Monday, April 26, 2010

A Fixed Position vs. the Eternal Flux

As a Navy cadet, I failed a course in celestial navigation, partly because of my innumeracy and partly because I thought the navigator’s perpetual quest to fix his position created a bad precedent for piloting through one’s life where the course must follow the eternal flux, a grand flowing that turns celestial fixes to flumdiddle …. A fixed position lasts only a moment, but the times when I remembered a particular run of river and what it was like… moments like those can reappear and last for hours, even until the end. The more miles I put under me, the more those recollections become the very vessels carrying me to the finish.

~ William Least Heat-Moon, River-horse
Velophoriacs know that I am constantly trying to reconcile my goal-oriented, driven side and my reflective, outdoors-loving, John Muir side.

I don’t know if it’s just that I’m tired out and distracted by our current, all-consuming adventure of buying and moving into a house, or if I’m really beginning to figure out which side of that equation I really fall on, but lately, I’ve been finding myself more and more just going out for a ride. I still have some large-scale goals, and I still do specific workouts and gym exercises, but less than I used to.

When I got my shiny new cherry-red Cannondale CAAD 8 last year, I couldn’t bring myself to mar the esthetics with a cyclocomputer. Eventually, I found that I rode with more zest and awareness without it. I left my heart-rate monitor at home a lot, and learned to feel the difference between a three-hour pace and a two-hour pace. I noticed my surroundings more. I varied my routes more.

With all of that feeling and perceiving going on, I found it really intriguing that I got faster and stronger than I'd ever been. Numbers didn't tell me that; rather, when I rode with friends, their breathing would be more ragged, or I would take more and longer pulls than they would.

That kind of large-scale, real world measurement was much more rewarding than, “I finished that route one minute faster than last month” or “I added 5% to my max elevation.” Those numbers, in fact, mean nothing beyond their own constricted frame of reference, because the variables that the “eternal flux” throws at me from one ride to the next – even on the same route – are infinite. The next time I rode with friends, it might rain. Or I might have ridden hard the day before, or be working on a demanding project at work. It boils down to this: I would either be stronger than them, or I wouldn’t. If I wasn’t, they would tow me. Next time, I might be able to return the favor (and take the credit). That’s the flux I want to be a part of, be at peace with. That’s the world-view I’ve been seeking since I was old enough to start thinking for myself, and realized that I was the only one making myself crazy with comparisons, measurements and expectations.

It’s almost May, and I still don’t have a computer on my bike. It’s been weeks since I wore a heart-rate monitor. But I’ve already made some sweet velo-memories for 2010 – and, at the same time, managed to be the one doing the towing on a couple of rides. I’d call that the beginning of a reconciliation of opposing desires. And of a great season.


juancho said...

That house will suck up everything you've got if you don't squeeze the brakes on it now and then.

Velosopher said...

I take your point, Juancho -- and I thank you for it. I'll be sure to get out on the bike and for other activities, too. Appreciate the reminder!

juancho said...

Now let's act like "house people" and start going on about tile-cutting, APR's, granite counter-tops (what's the big deal with that?) and how our houses have "nice bones."

Or we could not do that instead.

Velosopher said...

Juancho, I haven't laughed that hard in weeks. Thanks.

"Solid bones," indeed. 'S'what MY realtor told me! (She was right -- but there I go, talkin' like a house person.)

Don't forget electrical panels, the grade of the dirt piled around the foundation, and the average monthly utility bills.

Velouria said...

I am coming from a completely different place (vintage 3 speed, skirt, basket) and just began riding a roadbike this spring. I don't have any goals in terms of speed, I just like exploring and going as far as I can. When the Minuteman trail began to feel too cramped, I started going to Concord via the road (from Cambridge/Somerville). But I do have a computer on my bike, just because I like to know the distance I've traveled and I am sometimes curious about my speed.