Seems like only a year ago I could confidently wipe my ass of any adversity, and soldier on. Raised in a large family, there were occasions where the roll was empty, and i'd waddle, wading in my dropped trousers from the bathroom to the closet to restock. Siblings never did have much time for such formalities, and let's face it a week or so ago, nobody could conceive of running out of TP, except at Lollapalooza, or Coachella -- But the savvy tourist always carries a modest back-up supply.
(Fortunate Butts &) "Chance Favor the Prepared Mind", -Louis Pasteur
A year or so ago, when things (still) sucked politically, but were yet a bickering surreal fictional Fantasyland, I dreamt of owning a puppy of my own. I am actually in-love with only one dog, And she belongs to my Sister-in-law. Ahh, Shit -- What a great time to be a dog! Right? Her dog is special though, and got along swimmingly with the neighbor's puppy. One day in late spring, her neighbor's lovely dog enjoyed a sunny afternoon doing absolutely nothing in the yard. It luxuriated like a fat Packer-fan at a tail-gate BBQ, licking it's chops, and perhaps it's balls, as they do. The afternoon was warm in Southern California, and the yard was lovely. Hummingbirds flitted about, while dog food sat in a bowl nearby, and the outside world never seemed a challenge, because this puppy coveted in comfortable quarantine, surrounded by a 6 foot fence. Patio door open, cool AC mingled into the Mid-Spring breeze, and so this Pup, instinctively selected the perfect spot to digest it's lunch like a sultan snake on a hot rock. We all did.
The canyon road purred with passing Tesla's, occasional Range Rovers, and deliveries..., Everything was delightful. I know this because that week I visited this glorious So-Cal enclave as a base-camp to set upon an adventure to ride my Bicycle through Big Bear, Joshua Tree, Salton Sea, etc... It was a lovely home. Her neighbor's home was also a lovely sanctuary, as all homes seem to represent. This home was particularly idyllic for one to be holed-up. A patio corral with all creature comforts for Humans and Dogs alike. The Trash Cans warmed beside the fence bringing a slightly piquant sour scent toward the pups, which for neighboring dogs wafted subtle fragrant dinner scraps like a Parisian Candle at a real-estate showing.
I waited for my bike to arrive VIA FedEx, and prepped my gear, and kit, while the neighborhood dogs lie lazily in their yards like a fat President, barking occasionally at nothing at all, clearly Oblivious...
I have some things to say about pet companions:
A. Dogs Require us to hand them food, otherwise they don't do so well.
B. They Prefer the good food, and that shit is expensive.
C. I can't ride my bike any given day, all over kingdom come, if I have to care for a pet.
So when my bike arrived safely in it's carton in So Cal, I was sure happy, and this was even more welcome, when my favorite puppy "Helped" me receive the package from the Courier.
The trouble with being sated, and complacent, is that you never see the Black Swan oiling the barrel, packing up their shit in a foreign country, and boarding a plane to pay you a visit.
(A virus is a remarkably simple long molecule cluster wrapped in a protein and fat, basically a tiny version of some sugared cereals you favored at age 6).
I don't have any relatives who currently want nor need to live with me, but that may change very soon. What Everyone (including Dogs) would prefer, before receiving that knock at the door, is a call to say -- "Hey, as you know the shit has apparently hit the fan... And well..., I need a place to stay". By the way this is always a welcome visit, as compared to when the Black Swan arrives, so take them in. In that peripheral moment which we never see coming, where we are fat, happy, and smug sunning ourselves and rubbing turmeric-orange lotion on our faces to appear youthful, (or even presidential)... We tend to ignore experts who say, be careful, too much sun -- Or 'that orange shit', may kill you.
At that unguarded moment, (that very moment when you throw cautions to the wind) is when the Coyote rooting through the trash cans beside the fence, gets on top of one to peer inside for a scrap or two. This scourge, like tiny virions, see this fat little puppy in the yard, as opportunity. Amazingly we/it appear far more attractive than yesterday's pungent leftovers in a wet trash bag. So you see that neither the Privileged Presidential Puppy, nor the Coyote believes things may ever be more perfect.; until the swan arrives.
For countless days prior, the startling sound of amazon packages being tossed over the fence bringing beautiful but superfluous things was a daily interruption to Nap-time in the warm California Sunshine. This sudden bang, like so many other times desensitizes us to an eventual clamor...
And, then 'Things' changed.
That day when the Coyote had to decide between the Trash-bin, or the Bichon... The asymmetry of this decision, and the truly tragic spiral which follows changed a small history. So it appears that if all you do is baste your body in golden turmeric sunshine, you may appear more of a fragrant morsel, than a formidable opponent -- Besides, That trash smell broadcasts a vulnerability; It marked you. But by the time the puppy yelped, it was already in the Coyote's Jaws, and little could be done to mend the situation.
Nearly a Year later the same happened to my favorite pup. But thankfully she was saved, from it's jaws.
So.. That week before my epic ride through the Southwest Desert, I gave a second thought to pet ownership. I cuddled my Sissie's surviving dog, and thought about that tangential apocalypse, as I bid farewell.
How does the Black Swan know when to appear? When we are complacent?, fat?, and pathetically off our guard? or whenever the fuck it wants to?
So be it. It was done. Now you we pick our next moves.
I was sure glad it was the neighbor's dog, though... and not my Sister's. But that is a discordant even tasteless comment considering the circumstance. Such is the comparison to ageism in today's capitalist rant. Once the afternoon settled a bit, we counted our proverbial blessings and moved to assembling bikes for a road trip. Nagging at me was that thought, however; "Will this be my last vacation?"
Once upon a time in my life I was so free and things were so easy that I thought, in a novel way, Hmm, I think I may want one of those puppies, and I would just go and pick one off the shelf, place it in my basket, and stroll to checkout. Funny the fortune to buy anything, even companionship. A simple wish.
"A healthy soul has a thousand wishes, while the infirmed has only one". -Indian Proverb.
As Archie and Ethel Bunker used to sing..., "Those were the days..."
In this era of The Black Swan, which flew down and revoked my hall pass, I feel like now is the time to pick up one of those companion animals. But..., Alas, They are all gone. Really? What in the Fuck!! Now... when I am finally ready to commit to support another soul, they are disappeared, like toilet tissue.
What now becomes commonplace was a by-gone fiction seemingly days ago... Vacation plans scraped into the compost bin -- and sadly beauty seems remote. Former free-range birds peck at what cool-ass life you've scrapped. So when do the Rummage sales start? When do the Bake sales balance the scales? How bad-ass is your best neighbor's caserole, now, sold by the slice..? This is real right?
Denial is still your reaction to the disruption. Give it away brothers and sisters, because there is no thing in your house besides your family and your memories which hold true value. This has become your new reality. Fairy tales are tough to come by, and by world standards you still live in one. Granted, deserted roads make for swift travel. Today my 1 hour commute took 16 minutes... You've lived a dream for how long now?... And now you lament the end of the fucking world? Chillax bitches! Would it not be perfect if we could just return?, Back-up and rewind only until Mid-February, when everything was still obliviously lovely?
I know at least one Xenophobe who stains a fresh pillow-case orange each night, and HE thinks that paradise restores next week, Tah Dah! ...but alas he is off his rocker. I'm for that too bitches; but a chorus of bitching wont help. Before the whole card house collapses, can someone find the tape. Magical thinking in tough times is exactly that. Just ask the Veep who credits the Orange-utang in chief with each national step backward, His new role as Vanna White, (Cheerleader to Sajak's) madness, turning tiles in our upside-down world, hoping to reveal wisdom. Can no one tell the emperor to put his clothes back on for the daily Spin of the wheel?
A virus and a Pandemic are innately a-political, BUT, if they tended to prefer to devour a particular group, I could suggest one whose usefulness has outlived it's constituents. And... It's not the neighbors puppy.
We are in serious need of participating in our republic; and getting over ourselves. This was what you thought was important..., and I'll agree it was. Things were all roses, a month ago, but the backend was built upon sand and hubris, with idiotic magical thinking, and THIS is what happens when you dispense with expertise and dismiss science. "Welcome, my son" It was beautiful, wasn't it?, Until the bottom fell out. "Welcome to the machine".
The rub about chaos, is that predictions become impossible: e.g. Puppies being sold out, like toilet paper and a run on canned Beans... Man, what a quick digression. Up end the fucking table and watch it slide to the floor. I can't get a puppy now, because (like toilet tissue) everybody had the same thought at the same fucking time. All the puppies have been snatched up. This conceited view is precisely the problem, 'my predicament'.
I totally concede that there is seemingly no wisdom today which will predict a swift return to the "Good ol' Days" of mid February, but that paradise was also bullshit. What is blocking you from embracing today is yesterday; was yesterday. We are still blinded by nostalgia, and it's too soon to fondly reflect upon a bygone month.
"Where have you been? That's all right -- We know where you've been".
Last month as I walked through my neighborhood, Amazon delivered brand-new cardboard boxes to each end every home, and what was in them was ultimately worthless. True they don't sell puppies, but the food comes that way. Ask your dog, they know. Every single restaurant I would eat at, was sat with families and friends who's faces glowed, lit from devices below, as they ignored conversing, and took to socially self-isolate, clicking away at the same damn table. Each guest arrived by separate Lyft Car. In our world a month ago, was a mutual disdain for anyone who disagreed, and common ground was an elusive coyote. Someone would have to die to get a consensus. So we stared at glowing fictions garnering false hope and fake news. Today, We have one struggle. Today we are all socially bankrupt, and the worst thing of it -- Is that all the puppies are also out of stock. Yes! Companionship where you could have cared less in November, now is a strange currency. Hug your fucking Charmin. What we need to know now is... Who is hoarding all the extra cute doggies?
I could use one right about now.
Yesterday was lovely yes, I'll grant you that. But what came before is memory, and today is your action day. You are no further than a few days from that B.C. time, (Before Covid) than the days which have ticked by as you hoard cocoa-puffs, T.P., and hit that bong. While you well-up with dread, take a breather. Whilst you sit idly by, someone needs help. Someone near you could use a smile, a hand-up, a few groceries which you could certainly spare. What is it that you are missing right now? Food, Shelter, (a puppy for certain), The security of friends and family? Nope! They are all still there. What I think is missing, is certainty. What is not missing, is beauty and selfishness. To get anyplace now, you will need to pedal, paddle, and push past your own stagnation. The Cushion on that porch was just so fucking plush that you didn't see the flight being boarded by the Black Swan. And no one in charge did either. You thought it was all coasting from here, (everybody did) and now you have to actually endure some hardship, we all do. Pity wont help and we are fresh out of that. The trouble is that your Netflix shows don't lend real context to how the fuck hard every generation had it before yours, nor to how facts, and expertise solves problems, and not piss-poor politics.
You may have completely missed the memo, if you believe that your life has fundamentally changed. Not Yet! I'll grant you that your sense of comradery may have stumbled a bit, your buying power blows now... I'll give you the strange white noise in the background, and the quietude on the street is off-putting, but you are the same whole person you were last month -- Last week... Perhaps now you will begin to see it, before you fracture. To see what was missing. Every scrap of your essence remains. Finding it, is your next move.
I recall when people searched deep within themselves to find the most meaningful, perfect gifts for each other, and perfect compliments to pay. This drifted into "What do you want for Xmas?" "What do you want for your Birthday", As if reaching into some magic bag was all it took to produce perfect regalos. No! Some kid made that in the Third world, and their world was so different than yours precisely so you could give someone some worthless crap they'd discard. It was just before you became a smug selfish bastard, when you still wrote letters, and poems, and belonged to book club. Relax, and read past that critique because "That's not you, me, right?" "Happiness is a warm gun"...
But it is you. Remember when people used to say, that it is better to give than to receive? Nobody is asking you to serve up a Kidney, so chill the fuck out! Today, you have some simple business to attend to. Being kind is a start. Giving blood is a second quality contribution. Being something better than what you were last month will break many rules. As we learn to be kind to one-another again, go forth with compassion.
Here we go with your excuses again. Is it not a great time to fix the Faucet?, the Tile?, the Roof?, that Pest problem is all you by the way. You are the problem. Who needs you?, now?... Are you your own enemy?, or are you simply scared? Every bit of adversity is unwelcome, yes. Every moment where we lose control, we drift a bit. Do you have something you have been longing to accomplish? Here is your hall pass.
It can't all be early Beatles Songs, you and they too needed to experiment. You have a responsibility to your family, your neighbors and friends. Psychedelia morphed from boredom, because lord knows the love-songs were getting long in the tooth. Judging by your complete lack of direction you may need some shame or psychedelics to accomplish anything.
Sitting around like a log. You have some work to do. No?
Here is a truth... The Luge helped loggers send multi-ton trees down a hillside toward the river. Although it's not advisable, to be on the course when a live tree sails through. You can in fact ride that slick track when the work-day is done. Now we all live on the edge, so what are you frightened of? Scared?, yes, unsure? certainly; But you open your own way of seeing a chance. Take a ride. Don't sit there when the next log comes down the slope. Be something larger than your idiotic fantasy of the world. Be this log. Isolation is good for none, bad options include: Pornography, Amazon, and Netflix, all false idols. What ever came in a cardboard box which compares with your Mom?
"You've been in the pipe-line filling in time... Provided with boys and scouting for toys. You bought a guitar to punish your ma..."
What of your next on-line purchase makes you whole or happy? A mysterious forest awaits with real things like trees, and streams and none of them are as toxic as you right now. "So welcome my son, To the Machine"
No contagion lurks in the Park by your home. Go there, Listen to the crickets, The birds, the neighbor's dog is barking a nervously, sensing ambient fear. The time to fear was before the moment, but not now. Afterwards, comes a sea-change of will, participation, and grace -- And perhaps a tide of cuddly puppies will raise all ships.
Keep your Dignity, Wipe Sparingly, and let me pet your fucking dog.
...Please don't hoard all the puppies
So you are thinking that maybe this is actually "IT" -- This is it huh? really? How do you feel? Shall we cue "American Pie", by Don McLean... Quixotic moments call for some deeper reflection, Wait... What was that song about anyway? Let's not worry about the nuance. Or, is the answer actually concealed well below this?, deep beneath the noise? I can't suppress this image of a Habitat of monkeys in the zoo, clinging, grooming, completely dependent upon their care-givers. How about just the "outro", Yes?
"I met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play."
Were you troubled that the grocery shelves were bare?, No frozen pizzas?, No Frozen Burritos?, No More eggs? As if the Grinch arrived last night? Were you the Grinch who snatched up everything just before an elderly local got down that aisle? Shame on you!
What's your reaction when Grub Hub wont deliver? What's your next move? How have you prepared? Now Cue a single monkey screeching in the cage -- and soon all of them are making a racket. Perhaps it's Time to reflect upon something important. You didn't want that frozen burrito anyway. Did you.
Our Path, Way, Route, Channel, or Road, guides the natural order of the universe, as much as we humans can discern. The Nameless concept of "Tao" will reveal itself with study -- Our true potential for individual wisdom.
Laozi in the Tao Te Ching tells us that "Tao" is not the name of a thing, but it is the essence of the natural order of the universe, which would naturally be "difficult" to circumscribe to a name as with an object, like pizza. So nouns fail us. Tao remains eternally nameless, because it is non-conceptual. Tao is evident in ones being of aliveness. Unlike boundless named things, "The Way" or "Tao" remains elusive, or even embedded, but not revealed without intense reflection upon what remains un-identifiable. But we seldom pay attention to such things. Who has time to pay attention? Oh shit! you will now...
Whatever your Tao means to you, I find that when the shit hits the fan, a Oneness with things we've perhaps forgotten to touch or reflect upon begins to resolve into view. For a few, this focus brings to bear many new truths about the nature of the universe. Truly.
When Mercury is in Retrograde, I generally retract to an inner place where I can duck in reflection as calamity whirls up to gale force. It has happened far too often that at this Celestial whirring, things begin to go off the rails. I'm not talking about the inconvenience of a cancelled rock concert, or an emergency proclamation preventing gathering. These suck, (of course) but they are just symptoms of a larger calamity. Sigh... When Mercury begins to move backwards as it did from February 16th to March 9th, I keep my head down. I think of a lawnmower, and this is not a great time for wee blades of grass to stretch skyward.
I may be disappointed with effects of sweeping changes to "my" daily life, but this too shall pass. What is surreal about new austerity, is the way each individual comes to regard themselves from within this tempest. I find that most, if all people become upset by the sudden dynamic shift from being the center of one's universe to being somewhat less of a unique snowflake. When we suffer individually, as with a broken bone -- We lament the injustice of our circumstance. When we suffer en-mass, (and as sympathies dry up)... we tend to look within for strength.
Today I looked around at the flippant shrugging "Ah Well!..." attitude of some neighbors and then sat quietly in that uncertainty. Like most, I would hope that we all become as immune to a virus, as we have become complacent with our lack of camaraderie. The simple truth is that we will have to all do some soul searching to find what was important before we all became smug in-compassionate self absorbed consumerist individuals. Living the Dream.
The Tao of apocalypse teaches us that like fungus, we are all interconnected below the surface. One seething wet messy organism tucking limbs under it's covers. Today we will begin to regard our healthy comfort above all else. Funny how yesterday you just could not believe that you'd have to wait two whole days for your On-line order to arrive, and now we hoard toilet tissue. Comfort. The funny thing about comfort is that being comfortable is a myth.
When Mercury Fires up that celestial lawn-mower, and the shit hits the blades, what is important is the same thing that it was well prior. Somehow this was occluded by the milky white spoodge of consumerism. When the music stops and we all scramble for a chair, someone is left out without a place to sit. Please let it be me. When the bubble pops, and we all stop agreeing that mass consumerism can go on forever... The only things most people contemplate, is, "Getting Back to Normal". "Normal". "The day the music died".
Last week a young friend of ours was crossing the street when he was struck by a turning driver. He would die in the hospital a few days later. He was the sort of person who could resolve with eloquence and a few choice words this very moment we are in today, But sadly he won't witness our petty dialogs. He was uniquely tuned-in to that other layer of our virtual existence; The layer with substance... The one beneath our surfaces. This beautiful person won't worry about online orders, waiting lists, and rationed hand sanitizer. We will miss him, and this profound personal sense of loss pulls back the curtain on the charade in which we all participate. We tend to think of ourselves, rather than community. Gathering into our towers more toilet tissue, hand sanitizer and a hand-gun, now cowering behind a stock-pile of canned goods -- Instead of calling our neighbors and friends to see how we could be useful. Instead of reaching for a larger purpose than ourselves, we duck and cover. When we lose family and friends as well may happen, To peruse someone's personal belongings after they pass is revelatory. What sacred few things remain which we cannot take with us. What appears more important today than anything else, is how you've left things.
When My time comes, I want to be beautiful. Not attractive -- But well regarded. Today I think I still have some work to do.
Slow the tempo, and cue the music, "And good ol' boys were drinkin whisky and rye, singing this will be the day that I die".
We are an amalgam of our reflected behaviors, and mimicry, we share a playlist, wear the same styles, emulating celebrity behavior as benchmarks for our social grace. We are all beige buoys floating, yet loosely moored to the earth, clamoring & complaining when the waves mount. We bob and bump each other, as we now practice "Social-Distancing". What we learn in turmoil is the weight of what we once took for granted. What was once "ordinary" is now nostalgic. Now, it seems, we can control less of our collective destiny, so we return to comfort, as a our pinnacle goal. Sanctuary.
Travel has always been the ultimate social lesson for me. Exposure to unique lifestyles and places builds equanimity like a funeral for a friend. We leave our shoes at the door to the temple, and so much other clutter, and cross-talk. This White-noise which was preventing us from hearing seeing and being, is cleansed through the lens of travel. Travel is what we will miss the most when we are housebound.
You can still travel to the woods, the park, the railroad tracks, the lake, the ocean, the yard, and even the porch. You can walk, run, and ride places, and see things, and as a stillness takes over, as it did in the towering canyon of our city after Nine-Eleven, we will begin to see, feel, and taste things differently.
This desolate moment will soon remind me of Raymond K. Hessel's run-in with an apparent lunatic in the book Fight Club... should one survive the barrel of this gun, the next day will be outstanding! To quote a great read: “Listen, now, you're going to die, Ray-mond K. K. K. Hessel, tonight. You might die in one second or in one hour, you decide. So lie to me. Tell me the first thing off the top of your head. Make something up. I don't give a shit. I have a gun.
Finally, you were listening and coming out of the little tragedy in your head.
Fill in the blank. What does Raymond Hessel want to be when he grows up?
Go home, you said you just wanted to go home, please.
No shit, I said. But after that, how did you want to spend your life? If you could do anything in the world.
Make something up.
You didn't know.
Then you're dead right now, I said. I said, now turn your head.
Death to commence in ten, in nine, in eight.
A vet, you said. You want to be a vet, a veterinarian.
You could be in school working your ass off, Raymond Hessel, or you could be dead. You choose. I stuffed your wallet into the back of your jeans. So you really wanted to be an animal doctor. I took the saltwater muzzle of the gun off one cheek and pressed it against another. Is that what you've always wanted to be, Dr. Raymond K. K. K. K. Hessel, a veterinarian?...
So, I said, go back to school. If you wake up tomorrow morning, you find a way to get back into school.
I have your license.
I know who you are. I know where you live. I'm keeping your license, and I'm going to check on you, mister Raymond K. Hessel. In three months, and then six months, and then a year, and if you aren't back in school on your way to being a veterinarian, you will be dead...
Raymond K. K. Hessel, your dinner is going to taste better than any meal you've ever eaten, and tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of your life.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Profound is what death is -- And like most tragedy, a sense of the profound undercuts our sense of self ...substituting in a bit of Tao. We all struggle to explore something larger than ourselves, something compelling, the reason we are here, doesn't fit into the tidy boxes which bind traditional religious faith. We can put a bow on our beliefs in the form of a giant temple, church, or synagogue, but the building is just a building, and the building is closed. Now that you are taking your prayer service from your living room, consider something larger than yourself. Consider wandering through the woods, sitting beside the ocean, walking through your neighborhood. Enjoy the sounds and the silence.
It's not the Apocalypse, but even if it were..., how would you wish to be remembered?
This is a time to be tolerant. But as one mighty institution once put it succinctly, it is also always a time to be, "helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent".
...In the Apocalypse, as in Scouting, boys and girls start with their 'best right now selves', and grow into their very best future selves.
Consider the Tao of the Apocalypse, and how you want to be remembered, be your best self -- and don't forget to wash your fucking hands.
It's curious that Chicago is nationally ranked as "Bike Friendly". I'm conflicted about this because any day of the year, one can easily be swallowed by a giant hole in the pavement, and disappear. If you ride a lot, you know what I mean when I say that your brain holds a topo map of nearly every well-travelled route whether it is on or off-road, and that muscle memory often takes over where senses fail, to assure you traverse two points without going down. It is also eerily true that we adjust this map as the pavement changes shape, and shoulders a lump, broadens a hole, or sinks. This year Illinois thought they'd flex their "Prog Muscle", (which i'm rather sure is located somewhere near my ass), to make recreational marijuana legal in 2020. So it is now that we are finding ourselves to be more progressive... And so, pot is legal, ...And lines quickly formed to buy some weed on a chilly New Years Day, 2020.
Me, I slept in.
The supply and demand being not quite worked out, meant that in mid-winter people camped outside their local Cannabis temple, like millennial lemmings seeking sacred Jordan's. If you are not from Chicago, nor Illinois for that matter then you will easily know it's borders, as you approach to buy your weed. We are delineated from Wisconsin to the North, or Iowa to the west, by the sudden change in our topography, that is we are the place with shitty roads.
As we migrate through: Toll Plazas, (a tax upon any visitor to maintain roads), a gas station (where gas costs a dollar more per gallon to maintain roads), you will eventually find that the topographical map of our landscape changes drastically to brittle bits, as we fail to maintain our roads. For a driver or rider this means that you may wish to broaden your following distance, so that you can see the lovely sights ahead. Illinois is where most midwesterners learn to swerve. In Chicago, we have no mountains, no real hills to speak of, just a lot of rusty bridges, crumbling train trestles, and the pavements, well -- They are a mess.
Like many places in America's rust belt, we also slowly dimmed from a bright epoch of industrial exuberance, where everyone pulling a lever at the factory netted a boat, a summer cottage, and a pension. The latter being our undoing, as Illinois struggles to pay creditors for lost revenue, and for juicy pensions. When we run out of pocket money, the first thing we kick to the curb, is infrastructure. So consider this a warning when you pass through Illinois and NW Indiana by bike; You will perhaps need some new ninja skills such as:
1. Learn to swerve without rolling under a truck.
2. Learn to bunny-hop in case you need to levitate over a roadway abyss.
3. Perfect your zen when an auto dodging similar pot-holes swipes you toward the curb.
4. Expand your field of view. ETA to obstacles which swallow you like sunken sewer covers.
5. Hold your lane, and if needed, drive your bike like a car to stay relevant to Auto Traffic.
6. Check the Amtrak time tables for travel with your bike, you may want to sit for this one.
I was planning to ride up to Michigan's Manistee National Forest, and then ferry across from Luddington to Manitowoc WI, but had a tough time reconciling routes to levitate over the whole of Chicago's south side, and Northern Indiana's Industrial gem called "Gary". Last year I lacked enough fingers and toes to count in one trip to MI, the near-death obstacles. As a City person for my whole life, I cannot reconcile why it is not better to build a road once every 20 years with Concrete, than to pave and patch it every month using Asphalt. I have ideas of course as to how contracts are awarded, and how lucrative jobs seem to pad the pockets for teams of Pot-hole crews. When I was 6, my Grandfather and I took the CTA Bus from Riis Park on Chicago's far west side down to the "El Train" en route to downtown. He walked fast, and when I would pause to lament, I would use something I'd notice to distract both of us from my tired legs. "Hey Papa", I'd ask, "What's with that big truck full of black stuff"? ...He would tell me that they were 'Pot-hole Crews' and that they have the best job security in town. "Now watch", he said -- "They are going to drizzle a bucket of tar into that hole, and then scoop some Ashphalt into there". (he pronounced it "ash-fault", an affect of his Chicago upbringing). I watched as they opened the trucks tail-gate a slit, and shoveled down some black glop.
Then one man began to smack the mound into the hole until it sat just proud of the road-way. It was mid summer, and I'd also noticed large wave-like berms of road where heavy traffic and our bus creased the pavement into ridges like mohawks on a bald Mr. T. I saw a cadillac drive over one near the bus-stop, and grind and spark as the undercarriage scraped the ridge of 'Ashfault'.
My Grandpa then said "Now look there, they have a person for each job..." "That one drives the truck and reads the paper". "That one opens the tail-gate lever", "That one shovels out the Goop". "And that one drizzles the hot tar to make it stick, like glue". ...And then, I said "They are done!", finishing his primer on potholes. He said "No, not quite.., that person there has to clean the shovels". "Ok" I replied, "What do they use for that?" He said, "They usually use Kerosene or Gasoline". We both watched, with acrid tar stifling our senses; Standing in the hot sun waiting for the Next bus.
"There!, he said, "they have a jug, and a bucket, and they will use the Kerosene to wash the tar off-the shovel", "...And that's Job security!", He exclaimed with authority.
The bus arrived, and we stepped up and into it. A dwarve drove the bus and he wore huge blocks on his shoes to reach the pedals, and I tried not to stare. We moved back, and found our place, and as my Grandpa stood, I kneeled against the window, to watch the 'Pot-Hole crew' pour kerosene onto sticky shovels as they shrank into the distance. My Grandpa said, "You see the kerosene will clean the tools, and it will also soak into the Ashfault and break up the glue holding it together, and then in a few months, there will be another pot-hole to fix." "That's Job Security!" he said indictingly.
So it happens that Our new Mayor, and Our New Governor, are heavily vested in the Pot and the Pot-hole Biz. They are also hoping like a bake-sale to solve climate issues, that Pot sales may help to pay for road repairs. This is of course in part because, My state, (being a strong-hold of democrats and a "sanctuary city"), will not get Federal infrastructure funding as has been lavished upon the three 'Red-States" which border us.
When you count on Pot to fix Pot-holes, you'd better also hope that there are lines out the door in January. If you are a realist, it's best to learn some strategies to avoid them, even if it means taking the train around the City of Chicago in search for your next adventure.
[Evil]ution of the Gravel Bike has been more grass-roots, than science. Creation, even of a monster like Frankenstein was more grunge than grace. I'm not sure what your last set of stitches looked like, But I'm sure if I'd re-attached a limb, it would be crude; (stitched-together body-parts, some glue perhaps, and then an epic flashy moment of lightening!) Both beings and bikes are evolutive appendages of what preceded them. In fact this may have been your mom's 1997 'Trek Hybrid'. We used to call them all 'Cross bikes', which is in part true. Whether called 'Hybrid' or 'Cross', they were merely stepping stones to where we have now arrived. Soon the world will be subsumed with more "Gravel Bikes", and there will be one for everybody at many price points. Today, most Gravel Bikes are yet elitist early forays. Like first-gen full suspensions from 1993; These are sometimes lovely, while also awkward, and perhaps unrefined Franken-bikes. Some are unusual & exciting, even threatening... but not so new, are they ?
This week I wandered down one of those long Forum rabbit-holes which like any politic today seem to digress as a square to their post count; bringing out the worst in some or all of the contributors. The initial "article" was an advertorial (of sorts) for a new gravel-esque bike design from the growing Evil brand. At first blush the bike looked new and, well... Interesting. Sloped top tube, slack angles, mountain short stem, arched stays, decent stand-over, dual dropped chain-stays, and nary enough room in the front triangle for three bottles, let alone touted frame packs. It comes with seven promised Bottle mounts. It is a bike, which it's reviewer admitted to enjoy, as well as to own, and hence the bike was well reviewed. The photos were impeccably lit as shadows caressed the forms. These mad-scientist embers ignite the un-initiated with a real desire to check it out... But it also evokes the "which came first question". Is this just a Mountain Bike with a drop bar? I'm not really sure. Just the same, if that reviewer owned the bike then they could certainly speak from experience. What followed the review, was first gentle cajoling, and then things slid like a melting popsicle down a hot asphalt driveway. Some comments were disparagement for a "Me-too" category of franken-bikes, which were taunted to be nothing more than Mountain Hard-tails with a Drop bar. So, let's address this part first... Is this a Me-too Mountain bike with a drop bar? Is this a fledgeling sojourn out of the nest for first flight? Will it take off, or crash and burn? Man! who knows?
Bastardization (evolution) is Natural:
Since the 1920's people have been hybriding bikes in more cross pollinated permutations than Dutch Tulips. To invent a new category requires experimentation, which without a torch, means dropping a different Bar, Stem, Fork or wheel on a bike, until it does what you like. Ill prepared to accept the elective surgery, some ideas just fizzle toward the waste-bin. When we were kids we used to saw fork blades from a bent up ten-speed, and hammer them onto an existing fork to lengthen and hence create a "Chopper". Some always broke a drop-out or cracked a head-tube weld jumping a creek, and needed to find a welder to tack it back together. Once chummy with the welder, requests which should have remained tucked away in the brain, would unfurl into a new design, giving rise to some of the Burning Man shite we see in a parade route Critical Mass today. Tall Seussian bikes with many gears, more than one chain, and perhaps proportions which risked significant injury to tame are progressive failures, perhaps enroute toward something special. Is the New evil Special? It does however, take progressive experimentation to create something new, such as the Salsa Warbird, and it's demon seed, the Cutthroat.
The New "Gravel" category has seen this new renaissance, and while some trendy brands will "me-too" right away, Instantly filling out a few catalog pages. Some may giants may wait, watch, and later mimic, established trends. When someone throws another GMO abomination into the velo gene pool, the resultant comments from an opera-box of muppets with nothing better to do, come as hard and fast as mickey d's to our "president's" cherubic mouth.
I'm glad that before Trek leaped into the Gravel, they simply sat out the category for years. Tooling is costly, and to market at scale, requires a level of surety which can even cause a giant to drag their feet. When Specialized high-fived this category, they decided (as they always seem to do) to have a cooler gimmick, Future Shock. When I first saw that, I thought of Steve Jobs revealing the iPod, or the iPad for that Matter, and saw thousands of hangers-on, cringe when they recited that odd name in their heads, conjuring menstruation, and Just what the Fuck does the "i" stand for anyway?.. So now that all the big brands have caught up to Salsa, and Open, where is this steam-punk ship headed?, and Why?
First where is it headed? It could be easily defended that the Gravel Bike is not a new category, nor life-style, but just a market correction of the 80's Hybrid bike, (albeit more spendy) inviting more folks to buy something that they perceive as more versatile. Each Bona fide rider, will know at least a dozen people who saw them riding,, and half mockingly looked down at their lycra, and then passed the same ritual comments... How do you ride those skinny tires? How do you balance on that", doesn't that seat hurt?, and lastly?, What if you hit a pot-hole?...
And so it happens that a face only a mother could love would still be loved by someone. We should never shame someone for their choices, nor for their experiments. Clearly unless you actually buy the kool aid, you cannot complain of the taste. But in so many interweb dialog digressions, polarizing points of view seem to be the demon seed of the WWW. As markets typically predict the products that feed them, Jumping the Shark with an oddly masculine Gravel bike, or as appears, a hard-tail Mountain Bike in sheep's clothing, it makes sense to predict that if the public doesn't want it, the mold will rust on the shelf next year, and Evil will have to come up with their next Gremlin. When Hybrid bikes granted the public's wish for a more upright ten-speed, with seemingly more capable rubber, the over thirty public devoured them. Everyone below the bar bought a mountain bike, because they were cooler. So it would follow that thousands of Hybrid bikes made many more smile as they passed along from family companion, to deflated garage relic, to craigslist, to the scrap heap. A bike is a symbol of freedom, and 'they' were on to something when the venerable ten-speed shape-shifted into the above hybrid 720 contraption, (sans the bar-ends of course) -- But then, alas fast on it's heels came the mountain bike craze, and that basically blew out the walls of the Barn. Literally Trek and others who built bikes in barns could no longer keep up with demand, and would need to move all production off-shore, to meet the demand for cheap, fat tire bikes, which were decidedly not your mother's ten-speed. Stop-gap allowed them to buy up Fisher and Klein just to get their hands on good tech. I would humbly state that of the 40,000+ bikes I wrenched, the majority would be Hybrids, and "Mountain Bikes". While occasionally in my youth I felt the temptation to mock the accessorized monster-fat saddle, every single "gel accessory", and of course tall stems, and reversed bar-ends. I soon learned to be less fearful, and (like Dr. Strangelove), I learned to love the bike whatever it's whimsical perturbation. We use "Quotes" around "mountain bike" here... because stylistically that was the delivered product, but practically speaking most were not destined nor designed to see the 'mountains'. Surely some were advanced; Tomacs, Klein Rascals, and even Y-Bikes, but the majority were hedged like bond traders to (oh please god!!!) never venture beyond the Asphalt Ribbon, because we didn't test for that. Your "Mountain Bike" looked the part, but "parts" is what they'd soon become as they hit single-track, and zinc spokes collapsed under well fed mid-westerners. So it happened, that just like your Rav4, nobody was ever 'supposed' to ride that thang off-road... It "said so" right there in the manual, right after the section showing 'proper use of a Quick release'. And so it now makes sense that following the Mountain Bike Boom of the nineties, what would follow is the High-end trend ticking upward the "Status-Bike" Craze. What better to drop $5-10 large on, than a new Road Bike? Post Boom, when Mountain Bike markets were absolutely fully saturated, like a choking goose with with fat-tires, and shocks, and wacky suspension designs, crammed down it's gullet, a Post-feast bulimia would need to follow. 'Light weight' was the next craze, (as predicted). And with the new economic bubble, people were struggling to find things to spend their tax refund on. Too little for a Car, but not too much that a New Road Bike could not sate the craving for something flashy. Status could now be purchased in the form of Road Bike Jewelry. Once again the Bike industry reacted, retooling for the New Road Bike boom. The average Top Tier bike price accelerated like fake mortgage backed securities, and just as Lehman, and Goldman got rich shorting the system, Prices nearly quadrupled for the Top-tier road bike overnight. In 1996 a Full Record Klein sold for around $3k, and by 2006, you could get that price up to $8 or 9K. By 2016 $11-12. Same Diamond Frame, lust-worthy parts, and magically shrinking gross vehicle weight. If you had to blame someone, you could blame Lance, and LeMond for bringing French trophies home to the US. But as with all messy historic nuance, this was not any one's fault, rather a perfect storm of available exotic materials, rocket science, and the cross-pollination of defense industry technology bleeding into all sorts of sporting goods.
The same is true for Skis, boards, boats, cars, motorcycles, and every region that could be chemically augmented. Carbon my friend coursed through the bloodline first infecting bikes with aluminum lugs, then forks, then frames, then parts like stems, posts, rims, and cetera.
Now for the Why part of the gravel trove. Some part is a "me-too" movement, whereby new entrants make what other's make because shop owners selling brand "X" get tired of saying, "no we don't have one of those". But that's a demand economy right? So the full story is that the Gravel bike is the new Hardtail (period). During our current bubble of cheap goods from China, and unsustainable economic prosperity, 1 in five cars on my street seem to be a Benz, Range, or Tesla. Never have we seen so many people living out their dreams with cheap money, and communal tastes. If your internet influences eats vanilla or does steam treatments down-under, then you need to do that as well... If you don't have one of these you simply wont fit in. If everyone is wearing ripped jeans again, then get some... So go out and get yourself a new bike, before the bubble pops.
My brother refuses to grow-up, and much like myself, lord knows he could afford to... But if he wants to continue to log miles on his 28 year old Klein Attitude, 'on' and 'off' road, then he may be the truest allegiant to the sport. For me, I have to get new shit all the time, to fuel this maniacal machine. The Machine needs me to buy more, and get the latest as soon as it's pressed. Early adopters move the bar. So it follows that Evil will make a bold strike at a new die of Plus-sized Gravel bikes, which will either cement their ingenuity as cutting edge, or their jumping this shark, will cost them dearly. Why are "Gravel" and "Gravel Plus" bikes everywhere? Because, when we run out of Vanilla, it's time to change flavors. While you are at it, add some nutz.
Gravel is intent to bring more people back into their Nostalgic romance with the outdoors. The new hybrid is a hybrid of a Mountain Bike Craze, The Super Lux Road bike Craze, and elegiac feelings of fording rivers, and summiting mountains under human power. What we all missed, except for an astute few, is that while Evil dabs a toe in the me-too gravel plus camp, and others sharpen their designs, Specialized is putting a motor in that shit, and making it light enough to not resent.
Gravel is so last year. The next Gravel-travel is Lithium-Ion Gravel. Not Gravel Plus, but as a nod to the DC voltage it is Gravel+/-
Embrace the Change because you cant stop progress. Don't shame earnest innovation, and above all Enjoy the ride.
For all the bikes I've loved, most seem tough to part with, but who could imagine I'd long for a set of wheels I gave away. I’ve built about 40 sets of wheels, which is not impressive. This is a story about why that doesn't really matter. This happened, (of course), well prior to the commoditization of any real aftermarket wheel industry.
In the mid 80’s before Lycra layered deerskin upon ones crotch; Music was generally upbeat, rap was charming, and smiling musicians (not "recording artists") courted listeners through music videos, with bad hair & giant fake gold necklaces. In that era of leather saddles, and Benotto Celo-cinta, one could either ask their local bike shop to build something for the track, or they got whatever came with the bike. Today, if you want to get yet another shrug from a tattoo'd millennial -- Ask at your local shop for something custom. Because there generally are no adults in the room, you will most certainly see them go fetch someone older who also shrugs and says, "let me show you these wheels over here".
Thirty-odd years back, bikes had wheels, and riders were quite fast upon them, but Mavic & Campy just began to make inroads into the yet undefined "wheel" category, by making one off discs, and trial specific alloy wheels. Mere Mortals could actually buy a pair of plastic covers for spoked steel wheels to achieve "Aero". The plastic was the same stuff as the sled you own today, cheap, hard, and colorful. For Uni (image Below), fabric wheel covers were available, the cost was reasonable, but the benefit was not so scientific, per se. For Campy and Mavic discs, the cost of entry was stratospheric, (basically one-offs) To make this tech trickle down, we first needed to retire Reagan’s fantasy-land Star-Wars missile defense systems, and put more 'contractors' out of biz, so that a rusting war machine could shit out all sorts of defunct Carbon, Kevlar, & Metal-Matrix into the crochet gloved hands of an eager bike trade. We could now build magical 'Terminator' beings such as carbon shrouded discs, bouncy Spinergy's, Armored M2 frames, and henceforth an eruption of sticky resin, and metalurgy flowed into eager hands to bind it all together. ...But, we are getting ahead of ourselves.
With little more than tires on offer, Specialized, (still the little "s") hadn’t yet made a Tri-spoke nor anything else for that matter.
Life was simple. I was a simpleton waxing glamorous upon an early Aluminum Track Frame.
I eventually owned two track bikes, and a custom Paramount from my friends in Waterford. Why a track bike?, mostly because I thought they were cool. Why a Paramount?, because they were certainly cool, and my friends built them. When cold, I would ride indoors on my polymer Rollers. Messengers still rode Ten-Speeds, and almost nobody talked about weight; yours or the bike's. Speaking of Cool... The cult of the Campy High-flange surely caught fire, and sustains by that elusive accolade. They are Cool.
Before electric resistance trainers, Blackburn sold a ton of fan, and later “Mag Trainers” — which felt a bit like riding a Schwinn Airodyne, (possibly the only piece of exercise equipment in the general marketplace. Treadmills and Nordic Trac were a few years from their heydey). With a slipping clutch thing and no whirring turbo-prop sound, each crank rotation, felt the slip where the revolution exceeded the magnetic grab. Like the feeling of a skipping chain, or free-hub one felt at times they may "Let Go" and sail over the bars. Many who had the analogous real world launch experience, will share that a skipped cog spelled injury. These too wold come later, because in this period drama, only rollers, and bad fan trainers existed.
It wasn’t a dark age, but it may have been a bit less sophisticated than the sophisticated pseudo-cycling dungeons of today.
I dismantled a then Vintage set of high flange Super Record hubs from a pair of sticky Wolber sew-up hoops. Setting the old rims aside, I set about to polishing the hubs back to their factory shimmer. Two better Campy Record models existed; Nuovo had a small aircraft blued spring clip at the hub’s center sheltering an injection port. Super had only a fancy polished band where the clip had once been, boasting the Campy winged logo. Both were magical. This is a eulogy of sorts. Cathartic, Nostalgic, and reverent.
There was no need to open the cone nuts on these hubs, nor to clean the bearings, but I took them apart anyway. I rolled tiny silver spheres through a rag in my hand, feeling each tiny ball until they also shined. If required, one could remove the inner races from most great hubs and press in a new set, but these hubs were perfect!...just the right amount of wear to glint a perfect polished silver track against a black velodrome upon which these balls rolled like mercury.
Repacked with green Phil Wood grease, (I had no magic Campy lithium about the shop), I cinched the cones snug again, and spun the axle to gauge it’s freedom of movement. Truth be told the Phil wood grease was rather crappy both thermally, and for lubricity, which may explain why I have the same tube I bought in the late 80's. These newly shined-up hubs were perfect. I cleaned the rest of the Mother’s polishing paste from the spoke holes and counted out my new butted spokes. If you never held a Campy High Flange Hub, then buy a set and just set them upon your coffee table. They are magical unicorns, and even friends who don't own a bike will admit to their magnetism.
Owing to a Herculean effort by Wheelsmith, one could reference a chart of spoke lengths against a known batch of available hubs and hoops to find a mas-o-menos proper spoke length for most 3-cross lacing patterns. 2 cross, and radial was a trial-and-error frontier, unless someone else had already built and shared their intel. Later "Spoke Calc" became THE database for every wheel-builder. So it makes sense as a bookend that the god father of Wheelsmith made his last big splash with a Carbon wheel design so radical became his undoing. That 'wonder wheel' was Mad Fiber.
The thing was..., and I know it will sound impossible — but without the internet (which was not yet invented) ones’ ability to share trade secrets, and calculations with other Techs, was (well) limited. ipso facto, there was not that many hubs and rims to choose from in the early to mid 80's.
Various custom frame builders, As well as DT, and WheelSmith lorded this technical intellect like ancient Illuminati, and the data was coveted -- if finite.
Dropping each spoke through the drive side of my rear hub, I brought them one by one up to the rim staggering holes like hopscotch until one side held the hub to center.
Lacing a wheel was, and remains a beautiful zen affair, like trimming a Bonsai, or spinning wet clay on a wheel.
To lace a wheel is (at first) a bit like Japanese calligraphy, and as a right of passage I suppose, it delineated a matriculation of wrench craft. Or so it seemed to me. Any mechanic could bolt a pair or orange Mathauser pads to a Modolo caliper, and bend them to a perfect chatter-free gram, but few graduated to deftly making wheels, which endured.
As with any specialty skill-set, burning a hole saw through some 531 tubes and brazing it to a Hank James Lug-set, was a more elite affair. Building some shelves vs. building a house...
My first pair of custom wheels came to life from these High Flange beauties, and twin polished Araya deep rims. These magnificent, and coveted hubs were not born of style, but rather the perfect combination of form and function. If you search for them now, chances are good that they will cost you Five-X what they were new.
I know the next criticism will be something about Sew-ups v. Clinchers, so I’ll just say that in general, clinchers were less available, and I got these deep Arayas for a song. ...And who doesn’t like the smell of Tubasti fumes in the morning? Gluing tires to rims was the adolescent graduation after the formative childhood of huffing Testors model glue, and Super Elastic Bubble Plastic.
Beginning the second side I crossed each new spoke twice before it spun into its nipple.
Some wheels we tinned and soldered, some we wrapped with epoxied fiberglass cord. All were tensioned and found their true by hand, one turn at a time.
I’ve taught mechanics' classes and basic bicycle triage to many, but I never thought someone may want to obtain the secret skill-set of master wheel-builder.
For every spoke wrench I sold, I knew that with or without tutorial, I would soon see the wheel it was plied to, and charge the same person to loosen, mend, and to true what they "Fixed".
Truing a mangled wheel, much like fly-tying, is a Zen of sorts. Fine motor movement and nuanced pressure, amidst the CSI of hunting-down what the amateur wantonly ruined in a few minutes turning spokes. For anyone who rapidly fixed a wheel which someone hastily ruined twisting spokes, it becomes painfully clear that not everyone has the 'om' to hold a spoke key.
On the road, or at a race, a quick truing leaves no time for contemplation. Rapidly loosening a few nipples, bending a broken spoke like a crazy straw around another, and pulling a few more tight will allow one to limp along. This mid-race triage is like performing a tracheotomy, brutal, and effective!
(e.g. Stick the Bic-pen through a slit in the trachea, above the adam's-apple, and get them breathing again... gasp)!
There is nothing magic about the operation, but most will walk the race, or worse, stop moving entirely without expert intervention. It's like seeing an optometrist, and leaving with clear vision... This deed warrants heavy gratitude.
My new wheels would be special, not because they were technically compelling, but because I made them, they were shiny, and they would not easily fail. As with a new car, initially a force-field surrounds you, and you baby it, but after dinging the bumper once, you are no longer a petulant child when the next pothole consumes you.
Today, when you get a new set of Rovals, DT Swiss, or Enve’s, you are giving a nostalgic nod to our forebear struggles. Hand-built in a factory, today most toss the proverbial spoke keys (and hence their paycheck) to the high tech factories where a skilled team re-checks what the machine began.
Back when a discerning few would otherwise have had to seek out a guru for something special to roll upon, the options were finite, time-tables were longer, and the best testament to a great pair of wheels, was never thinking about them at all. Some come with a scribbled note saying "help help i'm slave in asian sweat-shop", while other's come with American Pedigree. All are generally awesome.
Today, if we can afford them, we can simply pay for something extraordinary. Are they "Hand-Built" sure, and so is a Ford F150. Someone touches some part, and viola!!, "Hand built". In fairness, I have some Tune's (hand-built), Roval's, (hand-built), some Enve's (hand-built), and some Bontrager's (hand-built) and they all are wonderfully solid. In the "olden-days" however, wheels of quality which were 'hand-built' were rare -- More couture, than H&M. Today, wheels may be perhaps more Chipotle, than Michelin-starred; But they are way better than most which dropped between 1985 and 1995.
When my wheels were laced, and the hub floated in the center, I'd set about to bed each spoke's "J"-end into the hub, and to flex each spoke until it seated well. Then, i'd individually tighten spokes as the wheel stiffened into shape. Rotated one-by-one, I enjoyed the process, but admit to seeming to have far more free-time then -- than I do now.
If you've built a bird house, a table, or crafted an IPA from scratch, then you know the satisfaction of seeing something useful through from raw materials, to final product, (even if it was not as good as you'd pretended). In earnest, I think every cyclist should build a wheel-set, if only to experience & revere what a wonder it is that a few dozen pairs of razor-thin spokes can support a human and endure it's punishment. The bicycle wheel has gone though several fashionable changes, mostly for the heck of it, and of course to entice marketing tech and sexiness, but the principles remain the same. Two opposing sides pulling a rim upright like a suspension bridge. Giving it's due the larger miracle in The London Eye, which is basically what I'm talking about. The high flange hub shrank both the steep spoke angle and the length, but it really lives as an archetypal icon because of it's DaVinci-like Vitruvian proportions.
Any vendor today who has the fortitude to offer replacement or even crash-replacement for their wheel buyers -- backing what they make; Is telling of their craft. Some brands make wheels of such praiseworthy quality here in the US as to deserve legend status. We take all factory sets the good & the bad, with skepticism; and so some factory wheels arrive with a wobble, while others never waiver under a Clydesdale. It's amazing in contrast that a simple build mistake, such as a single loose or unseated spoke, can rob us of a grand day out. From 1998 onward, good manufactures made such huge improvements to their process that we stopped needing to mind them much. We simply assembled the bike tweaked the brakes and shifters, but never touched a spoke. In 1989 the highest end bike one could buy (adjusted for inflation) was still half the cost of most nice wheel-sets today. The sky is the literal limit for brands such as Lightweight -- Which brings me to the payoff... Does a great wheel really make the bike? The short answer is yes... well kind of.
Can a basic bike benefit from some sexy hoops? absolutely!! Can you ride better upon a climbing wheel? Ascend faster on a carbon rim? Ride Longer upon butted spokes?, Further with aerodynamics? ….yep.
So what's more important the 'frame' or the 'wheel'? You of course know the answer. In all the sexy ooze of cycle marketing, our honest answer gets diluted in a messy mix of paint, carbon, status, and of course bullshit. Nearly nobody drives their SUV or Pick-up off road, Nor do they drive their sports car like they stole it. This doesn't stop us buying them. We are swooned by terrain ads showing an archetypal male (like you), smiling confidently fording a stream. These nostalgic sentiments are a strong magnetism. Most great bikes are exactly that fantasy. If you ride a lot are you doing so to prove to your spouse that you deserve six bikes? Or, do you have six bikes because N+1 is a quixotic bitch of an equation; and remember we don't even know the metric system. Have we weeded out the B.S.? nah... The mid-nineties Mountain-Bike boom was the SUV everyone could afford. Nothing more. We sold tens of thousands to people who would never see so much as a patch of grass. When we look at the epic road bike museum relics, which brought victory to Mercxx, LeMonde, or Hinault we should be in awe of their motor not (necessarily) their machine. If their iron diamond was good enough for their victories', then... well you could probably save a few thousand bucks and excel on anything built in 1990. Lets imagine the same athlete upon the same bike, but with a full two pounds removed from their wheel-set., and a few more from their frame... They used to say in F1 motorsport, that an ounce saved in the wheel equaled a pound from the body, and that is not so far from fact. When it comes to a hill, the advantage can be much greater. Mercxx used to pouch his bidon, or go without because he felt the frame weight slowed him down. Put another way, he said a fraction of his secret sauce was to remove every ounce from the bike..., and so it began.
I always laugh at the guy at the gym with a tennis bag the size of a carry-on, I wonder if his game theory is to intimidate or impress the opponent with his massive bag -- or if he is compensating for something else. If I swing the racket poorly or fail to watch the ball when I serve, carrying five newly strung rackets, wont matter much. If you head to the sports store for a new racket, and buy one pre-strung, you may be surprised to know that the $69. special was last years best model. Because that mold was bought and paid for, like software, the first one cost a cool mil. and surplus blanks get repainted to be sold in bulk. This applies to Skis, Surf Boards, Swim Fins, and every fare of sporting craft. Every single one after the prototype is gravy for revenues. Congrats!! you just saved a thousand bucks, and your game will be the same with either choice. As with bikes, you can only ride one at a time, you are the engine, and the bike, while sexy cannot be magic, right? Well with a well chosen quiver you may actually ascend based solely on peer pressure. Choose reasonably, ride respectfully, and revere what you own within your limits, because you are you, and you are decidedly not that guy with the racket bag. Do your own thing, your own way, and be strong with the shit you own within your means. Don't show up with a 10-K bike and stand by the side-lines. Enter the race, and fail. If you place, then you can reward yourself with a new set of wheels. If you win they may hand you a set ...But doing it with a naf set of wheels, and you may do it better.
Counting grams, I will admit (as a product of the public schools) was literally impossible for me, an ignorant 'imperialist' as the trend gained. I didn't know much about grams nor even how many 'kilos' I weighed, until cycling catalogs started showing me this data. Much like counting calories... if it works for you, so be it. It can't actually help you if you've no idea what the metric system is. Even-so, Gram fanaticism didn't matter until the mid-nineties. In fact it didn't matter whatsoever until I could afford to give a shit about it. I could ride just about any bike, and enjoy it until the great buzz-kill of gram counting grew like a boil upon cycling's back around 1995. Companies like Ringle, Control Tech, and Easton began a surgical strike to my bank account. This coincided with the invention of the ATM. This scam force funneled five dollar bills to fan flames of the "fantasy-football" of all eccentricities, gram counting... Sigh!..
And so, the Weight Wienie was born. (longer sigh!!.....) In-spite of all the sexy improvement to kit-and-bits -- It does all boil down to the rider, and perhaps a bad-ass set of wheels. My second set of wheels was just finished, and they shimmered, they were true, tight, and tough, and lasted me 12 years, I transferred them to a Canondale Track Frame, which I stripped and polished to mirror sheen. I rode them until I gave the bike to a guy who thought he'd need it to gain social status with the burgeoning crusty messenger-crowd circa 1994.
Hold your next wheel apart from your bike, or for scary fun set it upon it's side like Rolf Dietrich, and stand upon the rim edges, while doing the "Twist". Note how a great wheel will support you even sideways, and when abused. Marvel at the unnerving apparent frailty, and then bolt it to the bike and do your level best to be a better rider, worthy of your wheels. You may excel without a wheel upgrade, but you will need to raise your game when you buy some. You should love them more when you respect their heritage, their allure, and their elegance.
Kiss your mechanic if you've never had to think about the bike you abuse. Buy them a six-pack when they true the wheels you manage to mangle. If you never bother to consider your wheels, then maybe do that today.
May the force be with you, wherever you are.
You came here to relax this weekend, and you arrived late. You are already nervous about the race, and the gear, and the weather. You shake up a few bottles with some powdered crap, because that seems like a solid idea, and you peel off your toasty jacket in the blowing wet snow to put on something like a tutu, to dance about in the swirling white with eighty of your favorite strangers. Now, is when you realize that you may have brought a knife to a gun-fight. You quickly lob ideas about the hollows of your skull; bandying a ball of bad advice, but basically you have one ball echoing in this squash court, and hence you have one idea. This always happens with you, because you can't see that there may be other outcomes, and alternative strategies. As the frenzy of pong sounds subside, you resolve to just ride the race with these dudes regardless of what may come.
You have a bike with 2" tires which you thought were large..., and they all brought Fat bikes with more than 4" humongous tires. The automotive equal to your Civic in a sea of Monster-Trucks. But of course it did not dawn upon you the moment you drove up. What began at the parking lot?.. Each and every vehicle entering the mushy farmland parking pad was 3 ft higher than your city SUV. Everyone (else) boasted bumper stickers with jargon you don't yet know, and everyone but you brought bikes which looked like they could pull your truck out of a snowbank.
You tell yourself that you may have the advantage... a dramatic pause as the wind whips up................ You unroll the first presta-valve and begin hissing out some city air into the silent blanket of country white noise. You anxiously jettison pressure from your measly tires in hopes you'll dig into the mush. It will be an ordeal.
You reclaim your mind from it's gloomy segue toward doom scenarios, and recover with the novel idea that you do in fact have an advantage. That your drop bar gravel thing is sleeker and faster, and you will hold your own. But when the gun goes off, and you roll out to the first left, you begin rapidly to disprove your theory. How can it be that this is better than Netflix? Mud sprays Michigan sand & clay silt all over your face. Glasses coated, and hard upon the next riders sloshing knobbies, the mist rolls up from the business end of his Monster-Truck. You shift, drop a hand to signal, and mash the pedals to arrive in the front of this mangy wet peloton. Without any warm-up, you struggle to align your breathing with the thrum of the rapidly rising beat in your chest. You are now doing some of the spraying, but you are already losing your mojo. Hands are still warm, but wetter each time you raise one to swipe mud from your glasses. You dig in and grind away at the chatter, of humming treads and clacking chains. A drone of a thousand buzzing truck tires sound like the devil pulling down his zipper. You know what may come next and you choose to drop two lengths, tuck in and grab a tow, even if it means sucking in more muddy spray. The river-like road we ride atop is like the chocolate brown of a mountain stream after the monsoon. The Muck of an Indian village; The spray of a drunk at a Music fest after the downpour. Your mud sprays your neighbors, and theirs the next trailing rider... all coated and building upon your lenses, nobody seems to mind. You are enveloped in the mid pack now, and several comrades have the novel idea to press on the gas-pedal a bit harder, as dominant riders separate the wheat from the chaff. You bow your head, and keep pace. You are enwrapped in just the thing you signed up for; A winter gravel sufferfest with 80 other guys who'd rather go outside and feel something real, (if muddy) Than to watch Netflix. Shifters click, clunky Sram cogs index up. Fingers on a trigger rather than a TV remote. You are all in deep, and you are all pretending to have a blast, but you know that this pace is untenable. This rapid gain of muddy men will shake loose the spare change, splintering into separate bubbles, some popping and others rising, the elites will get to counting the real money. You are working too hard, rhythm is what you need now, thoughtful parsed breaths, elude you. This momentum which once held you like a seed in a pod won't work for you unless you gather your wits inside that invisible jet. You gasp to tame your heart rate as your lungs throw heat. Respiration, is one of those things we take for granted until the lungs falter. It will all be fine when your lungs and heart find a parity, and stop their resentment. Your legs fall under your spell, but the rest is a shambles. Two more move up, and then a few more. Could you even see and feel the slip-stream school past you like a pedestrian crossing a roundabout in Vietnam. Fish schooling around you like a still coral -- Others slipping past the sharks. Stay the course, breathe! Don't Pant!!!, IN and then OUT go the lungs, and Up and Down you mash the pedals until you gain back a bit of what you've lost, but you are still losing pace to a bunch of Cummins Diesels. You are a Porsche playing the ploughman, with your own snarky bumper sticker. You are sucking right now. Every fifth Pot-Hole grabs your wheel trying to pull you down to that prick who's infinite zipper buzzes like satan's private bee-hive. Your legs burn, while your neighbors float atop the mirth, as a combine would. Its a fast affair, but you calculate the outcome in slo-motion. Nothing is coming to mind except D.N.F, or is it D.N.C....? you'll have to learn that new lexicon, if you don't pick up the pace. Did Not Finish. you haven't failed an exam since school, and you are sure the F stands for Finish, and that's a good grade right? You wipe your lenses again, and find a wheel that throws a bit less misty brown in your face... But the wheels are moving up, and you are dropping pace. Snow builds on the arc of your abdomen, like a charm or token, just sitting there laughing as the next tire approaches. You have some catching up to do. You dig in harder paddling class 4 water, each stroke counting for less against a massive eddy who's promised to swirl you away.
You think that if you fall back, you will lose the course, and where is the sopping map you shoved into your jersey? The dreaded gap now forms and you have lost ground. Others have as well, but it's not OK for you? You need to catch them!! Get back to the pack and tuck back into your Invisible Jet. Breathing is restoring, and the trill of your heart finally nuances back from a shrill crescendo. You are an in-between rider, working far harder, with nobody to share in the work. Now, back in rhythm you begin the long claw back. The gap does not lessen to the peloton, but you close some ground on a few more worthy stragglers. You are moving forward by that metric, but catching them does not seem gainful.
It happens. You know that trigger moment when you consider bagging the whole thing and tossing it out the window? yep..., it happens. The mind moves from solutions to excuses. You feel defeated wasting energy upon your reason, countering the logical backdrop of doing the hard work.
Nah... you mush your sled onward, and close some more ground using the buzz-saw of the riders you pass in your doppler to calculate that you're catching up. Soon you don't hear them, their buzzing monster tires fade and now a train horn, deep and strong to your right. The tracks berm obscuring the riders ahead. Are you closing the gap? They must be just beyond the tracks. You hear the thunderous Train Horn belch again, mocking you. If only you could chug into that "I think I can - I Think I can" shush please God let's make it to the tracks in time to not be cut-off. Again indomitable will-power seems to begin warming the wet snow on your lap. The talisman on your lap who mocked you, who said you won't make it, finally melting. You will be cut off behind a 10 minute long freight Train, and then what will your excuse be?
Ah... yes! the Train. We stragglers can all gather behind the gate and blame the train. D.N.F....
The horns come again and no-one approaches from behind. The sky is thick like milk with clumpy wet flakes swirling by. You approach the tracks and feel the air and wind inhale as if the Train were upon you, but you don't see it's headlight through the pale snowy curtains. You imagine the Bahamas, somewhere in the Exumas, and you imagine that clear warm water like a lens refracting glowing sunlight glittering now as you reach gently for a starfish resting just below the shimmer. You want that same tranquility, as you gulp air, to hold your breath and hop over the tracks as the Train thunders into view, pushing it's wet blanket forward revealing a golden bright lamp shining like the tropical sun. You've cleared the tracks just in time. There they are!, as you resume breathing and the hard work to catch your comrades.
You see them in the distance, once obscured by the mound supporting the train, the final group is turning left, but not onto a road. You are all moving onto a fire-road. You grind away, and re-regulate your air. You need calories, or Potassium, or a Beer, shit anything! may help. Perhaps a stretcher at the last mile, to carry you across. You turn onto a blanket of white with two deep ruts from someones tractor or monster truck. One hundred and twelve fat tires crunching it into sloppy grey slush. A new sound breaks the cacophony, The thunking crunch as riders fall sideways onto the packy snow. One and then another heavy thunk! like a trash bag thrown into a snow-bank -- With it, one less rolling mashing monster-truck.
You slip left and right as your pedals knick the sides of the ruts occasionally hitting ice, and knocking you off-balance, you rise up from the seat leaning more weight forward to keep steerage. You grind. It's tough. A few lonesome others run beside their bikes like a Cross Course through a mud pit, pushing monster trucks beside them like a tractor pull. You wince watching another topple over. Gaining on the runners dabbing a toe here and there. Riding a line on a tight-rope, you gain.
It's a quick left off the trail and back onto the gravel road, catching the group you spy a comfortable space to shoe-horn your bike into that tight wet mid-pack. Wet wool and musty Axe-Effect fill your burning nostrils, Salt and silt wash across your wet diapers. Passing the lake covered with fresh snow, you all note the new headwind and so everyone tucks in. Down shifts crackle into the uphill climb out of the lake valley to a filthy finish.
Cheers!, you did Finish so today you got an F Instead of the Dreaded D.N.F. No TV shows, No cameras, No Fictional awards ceremony, Restless exhilarated breath, blood flowing over every wiry muscle like rusty cables contracting and pulling you tighter. Fondue is in your future. The Cabin has no TV. The snow continues to fall large as leaves.
Not bad for an old man.
Most honest people would agree that when you live in the city and it's winter, you get to jonesing about being someplace else. When you have the gear staring at you, somehow (unlike a treadmill) you really want to get on it. Of course the itch gets more scratch-worthy when you've not seen the sun in weeks, and precipitation in solid form precludes a good romp outside. Me I like to take trips and sometimes, just the planning can keep you alive. I have often told younger friends, that the looking forward and the planning, can be every bit as therapeutic as the adventure -- And of course they think I'm nuts. I tell them to think of stasis like being incarcerated; You shouldn't -- But you generally do begin at some point to count down rather than up, even as the days mire you like a marshmallow in a Jello-mold.
The elixir for the common doldrum is to make plans Larger plans bring greater relief from the winter treadmill. As you step-off the endless walk-way, and gather your thoughts, Where do you see yourself headed?
Me I want to ride, then paddle a bit, camp some, and then ride some more, and then sleep a bit and eat a ton. I'm not sure what is more exhausting, sitting around waiting for the ice to melt on the lake, or an epic journey, But I can say that the wanderlust when it hits looks far more invigorating than my couch. I have a few bikes, and when I think of them like selecting people to be on my dodgeball team, I wonder which ones may resent me for not being picked. I have a pack-raft the size of a loaf of bread, and a paddle which may fit in an iPad case, so it's no surprise that any of my bikes could drag my gear to the nearest river for a bit of rowing about. It's mildly pornographic how many times in January I've read blogs about packing trips, and bad-ass adventures. I lay on my pillow some nights hoping to drift away to dream about a piney camp-fire, a shot of espresso, and the piquant smell of Deep Woods Off. Oh please take me elsewhere.
I'm thinking of the National forest but can't settle upon which one, and so I dive into route planning with an open mind, and heart. Of course JT sounds exciting when all we've seen is pissing sleet and grey snow, but I'm thinking of a place with a bit of water, and paddling.
I'll begin with a place, then move to gather the gear, and then inevitably pile a ton of shit on the rug before me to begin the process of parsing out what is not essential. Right about now, I have a visual list in my noggin of some key items, Bag, Tent, Pad, Axe, Tools and Tubes... The list goes on, and you know in every trip, every place, I seem to find the surplus at the end, that I didn't need to bring. In each Voyage across the sea, and every summit, in every weekender, or day-trip, I am carrying something that I don't need, won't use, and regret dragging around. I know I need to lighten up, and so while some people preach their New Year's resolve to lose weight, fast, quit their job, or learn guitar -- I've resolved to find the items I didn't use, and abandon them. Really.
If you are at all human you will see the utility of the Phrase, "It's better to have it and not use it, than not have it and need it". Everyone can isolate the wisdom in that Jargon, but I would also prefer to not have it if I've never used it. To carry things all over 'Kingdom-come' and return to say, "Oh, hey! there is that thing..." is a fixation which we could all use a bit of help with.
Of course, If you could distill down all of your necessary gear to the essentials the first go-around, then you'd be sovereign of the outdoors. "Why an Axe", you may ask? "What do you really need to bring that with for?"
Well, you make your list and I'll make mine, and I won't plead with you for what to pack, as long as nobody asks the other to carry some of their shit, and nobody starves. OK?
So, Plan your own trip with the bare essentials, albeit not so bare that you are ill-prepared -- And if you need to set upon that pile some Gummies, or some Single Origin Coffee, I won't fault you. Just dont ask me to hold it for you for a week whilst we roam.
On a chilly pre-dawn June morning in 2017, a young Alex Honnold tied his shoes, left his Ram Van in Yosemite valley, walked to the face of perhaps the most breathtaking and formidable Granite Escarpment in the world, and set about to climb to the top without ropes, or a partner. He climbed 2900 feet to the top of El Capitan by his wits, his fitness, and a pair of sticky shoes. The "Free Rider" route is a 5.12d rated soul-search up a sheer wall, and The Film capturing much of the ascent grants us audience for perhaps the most significant sporting accomplishment of our time. The Documentary "Free Solo" won an Academy award for bringing us to the harrowing details.
When a few guys got together to record "The Dark Side of the Moon", they did so with the simultaneous confidence of it's composition, and perhaps a bit of indifference toward whether anyone would give a shit. If they'd crashed and burned, then so be it; but their mastery and confidence came in large measure from being a creative bad-ass. It comes as no surprise that the Album Version of Dark Side charted big, and long, setting records, and sustaining for decades. It's also tough to quantify the impact rippling through the creative world as waves of music and even life-styles are shaped or readjusted from the first hearing.
Is Alex Honnold's free Solo of el Cap, the ultimate YOLO, or more the "Dark Side" of Great Outdoors accomplishments? Is this epic event "The Dark Side of the Moon" of athletic achievement, slowly permeating our cultural fabric, and changing us in un-known ways. It seems a stretch to see an artistic event, such as an Album, Painting, or Film, with the same sort of 'going for broke' lens as "Free Solo". Many have achieved great things with a pair of Gym Shoes. But what of it's analog to a Great piece of art, which sustainably captivates, inspires, and forever changes the landscape of sport. When people go for broke, they generally get all sorts of attention, while we couch-surfers glare dumbfounded. Going for broke sticking your head in a lion's mouth, is one thing... but when your life is the literal downside cost of a 'super cool stunt' -- If you survive, you raise the bar a bit from idiotic stunt which gets raves on YouTube, to messianic maniac. What I'd like to know is this -- Is Alex Honnold's Solo Ascent, the Dark Side of the Moon of Adventurous accomplishment? As analog there could be a few films and a few paintings in modern history, which reshape those categories forever... Or they could have nothing whatsoever to do with this masterful climb. What remains the consistent bond between the sheer awe of a free solo of this scale and The Dark Side of The Moon, is a bit like the Moon Landing itself... That its a wholly selfish, and singular sea-change as they go for broke. Alex Honnold no more achieved his moon landing for others, than Pink Floyd composed Dark Side for me, but both were decided to appeal in their magnitude, and both set a new bar. I've read stories of Ninja's who have a true mastery of their skillset; But contrast this with thrill-seekers with a Camera Crew shooting a stunt from a perfect angle and the perfect moment to engender Awe. One is a solitary journey of refinement for the self, a search inward for something larger than ourselves, and our contemporaries. The other is a publicity stunt.
In a free solo climb, perhaps It's the "not knowing the outcome" which seems to be the special sauce. If you catch the largest Walleye and throw it back and don't tell anyone, then you are clearly more mature than most. If you endeavor to scale a face alone and die trying, then the outcome and the accomplishment belong to you alone. But... if you record it, and we all witness the impact, then with time, we (the audience) may be forever influenced by it's greatness. There is no lead-in to a true 'moon-landing' -- No assured outcome that it will not go completely sideways. As we feel the gravity of what it takes to become that ninja, writing a screenplay, or designing an invention which changes our history, only history lends context to the wholeness of the accomplishment. I very much believe that those who inspire us, converting our disbelief into astonishment are not only magicians, but when we come to terms with the weight of the trick being performed, we recognize that the awe is not only deserved, but perhaps underweighted, if even inadequate.
Arthur C. Clarke Once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Magic".
What then is the wave of change when someone achieves this level of mastery? On the one hand it will inspire others to take up a sport or a guitar, and have a go at it. On the other hand, it will take time to weigh the magic's magnitude. For it is from a singular drop of inspiration that a torrent of new changes become explored.
After watching A Kung Fu movie kids will emulate their heroes with a bow staff, or sword, and after "Star Wars" a light sabre, but after "Free Solo", kids who were scaling a tree beside the garage are thinking bigger. What is beautiful about capturing these moments for distribution is that they become part of our common history, and that new path changes the very course of things.
There are many examples, from conquered citadels, to World Wars, where an indominible force seems to change more or less the fabric of our times. But what of the nuanced shift in history from such a seemingly smaller ripple in time.
When I first Heard " The Dark Side of the Moon", or watched the Film "2001", I didn't really conceive of people making music or film, and their process or difficulties in the studio never dawned on me. I was in the audience of a masterpiece, and thought only of its texture, the grandeur and the pace. It may have been weeks or months later that I heard it again. It was several years before I re-watched "2001 A Space Odyssey", (Screened in 1968) introducing the world to, Siri, Sentient AI, The iPad, FaceTime, and the ISS, decades before they'd materialize. It's when I reconsider the brilliance, that I am humbled by the reach of such impacts. Did fifty, or a thousand Arthur Clarke prodigies hash out the details of the iPad once they saw it in Kubrick's Space Odyssey? Could Bowie write Space Oddity if it were not for Kubrick and Clarke's Collaboration? Would we wait longer for The Amazon Echo, were not HAL driving the back-end of a fictional Space Mission in 1968? What's amazing about looking to the stars, (celestial ones and not the botox sort...) is how it humbles us to dream big. Somehow boundless galaxies seem to suppress our ego if not the concept that we are center in the universe, and this may bring us the clarity to imagine beyond what we've initially dreamt possible.
While we suspend our disbelief, we don't feel Alex Honnold suffering, mentally nor physically, just the sheer magic of his accomplishment. If I never see "Free Solo" a second time, I will nevertheless find it impossible to extricate its' impact from my world view. But unlike some lessor important unnerving events, which one cannot "Un-see" -- "Free Solo" remains branded in my mind as a One-man Moon-landing. Perhaps more than the deepest free-dive, or landing a Jet in the Potomac, this film changed a cultural category, and shook the foundation of Sporting and the outdoors.
It remains an open question whether we will save the National Forests from the pillage of Land Barons, and Oil Companies. But, if a bright side could be gleaned, perhaps children (dragged to see "Free Solo" with their nannies) will so revere the grandeur of El Cap, that a few of them will work to save our Natural Landmarks from becoming golf courses and strip mines.
Which brings me back to "The Dark Side of the Moon", (A Piece for Assorted Lunatic's), There is a place in this world where reverence for such things could either seem strangely obsessive or duly deserved depending upon who tells you about them. I want to live in a world where a Stoner, and a Senator can debate "The Dark Side" with similar admiration, and also to discuss mental Illness with the same sincerity. That may not happen for a while, but I think it's poignant to cue the record and give a go at understanding just how much this Album has moved our musical culture forward. Partly a Catharsis to work through Syd Barrett's "madness issues" , and equally an astronomy-themed realignment of the band's celestial direction -- "Dark Side" was born to audiences in Late January 1972 at the Dome in Brighton, Four Years from the debut of "2001 A Space Odyssey".
It has been said to reticent teens, that just because they don't yet listen to Pink Floyd, Bowie, or Dylan is no reason to believe that they will not. There seems to be an inescapable tractor beam for Musical influence, which will soon draw the uninitiated toward these classics. Be it a begrudging hour listening to their "Parent's Crap", in the car, or through a drug-fueled month-long bender of vintage vinyl, most teens eventually touch the 'proverbial stone' before they have their first real job. If we could prescribe Three Films, Three Albums, and Three Inventions for everyone, to spark a sea-change in their world view -- What would they be? I know of Two for sure.
Just as Dark Side, or Ziggy Stardust may have been born from Kubrick and Clarke, we are perhaps richer for both. Kubrick brought us directly up to the awkwardly uncomfortable question of "What's out there", and exposed our egos to the dark insecure gravity of our meager id, against the pitch black curtain of the singularity. Alex Honnold, similarly grappling with proportional scale in his epic ascent of a titanic monolith, placed himself second to the task to overcome the odds. As Pink Floyd resolved to find a new direction without their Founder Syd Barrett, their departure to the edge of the universe and back born upon mental illness, fueled by inventiveness, brings us a brilliant score which expands the soundtrack of our lives.
What remains, is to weigh what changes in the wake of Alex Honnold's Moon Landing.
First of all -- There is no such thing as "Turkey Pepperoni". There is also no such thing as "Cauliflower Crust", and there is no reason to make believe that either of these things exist -- Because they do not!! Oh sure, you have seen them printed on boxes in the freezer case, but they are no more real than a Bunny with a basket full of free-range eggs. If it's Turkey, then it's not a Hot Dog, and it's decidedly not a Sausage... It's not even better for you, so get over your smug bias. Fake meat and new combinations of ground stuff to create a kinder gentler Burger, is a false prophet. Beware your false god!! The combination of bizarre ingredients to make fake versions of known staples, mixed with some Vegan Cheese will not make "Pizza" -- For it is God's will that Pizza is "this" and substantially not "that"... Pizza may rumble your stomach with bad gluten, Spike your Lactase, and make your fingers swell with sodium but it is made just that way, and any sufficient deviation from what it is at it's core, would not result in "Pizza". Tofurky is no more Turkey, than Champagne from Spain. Call it Cava or Brut, but sparkling wine is not Champagne. ...And a Chrysler is no more a Porsche, than a Peloton is a Bike.
If it's constituents deviate so far from the original that the semblance of what remains is so substantially fraudulent, then 'IT' (the thing) deserves a new name. So... You may call Cauliflower Crust, "fake crust made from significantly processed vegetable matter, with other binders, with some spices". Likewise, Meat is Meat, and Fake meat is just Fake stuff masquerading as Meat, and not "Meat". When I dress up as Spider Man, I still fail at the web-spinning, and A kid dressed as Hulk is not a menace. Meat is best described as animals, typically mammals and fish which were once alive, but now are dead, and they require cooking to keep you from getting sick. We can eat meat if we choose, and we can bandy about the topic of synthesizing that same experience, just as we create the idealized version of ourselves online, bearing no resemblance to the "real thing"... But if it is not you out there with a fake meat stick in your mouth, then who is it?
Fake Meat is not dead animals, and should have a new name or category such as Soylent, A Ground and Processed slurry of Goop. Maybe Goop is a good neutral word for "Fake Meat".
A question comes to mind about fake meats, and the bleeding edge penchant to push rusty iron oxide, and creepy chemistry to a level whereby Goop shapes, Bleeds and Grills just like ground up Animal. When you have to make it bleed to convince the carnivore to eat it, then perhaps we've gone too far.
I asked a friend the other day, if Peloton was so popular -- Then, why don't you ever see those people with that silly white peloton window decal on their Range Rover, riding on the street or bike path with a real bike? (psst...!! I'll give you a clue, it's all fake, that's why). Truth be told, the same SUV nearly crushed 5 cyclists this morning on the bike route, and never thought that they may have something in common. They don't!
Is it not a lil-bit disingenuous for people who would bother to fly a Peloton flag on their Range, to never ever ever ride a bike outside? I know you will say that you have a Peloton, and that you ride your bike on sunny days mid-May. But because you use the Peloton, in all of it's pretentious glory to stay fit... it doesn't make the meat more real, nor you a cyclist. We know it, and I think that you do as well.
I think that if you were to ride outside half as voraciously as you worship your wattage on an LCD screen, then you would certainly know not to drift 5000 pounds of steel into the Bike Lane at rush-hour. When you compare your FTP to some fake douche in Salinas, you are perhaps sharpening your edge, as you dig ever deeper into your own fictional digital chasm. Your online persona (your digital self) is a lie.
Have a big bite of fake cheese pizza and tell yourself that it's healthier. Slice a slab of Tofurky on some quinoa, and seize the health benefits of this epically long ingredients list. Ride in your basement and tell your friends that you are a cyclist. Post a 12 year old picture of your digital self on-line and tell the world that you are free, and compelling. The new dialog on-line is to speak in superlatives. We freely exchange comparisons of ourselves with others who worship the same fake resume'. If it makes you feel better, then -- By all means... take a bite.
I try to draw a distinction between wearing what I'm told, and choosing who I am. When I see a brand taking flight, and everyone diving into the big pool of sameness, I try to abstain. When a friend says, "Hey have you seen that one show on Netflix, or that one current movie", I reflect their enthusiasm, and file it away in a potential "to-do list", but I don't race to share the same bath water.
Remember Nordic Trak? this gadget came from the same incubator as the Roller Blade, and soon both ended up under the bed, and then beside the dumpster. What sustains requires a bit more effort. I have the same bike built for me in 1989, and several have joined the same stable, and I generally wear-out my shoes and clothes. Nothing I own boast a big brand-name, save for some bike kit, I use exclusively for that sport. I am not a bill-board, and I am not a fashion maven, but I know that some things in clothes and sport sustain, and their relevance spans decades. What is to come of the Peloton, this un-hideable fashion emblem which occupies the spare room? What does one do with it, when the new model is released. If it were a phone, you could stash it in your top dresser drawer. But not the Peloton. How many pair of shoes have Peloton sold? How many people buying the same got them from a bike store?
Wednesday I asked my local Bike Shop Manager, "How many shoes they sell to Peloton users"? He said that, "...Most of our shoe sales are for stationary bikes". So, let's pause, and I'll let that sink in.
I asked him how many stationary bike users may have bought or are contemplating buying a new bike?
He couldn't think of any that came to mind, "Although many...," he said, "Gesture toward some sexy new bike, and say", "I like this one, gripping the handlebar"... maybe in the spring...". Of course you do!, it's expensive, and quite sexy, but we all know this is not for you; and that if you bought one, as with that Hand-bag from TJ Maxx, it would remain at home deflated and dusty, beside it's new shoes. This bike will never kiss the streets, that your SUV rolls down daily. But bike shaming is like any other form of shaming... for those who know the truth, it may take but a glance or a word, to coax the sinking feeling that perhaps that Peloton straddling the dining area is idle far too often.
And soon you would chastize Peloton flag bearers as I do. The current lunacy to see oneself through the lens of what other people are doing, or pretending to do whilst hiding behind a screen is so deeply entangled with your fake meat that we don't know how deep we've waded out before we begin to struggle against the tide. Fake meat and your False Self have one principle analog, and that is, that the real thing is better.
We are all a bit lonely, true -- but the new penchant for fake stuff and simulated lives will do us all in in the end. Your Peloton will suffer the same fate as the Nordic Trak, only someone will need to help your super fit self carry it to the curb. Here is another clue -- If it takes two people to move it, then it's not a bike.
It seems that it was only a few weeks ago when Sparse green still blanketed some sunnier spaces, but alas it's chilly now, and February, (the Dark Month) looms large with the lunar new year. I asked a kid from the clubhouse where he rode this week, and he said, Nah... "I dont bother riding on the street anymore, I just ride my trainer". Hmm. So That is one of those situations where you either call him a "big-dumb-ass", or you just keep your mouth shut, and drink your espresso. I didn't want the let-down to discover that what he said was true and like a dystopian drama, everyone was being born a-new from pods which incubate the new VR version of oneself. That everyone like aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is a "Sim" and everyone is really just food for a larger more fake organism. I wanted to have my coffee and cling to the nostalgic ideal of free-range, grass-fed, Cage-free, and cavalier. Funny when you consider that we demand "free-range" from our Chickens, and eggs, but not from ourselves. So -- Go ahead and cower in your chrysalis, and enjoy the silence of your own doomed obscurity, and binge on another three seasons of some shit, but done complain when you are eating fake pizza, with fake meat, on your fake bike, reading fake news, and watching fake exercise buddies, push fake wattage, when what you really need is a char-dog and fries after an epic session with some friends.
Yesterday I rode my trainer with Rouvy in VR Mode and a few others came on-screen and quit early. I thought "Man!!, I'll bet that dude can't hold that pace", and then in a flash they disappeared from my VR rig. I gained 3 miles on someone ahead of me, and 4.6 on someone who came in later behind me, and I finished the session of 6-12 percent grade climbs thinking I'd done quite well. My metrics for my enthusiasm stemmed from my completing the course that everyone only rode one quarter, and the other feel-good came from my ability to gain several miles on others who seemed to be riding well. Then, when it all ended, and I'd expected to place well, I was shocked to find that my time on the course was double the "Best Time". I'm no elite athlete, and even could be considered an old hack, but if someone can finish that climb in half my time, and i've not cut my wrists yet, it's only because I keep telling myself that those other Avatars "Cannot possibly be real". Just as you don't want a porn-star as your mate, you know in your heart that you can't keep pace with the fakes, and shouldn't let it demoralize you.
Today is snowed again, and my urge to ride melted in a mucky mess, or slop and road salt. I will however ride my trainer, but that guy who holds the "half my time" record for that mountain course, is fake. They must be..., right?
Smart people in book reviews always discuss the adventurous souls who leave their "Comfortable Life" to sail the ocean for a decade, as mavericks and such. Read any book cover with an inspirational tone, and you will find the same review repeated, and the same core parable. It never fails that someone will note the "courage" of giving up all sorts of earthly fare and daily comfort to explore far-flung concessions of natural beauty, and epic challenge . "Leaving the comfortable life", is how the memoir will be reviewed, and we don't really need to give you the title of this book, as the review is always the same. We awe and ogle at the uncertain prospect, for which we don't have enough guts or passion to endeavor upon. We are comfortable. We may be inspired to buy a new pair of Boots or some Gore-Tex, but we won't use it that way. We know however, that the next review will cough up the same claim, sew the same envy, and awe, as we languish in the "The Comfortable Life". They've left this behind for adventure on the:
1. High Seas,
2. The Cascade Mountains,
3. The Finca of a Coastal Coffee Plantation... the list goes on...
So how are we to read that?, is the Comfortable life the thing that they are detaching from? Are they leaving the warm comfort of Carbohydrates, Big-Gulps, Cellophane wrapped single-serving profanities, and Microwave entrees? Is that the one we are talking about? Are we comfortable?, Or are we oversaturated sponges of consumerism, in an advertopian feedback loop? Are we so comfortable? -- Without needing a seventh pair of new running shoes to look the part in that 5k next week? Are we able to run the race without the participatory T'shirt, and the instagram post? Can we just run someplace, ride someplace, and not track the mileage?, the heart rate?, the watts?...
I guess that the Comfortable life we are leaving may also have something to do with having your property taxes doubled to ebb a city budget gap. The 'comfortable' concussion from falling backward off your bar-stool. Is this the comfort life we are leaving behind? The daily struggle to smile at dickhead coworkers which you despise, and the disgraceful comfort of not having the rent money on time?
I suppose this is the comfortable life, which adventurers leave behind when they pack it up, buy a pick-up, and head down to wherever... Perhaps to LAX en-route to someplace less "knowable". I've read about many so called adventurers and their exploits, gracelessly challenging themselves to ingest along a seemingly less travelled path, grit, gravel, bug-bites, scabs and all. I've also read about Migrants who walk across five countries just to get incarcerated in the U.S. Is it because that's actually a banner reprieve compared to their so called "Comfortable Life"? I am stuck on the not so fine line between the elective escapist, and the compulsory adventurer. Migration is a good word, which we tend to not consider when we speak of migrants. Anyone leaving someplace, such as college, to move elsewhere... is a migrant. Immigrants, on the one hand, with or without prospects for a perfect outcome, take a chance upon the endeavor. Each coin toss yields about the same or worse odds. Leaving one maligned, sordid, and toxic bubble for another. "The Comfort Bubble". A nation of immigrants, if you consider where you live now, and where you've left.
Looking objectively at the concept, those of us snug inside our comfort bubble may imagine that it is a myth. After-all, Santa was a Myth, and so were the parables in that book you worshipped. Your Pension may be a myth, as is "Social Security", Healthcare, and Guilt-free junk-food. We all lie to ourselves in our bubble of confirmation bias, and we all tidy up the ends to make the means seem sensible, but most of us are drifters.
It's true that if you have no other choice, you will be happy with what you've got. That is to say; If you buy a shirt on sale from a store that doesn't allow returns, you are far more likely to love it. Whereas, if you do the same from a place with more options and liberal return policy, you will be less likely to even wear the same... You will also possibly lose sleep over your selection. Was it the right choice? -- What about the other one?... If you are left to ruminate about the two or three other options, you will struggle with whether you made the right choice ad-absurdum. It may be that people's choices are far too vast to live a settled life. Removing some of the 95 flavors of tooth-paste, and 75 bristle combinations, couldn't possible lead to clean teeth, right? Remember when your choices were simple?, and you thought merely about the present? What pack of candy can I get for 25 cents?
Your 'Bubble' & your bubble gum hate you, and want you gone!!. You dwell in the most conflicted and deleterious swarm of bullshit choices, and although you've made a few hundred today, you still can't get settled. Isn't it a wonderfully sleepless time to be alive, you spend 6 hours a day glued to a screen, 6 minding politics, 6 eating crap, and the remaining 6 sleeping restlessly. But you are O.K.
Sure, I think you are a dick-head; but that doesn't mean that everyone will. In fact, someplace you will be admired, but if you follow the dangling (anti-)social media carrot, you know you will never get to eat, you'll starve anyway. Through this lens, perhaps an impulsive drop-everything escape is not so risky. Except for uncertainty.
Funny that the thing we all fear is the same. Like dating & job searches -- Uncertainty is holding us back. But is it really uncertainty? For certain it is, but only the uncertainty of being told "NO". Fear of dismissal, failure, rejection, seems to be where the uncertainty is focused. If you could know that the job, or the person would unconditionally accept you, then you'd jump. That's why we have APPs, because they increase our odds many fold. Hours of soul-searching has revealed that I have only one thing that I'm guarding against. One thing that hours of meditation brings to mind that prevents me from leaving the comfortable life behind for sustained adventure... Coffee.
Now... Put yourself on a sail-boat with only one other human for ten days or ten years, and note how well you get along. Your problem is not your spouse, it's the other choices... All of those other people sticking their asses in your face every day. All of those ice-cream flavors. You know what?... Most people really deep down inside don't give a shit about the crap they eat, and the melange of Pretzels, Nuts, Gummi-Worms, and Preservatives in their favorite quart of dairy-free frozen dessert. They care only about the adventure, and that freezer case represents all of the choices that they won't make anyway. You are in a bubble, and it's a prison. Can't you just pick an ice cream and eat it? You are in the freezer case, and you can't get out until you choose one. Salted Caramel, Mint-chip, Butter Pecan?...
Adventure, or Asylum? in your case the two words mean roughly the same thing. How will you fill the void? A good read on your Kindle?, A clever pod-cast?, A 6 hour Netflix Marathon with countless servings of cellophane wrapped microwave food? Perhaps a run through the park? A Picnic? A swim...?
If I could know for certain that each place I was to travel would have a single-origin, fair-trade fully washed Yirgacheffe, then I would not fear my uncertainty. I have never travelled without the safety net of a decent bag of coffee. I know I am a prick without, so I carry coffee with me, like a quaalude. If you've had to suffer the indignity of Nescafe packets in your Hotel, you could know for certain that the day would certainly be shit. I am certain about this one thing... If I could know for certain that the destination, and the dots on the map would be lined with great coffee, then I could make the leap. I've suffered an ocean crossing when the beer and booze runs out. I've endured holidays with hostile relatives, where the food is shit, and conversation stalls in idiotic political stalemate -- But I've never let myself become so depraved as to not have access to good coffee.
Once you identify your uncertainty, which is most assuredly fear of rejection or failure, then Maybe you will 'cash-out' and walk away from your so called "Comfortable Life"; But if you do, could you please take our exit survey? You know the one... The small kiosk with the four emoticon buttons ranging from Red Frowny-face to Green Gleeful-smile? Which one do you press as you flee your oppressive comfort bubble? "Everyone can benefit from your selection..." "These metrics will feed into the great mind-fuck database and will help others to make similar bull-shit choices". Tempted to tap the Frown, are you? but is/was it really that bad? Can you be sure that your next move will be better; That it will actually improve? How can we earn your Smiley emoticon? Do they have an exit survey for this life?, the one you are tending so carefully. What if you thought of every choice as being followed up with a survey? Would you answer honestly? Would this change you're selections. When you press that button, will you regret your selection? Are you uncertain?
Are you leaving because someone didn't like your short story?, or your work performance? Are you leaving because someone threatened your family?, or was it just your pride?
Leave already!! Get your stuff packed! You don't need to pull everything out of your closet to pack a bag, because you know that the only clothes you actually wear are in the laundry basket. You have a rotating array of the same old shit, which parallels your routines, and you don't really have that much other stuff that you love, or would miss. Vanilla, Chocolate?, "Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was", Thank you David Byrne! Put that shit in a bag. The rest is Just stuff that you pack around your head at night to snuff out the background noise. It's the noise, real, and metaphorical which we all struggle with. Eat the ice cream, buy two.
Shakespeare poignantly said in Henry the VI, (Part 2 Act IV scene 2)...; "The first thing we do (comma) let's kill all the lawyers". Well we could consider that, if they aren't already dead in their bubble. They are doing themselves in, so why bother. Anyway it was "Dick the Butcher" who said it, and as far as Shakespeare characters go, I'm pretty sure he was a bad dude. You know who Dick is right?... Have you looked a shark in the eye? Yeah, same dead stare. That's Dick. I'm compelled to think it's not the worst plan, but what about the advertising execs? (If you had less choices, would you be so miserable?) These executives of B.S. could be second on the list. Wait, isn't it Google's fault? ...Fool me twice, as the saying goes. It's your fault. When people check into a provincial B&B, Road-trip, or tour the countryside, what is it that they seek? What is "Camping", if not a deliberate reprieve from advertising? A quiet respite, a walk in the woods, where no signs will sell you a damn thing. A sail across the ocean where only whales and water surround you. Your (anti-)social media won't save you from a desperately lonely life. Nor will stuff. Be deliberate when you decide to leave the thing that you call comfortable. Put your pencils in a cup, stack your papers, delete your browsing history, sign-off.
Be deliberate when you leave work today, perhaps for the last time. If you return, do so with a story.
Get packed up to leave our comfort bubble, it's shitty anyway...
Blurred coastline passes