenticity.

A state of being authentic has more to do with the observer than the observed.  What is authentic to me are things that align with my core values.  They mean something in their alignment because they have utility and permanence.  Notions and ideas that support and enhance my own notions and ideas that also have some persistence in time are more authentic than those that do not.  Ideas that are useful in my life and further my own agendas are authentic.
What that means is that if I read an article shared on Facebook about how to make my own solar panels, and I take that article and apply it because I believe in the value of renewable energy it is an authentic act.  If I merely share that article with others on Facebook I've done nothing authentic unless my core values include educating people through social media.  My core values include nothing of the sort.
My frustrations in life have revolved around a sometimes fruitless quest for authenticity.  It's far too easy to chase the real deal and be derailed into rabbit warrens of Made in China type experiences.  Monthly mileage reports...how pointless?  I alluded to this in my last post.  And I've been thinking about this for some time. 
I started keeping track of my miles biked back in late 2007.  I did it out of pure curiosity of how many miles I was riding over a period of time.  It came out of a desire to ride longer distances and understanding that a solid base of miles would further that goal.

La Sal Mountains, Utah, from Carpenter Ridge in Colorado
When we moved to Colorado it became an obsession.  Since I was able to ride more I wanted to see how many miles I could cover in a day, a week, a month or a year.  It was a competition with myself.  And because I often struggled to find material to write about I ended up doing throwaway posts here sharing my meaningless accomplishment.
The personal competition led to arbitrary miles, often serving no purpose other than to push the number up, and frequently unenjoyed as well.  Padding my miles toward the end of the month or the year has always felt inauthentic.  The only justification I could ever come up with for the practice was that I had authentically ridden most of the miles and so it would be a shame to miss a huge milestone mileage mark when I could tick it by going out for a couple 15 mile rides on the last day of the month.
I've never been able to sell myself on that lie.
After the end of this year I plan on giving up the public display of mileage.  I'll still keep track for myself, but I hope I can relax a little and not care so much if I forget to tally a ride.  By giving it up publicly though I think I can gain back another foothold of integrity on my blog. 
The numbers don't mean anything really.  What is a mile?  What is an hour?  Is it better if I do a great ride that's only five miles long or to do a fifty mile ride that seems to be a chore? 
If you're following a rigid diet and exercise regime then maybe the miles count.  I can't force myself to keep track of calories consumed and calories burned.  I wish I could. 
I'm going to try and forget the numbers for a while.  I'm going to try and focus on quality rides.  I'm going to be searching for authenticity in my cycling.  I'm going to try and refrain from riding when I don't want to or don't need to.  But I'm also going to try and choose the bike whenever I can again.  I've gotten away from that practice and I need to claim it back.
It's important for me to convey that here as well.  What this ultimately means is that I am seeking simplicity.  I’m seeking experiences that are real and uncomplicated.

An early morning ride over Tharpe Ridge...just because I can.


  1. Miles and hours are just a metric. How that metric is interpreted is up to you. I track my miles and hours because its fun to me. It gives me a measurable goal, and I like that. When the hours and miles take over and become the reason, that's different.

    1. That's a really good point Doug. I guess the numbers start to take over for me near the end of the month and end of the year when I really want to see a big number there and it's not.