Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sunset Bikerise


On my evening commute, I grabbed the shot above looking west along the Arizona Canal path. It was just as quiet and stunning as it looks.


Next day, looking east, I grabbed another shot of bikes rising along the canal. The guy in black near the back is in the spot where I took the first shot.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Liminal Bicycle

I ride the line
At the end of the year, I observed myself riding the line comfortably, in between the bike lane and the motor vehicle lane, balanced and easy. In this space between years, between day and night, between stretches of blacktop on smooth paint, I found myself gliding along without a care. My mind free of worries, my body empty of woes, my heart doing its job without problem, my lungs respiring easy and smoothly. In between. Spinning and balanced. Gliding along. 

From this space, I looked forward, and saw nothing to stop me from taking any turning I choose, no barriers to imagine what I might do or where I might ride. My tires and bicycle were perfection in motion, silent and smooth. I just spin in that moment, in this liminal space, and know something vital and real that must be held and felt to be known. To be in between is to have the opportunity to feel this, and know it, if only for the duration of a bike ride.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cyclists as a Non-anxious Presence in Traffic

Observance of signs

Exploring some of the underlying themes of this blog

Humans are easy to manipulate. Push on our common buttons, and we react predictably. Marketers and sales people, artists, cartoonists, filmmakers, journalists, politicians, doctors, pastors, police, traffic engineers, and help desk technicians all understand this, and use it to their particular ends constantly, causing us to be bombarded by all manner of stimuli designed and intended to bend our behavior to particular ends which are most often not of our own origination, creation, or will. All aspects of behavior and opinion are fair game.

The science of this has honed these methods to an effective, sophisticated, and often subtle level. I suspect that the combination of pervasiveness, effectiveness, familiarity, and intensity, applied to hungry, angry, tired, lonely, overworked, overstimulated, distracted, smart phone addicted populations, leads both to unawareness of it happening, along with apathy toward it, and acceptance of it.

The negative forms of it, used for negative ends, are the easiest to rail against. Unfortunately, they also seem the easiest to employ and the most effective in practice. Gaslighting and bullying were elevated to a winning strategy in our most recent presidential election. When you see the power of appealing to fear and anxiety, and your polling data show that by doing so you can can cause fear and anxiety to feed on themselves and make your message even more appealing, just about any message can be substituted for facts. That's the world we voters made, and we have to live with its consequences.

On another hand, recognizing the phenomenon of this manipulation, and working to understand it, in both its positive and negative aspects, seems to me like an underlying theme of this blog from the start. A theme which I only just recognized recently. The source of this recognition was a discussion I had at church, in which the pastor described the meaning of a term I don't think I have heard before: being a "non-anxious presence". Just hearing the words fired off a cascade of associations and reasoning in my mind. The religious context for the phrase is something like, amidst the overwhelming worries of the world, when the inevitable events of life strike and fill us with anxiety and fear, someone trained to be a non-anxious presence can be a powerful force for surviving what may feel like an unsurvivable event by being present there next to us in that moment. Someone named Edwin Friedman seems to have been a proponent and elaborator of this concept, via something called Family Therapy.

All interesting, I'm sure, but relevant to this blog, and specific to the italicized tagline of this post, I felt or realized suddenly that much of my thinking, feeling, and blogging has centered around the idea of trying to be a non-anxious presence in traffic, while riding my bicycle. Grabbing some of the bullet points from Friedman and Family Therapy illustrates the point, on a bicycle, in the middle of the maelstrom of vehicles:
  • Being self differentiated
  • Being non-anxious
  • Being present with those one is leading
  • the capacity to separate oneself from surrounding emotional processes
  • the capacity to obtain clarity about one’s principles and vision
  • the willingness to be exposed and be vulnerable
  • the persistence to face inertial resistance
  • the self-regulation of emotions in the face of reactive sabotage
Based on a brief reading of the above-linked articles, I would probably modify the meaning of "being self differentiated" to embrace my understanding of emotional intelligence, mood mirroring, and mimetic desire, but the basics resonate with my experiences of commuting by bicycle, as well as my thoughts or asprirations on doing it right.

Simply, and I've written variations of this so many times it's curious I didn't encounter "non-anxious presence" sooner, I think that displaying calm, rational, non-anxious behavior in traffic on a bicycle can be a very positive influence, both personally and on others.

That's all I have on this for now. More to come, I hope, as I learn more, and gain understanding from other riders out there, about how smiling, waving, and keeping calm and open no matter what, might help.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Shine Light and Speak Hope

"Camel's Red Leaves" by John Randall Nelson

This week, a friend of mine of the opposite political persuasion from me strongly suggested that we should "leave politics out of it" when discussing many topics which don't seem to be essentially political. For example, I guess we could agree that love, poetry, relationships, our dreams and aspirations, our inner family workings, and many other subjects, might be obvious examples. He was talking about more contentious issues, though, that he feels are just overly and needlessly politicized. I thought it over for a second, and said, "ABSOLUTELY. Let's promise each other to leave politics out of it, from here on out."

You see, I hoped that he would recognize immediately that I was agreeing because "let's leave politics out of it" surely can't mean "let's leave your politics out of it so that I can inject my own political agendas." Who would agree to that? Rather, what I was saying to him was more along the lines of a positive agreement that I know he doesn't want to be subjected to my politics any more than I want to be subjected to his, so let's agree to exclude those agendas from discussions where they are unwelcome, unnecessary, and distracting in order to focus more objectively and constructively on the actual, factual issues at hand.

Bicycular elements often feature in Nelson's pieces

What, then, do we mean by "political" exactly? It would seem best to define our terms, particularly that one, since I have experienced it being misused so often,  particularly in a work setting. "That's political" or "it's just office politics" and similar utterances are often devoid of any particular connection with actual politics, and more often than not usually just refer to something uncomfortable, misunderstood, wanting to be avoided, or unknown.

"Political," to paraphrase the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, refers to the organization of a State or part of a State; public life and affairs as involving authority and government ... belonging to or taking the side of an individual, organization, etc.; supporting particular ideas principles, or commitments in politics; acting according to interests of status and authority in an organization rather than matters of principle.

Put that way, due to the recent election and its results, a huge portion of our media exposure currently, both news and social, falls into this category. So, consequently, conversations propelled by recent media exposure seem inevitably to gravitate to the political. And my friend was right, bringing this focus to many topics is just distracting and often misleading.

Agreeing with him, I said back, "Good, let's make a pact to not talk politics, and to exclude political agendas or undercurrents from as many other subjects as possible. Instead, let's just shine light and speak hope."

Words on art

Straightforward, expository language that centers around facts which could in principle be proven or disproven is often a clear test of leaving politics out of it. On the plaque above, there are a few phrases which are potentially political in that they connect with topics which meet the definition above. In addition, the context of the plaque itself offers the possibility of politics entering into the discussion: public art, bicycles, bicycle paths, transportation, discussions about these either immediately or soon thereafter fall into the definition above. 

However, one can also imagine standing before this striking red steel tree with the portal to Camelback Mountain and the little bicycle touches, and making a focused attempt to shine light and speak hope. To leave politics out of it.

I absolutely LOVE the idea of looking at the phrase "..and where they meet almost a billion years of history is missing, lost to erosion," discussing it, and keeping politics far away. Get a mainstream geologist on out here. Talk about stratiography and geological dating, and really dig into this. Ask the geologist to walk you through the science of it, slowly, luxuriously reveling in the unrolling of data, hypothesis, and reasoning. It may be impossible for the human mind to reckon with a billion years of fullness, but there, right there between the red rock and the granite, that's a billion years of emptiness, of missing time, just gone. Here's why. What do you think? Wonderful.

View at sunset looking west from the vicinity of the red steel tree

I truly believe that trying keep politics out of it is going to drive my friend bonkers. I doubt he'll be able to sustain it. Even better, I'm imagining him exploding in a paroxysm of politics while I keep shining light and speaking hope. "Dude, take it easy," I'll suggest to him. "Let's go for a bike ride, look at some sunsets, take in some public art, think about billions of years and ancient civilizations that rose and fell right around here. And leave politics out of it."

Apolitical tree shining light and speaking hope

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Waterfront Grabs

Spin-a-ma-thing: #ScottsdaleSpins on "Los Trompos"

Be dazzled! You can make a wish in a well next to this.

Tree changes colors, dazzles

Newer signage, for a local route that showcases this part of Scottsdale

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Respite for the Sad and Strong

Need for the ride

Inside was cold acedia. Heat not on yet, indoors remarkably chilly after a cold morning, but warming up after dawn, which I saw because of broken and abbreviated sleep. Put on the coffee earlier than I wanted to on a Saturday morning, but I was up, and looked forward to it. Aches, though, pains--what the heck did I do to my Achilles tendon, anyway? No one knows, but I know it was stiff and sore. The spinal troll was also grouchy. You are unwelcome, spinal troll, go and hit your rock hammer some other place than my lower vertebrae, please.

Eventually: the mountain bike was sorted, the water pack filled, the gear arranged, the ride embarked on. With the starting spin, the muscles loosen and warm, the skin glows in the sunlight, the lungs breathe easier. This engine is strong even if the computer is glitchy. 

The start of the trail is rocky and uphill, however, and I pause to consider that coordination is required, balance needed, timing and some technique, so the computer will have to man the hell up and coordinate the engine and transmission effectively enough to avoid body damage. The computer does OK, with only minor glitches, mainly of a seasawing steering type variety, a few balance delays, a few line misjudgments, but nothing serious, nothing prosecutable.

Peaceful wash

At some point, balance was reinstated, the easy breathing and smooth spinning stretched out and unknotted the computer's kinked up cordage and helped it to run smooth again. I pulled off to the side, hopped over a little berm and felt a kind of floating ease as the bike settled back to the soft gravel floor. Whispy clouds caressing dark rocks on a warm afternoon and a steady breeze. A quiet spot on my mountain bike, respite for the sad and strong.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

I Am Rocky Pumptrack

Scene of rocky visions

Can cycling alone in natural (as opposed to human-dominated) places lead the mind to new and provocative places? Of course. Like listening to a kind of music you don't typically grok (try Carina Round), or spending time with new people, natural settings on their own, on your own, might move your mind to other places.

Trail 100 around Dreamy Draw on a record hot October Saturday afternoon is an empty place in the middle of a crowded city. In an hour, I saw maybe three other people. 

Listen. First, you listen for other people. Voices, boot steps, tires crunching on rock, but there's no one. Then you listen for familiar city sounds, traffic, sires, machinery, leaf blowers, car stereos, commercials, jet planes, helicopters, urban cacophony. It's there, but muffled and distant, held beyond arm's length, a mile or more far, and much less intrusive. Down in the washes, and behind certain mountains, it quiets entirely. 

So you make a wild leap: maybe, I could hear the sound of the cosmos, the voice of God, the whisper of Holy Spirit, or, at Halloween time, the whispers of ghosts, the creak of ghouls, the cries of the undead. 

How long can you go without pedaling, pumping through washes and whooshing berms?

Suddenly the term "sacred place" makes some sense. But, even listening at length, sitting still, closing eyes, murmuring come holy spirit come, this day only these sounds: wind, gravel and rocks beneath tires, call of cactus wren, buzz of insect. Only those.

Shade, swoopy trail, run of stream, desert sounds, identity locale

Initial disappointment, followed by soft realization: these sounds, of wind caressing my ears, of tires crunching through gravel, of shady palo verde fronds touching my helmet as I turn back and forth through their cool wash bowers, are sacred voices. This moment felt like that, anyway. Maybe to listen hard enough is to force hearing, but it is also true that forced not-listening guarantees not-hearing. 

Saturday I owned something that is not ownable: a desert trail all to myself, a sense of the sacred, a rocky pumptrack to call my own for an hour or two. I am Rocky Pumptrack, and I am listening. What do these sounds: wind, gravel and rocks beneath tires, call of cactus wren, buzz of insect, amount to? To hear them you have to listen. To know them you have to hear them. For that, I ride.