Full Catastrophe Biking
Wrecks, injury and fatigue are just some of the distractions that have kept A Dude Abikes from biking and blogging as much as he would like since his personal best doing the MS 150 back in April. There have been devastating hurricanes and other natural disasters, the unnatural disaster of a president stoking things like possible nuclear war, elimination of health care benefits for millions of people, arrest and deportation of many immigrants who came here as children, and plenty more scandals. The shooting in Las Vegas. Bombings all over the place. The never-ending parade of humanity in all its sick splendor and glory gory. Of course good things happen all the time too. Riding my bike with a few hundred others, in my case 65 miles, to raise almost $1,000 for breast cancer charities is a positive contribution. You can and should make such a contribution yourself here: http://Fundraisers.MammaJammaRide.Org/ADudeAbikes.
On top of those things, add a few more personal blows, all within the last three months: the death of my oldest friend, having to find a new place to live and then move into it, and right after that, the loss of the job I’ve had for over a decade. These are individually known as very stressful events, and together they have been if not overwhelming U.F.O. (Unusually Fucking Obnoxious.) Many could correctly argue that the trials and tribulations of some dude riding a bike in this maelstrom would seem to be the very definition of trivial, white, male, first-world, middle class privilege. They might not be wrong. But they also might not know that bicycling, while it might end my life (or rather a distrascted, drunk or dip-shit car or truck driver might end me while I’m on my bike), in other ways has saved it from the previously unremarkable existence to which I was accustomed.
Zen Zere’s Zee Ahrt Uv Der Bizicling Maintenancing
Sorry about that heading. I don’t want to get sued by the Robert Pirsig estate. Anyhoo, there are two quotes I love about the spiritual path, one Buddhist and one Taoist:
Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
– Zen saying
A Dude is far, Far, FAR away from being at that lofty plane of existence. But through my daily yoga practice of almost four years, and sometimes meditative moments on and off the bike, I can say that while there are many responses to the challenges listed above, laying down and giving up has not been one of them. At least not so far. While certainly I take breaks and rest, sometimes not by choice, I haven’t had a car for going on 13 years. To go anywhere, I have to walk, bus or bike, and usually biking is the most efficient. (Getting rides from friends happens rarely, and paying for rides is not an option.) And instead of thinking about how many total miles I must ride to attain my goal, whether it’s 100 for the week or 10 to a gathering and back, focusing on the moment is usually best, in cycling and in life. Easier said than done, of course. I’ve written about being in the present moment whilst on the bike before. Nothing like wrecking or crashing brings home that point better. Paying attention is hard after 40 miles, but you gotta focus.
When I’m not resting (usually because I’m not able to), I modify what I’m doing, by avoiding hills or high speeds especially on group rides. And I find ways to work through physical issues (yoga, Epsom salt baths, various topical pain gels, herbs, acupuncture and massage (the latter donated by the lovely Colette at Avenue Five Institute, a huge shout out!) And as one sports medicine doctor I’ve seen said, and I’m paraphrasing:
There will be pain in life. To maintain your discipline, you have to accept pain like an old, unwanted house guest and keep moving.
– Doctor Kristi
She knows of what she speaks: She’s a runner who can go out and do 50 kilometers (31 miles) on mountainous trails. She has her own guests. Speaking of that, here’s a poem:
The Guest HouseThis being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.– Jalal al-Din Rumitranslated by Coleman Barks
What Does It All Mean, Dude?
If this sparse, sloppy and sometimes silly blog has one message, one point, one raison d’etre, that I’d like you, Dear Reader, to take with you, it is this:
If you find a discipline you like and commit your mind/heart/body/soul to it, you will experience a more meaningful, interesting and deeper life than you might have ever could have imagined. So what are you waiting for?
– A Dude Abikes
Whether it’s biking, rowing, crotcheting, writing, rollerblading, cooking, photography or whatever, investing yourself in a pursuit will inevitably lead you down a path that shows you new things about your world, community and most importantly yourself. There are new people, places and things. Improved health, both physical and mental. The opportunity to be humble and learn. And eventually the opportunity to teach and give back, even in small ways. And there’s the feeling of accomplishment that no one can take away from you. Ever. (Time, memory and death being the exceptions.)
If you had told A Dude he would have a blog, his own custom jersey and personal “brand” (which someday could turn into something if not a household name, at least be helpful to inspire others, which he’s told he has), 122 followers from five continents on Strava, made new friends in the bike community, have seen sights he never saw in the previous 17 years in Central Texas as well as Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, and most of all have bicycled over 12,000 miles in the last 34 months (9,000 + documented on Strava – see below), he would not have believed you. But I did, it’s all true. And when I reflect on all that, not only does it make all the suffering worth it, it makes me grateful for everyone and everything on this literal and figurative journey. Maybe only a few people ever read this, maybe there are thousands of cyclists going way faster, farther and higher than me, maybe no one really cares because there are starving people in the world – but in the end, everyone’s number one fan is the same: Your Self. You are the only one who matters. That’s not narcissism, that’s just fact. So if you try, and get out there and stink it up with the others who are also trying to better themselves, you’re already a success, no matter what else happens. And it’s pretty fucking awesome.
However, you will NOT have this experience if you continue to just sit at home Netflixing the awesome James Spader chew up scenery like the many pastries he also must put away to maintain his impressive girth in back episodes of The Blacklist (which is what A Dude will do after this blog). A Dude can do that because he is not only about the biking, he’s not a professional racer, and he has a life. But he’s on staycation and after a long day or actually almost a week of not feeling well — probably malaise induced by being laid off his job of just shy of 11 years in addition to other aches and pains — he got out there. Sure, it was only 10 miles round trip to the monthly Bike Austin Member Love Happy Hour at Yellow Bike Project, but he got to meet some cool cyclists and fellow volunteers and get some exercise, fresh air and Vitamin D in Texas’s late October Endless Summer.
It Takes a Village to Save a Village from a Car-tastrophe
Mike and Pete are coordinators at YBP. Mike rode to Mexico with Bikes Across Borders, where he donated a bike he had fixed up. How cool is that? Bet he has a few stories there, for sure. Pete made a delicious chicken tortilla soup, and told me how he added up all the hours he works and volunteers on top of that, and he comes out about minimum wage, because he loves doing the work. Pete’s partner Meghan (with an “h” I guessed correctly) also rides and works on bikes but helps kids at the library, and when the lights go on in their eyes after she’s helped or taught them something, that makes her day. Their neighbor Sarah, whom I knew from acupuncture (Austin is still kind of a small world), talked about how she got into traditional Chinese medicine almost by accident, and now she’s going for her license. She had a great dog with her, a gentle pit bull named Laika. Laika was the name of the first mammal that the Russians shot up into orbit in a capsule. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, but I learned something new and got to reconnect with Sarah. Cycling like writing is a solitary pursuit, but hopefully if you are fortunate, you have teammates out there rooting you on.
I also had a chance to chat with the always animated BA Executive Director Mercedes aka Mercy. She educated A Dude about the upcoming Travis County Bond election, growing the movement for safer cycling, and conversed in her native Spanish at my urging, which I speak pretty fly for a white guy. She complimented me saying I could be a native speaker, even, which is high praise. Mercy let on that if she won the lottery she would still do the job, because the work is her passion. One thing I know about her is that making the streets safer for her daughter is her mission in life. Membership Director Shavone told me about BA’s business outreach plans and her interests in art, especially being part of a vinyl collective of Latino/a artists who play records around Austin. Campaigns Director Carson and Education Director Michelle weren’t there. But they’re all talented women tackling a social problem head on with hearts and smarts. Would I have had the privilege to meet them and get to work with them by sitting home on the sofa? Nope. Or to put in Taoist terms:
Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
– Lao Tzu
What Does It All Mean, Dude?
Was today’s ride and happy hour earth-shaking? Maybe a tiny little tremor. Were there celebrities? No, even better! Real people doing good work. Did we change the world in one night? Of course not. But it was an awesome evening being part of the bicycling community, establishing or reinforcing connections. And compared to what the old A Dude would have experienced alone on the couch, it was downright revolutionary. I may have used these quotes before, but they still resonate for me, and maybe they will for you, from one of my literary and real-world ecological and anti-war heroes:
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
– Henry David Thoreau
As always, feedback, follows, sharing, likes and comments are welcome.
A Dude Abikes