Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Ten days bicycle touring this spring through remotest Nevada and the hinterlands of California was a welcome reprieve. No newspapers, no radio, no TV, no Internet. I find it refreshing to cut myself off from current events and climb out of life’s well-worn rut.
On a bike tour, current events begin with waking in the morning to whatever weather Mother Nature prescribes. Our cares are ranked by need. The first is starting the cook stove to boil water for tea and oatmeal, the success of which is measured by a full stomach. Next, we study maps to choose our route for the day. Life is that simple.
Bike touring requires planning, but flexibility is more important. Maps don’t show washed-out roads, fallen trees or closed gates. Maps don’t show flat tires, loose freewheels or bent rims. And maps don’t show headwinds, the Chinese water torture of bike touring. We make our plans as we go. Routes change and we adjust, spinning the pedals through a vast landscape of western skies and painted hills, with snowcapped peaks off in the distance.
Distance. That’s what it’s all about. Distance from everything familiar. That’s why each spring we seek new places, uncharted in our minds. We become neo-pioneers, pushing the frontier with every pedal stroke. Getting far from towns and cities is requisite, finding a quiet place where we, in turn, can become quiet. External peace for internal peace, that’s the prescription.
My friend and I converse around our camp, but I noticed on this trip that we spoke in whispers. Huddled around the hissing cook stove, we talked sparingly on matters of immediate utility. Philosophizing and reminiscing are part of our dialogue, but words are not wasted like so much air pollution. Breath should be saved for the ride. Ears should be tuned to finer strains.
We communicate occasionally with our families on the cell phones we carry, but we don’t call to chat. Our phones are buried deep in our packs, turned off against the possibility of a ring tone in a place where no ring tones ought to be heard. We listen to messages on the wind: a bird song, the sigh of a breeze through tall pines, the rush of a creek, the desert wind strumming a sagebrush guitar.
After a few days of disconnect, we forget the crisis de jour. It’s not a conscious choice, it just happens, and we accept that our temporary ignorance of world affairs is not going to make any difference. Oil will continue gushing from the Gulf. The climate will warm. Volcanoes will spew. The economy will fluctuate. Wars will rage. Terrorist bombs will kill people. Celebrities will scandalize themselves. Politicians will pontificate, etc., ad nauseum.
Most of us are overdosed with news, so it’s no wonder stress and anxiety are rampant. Exposure to the media bombardment is like standing in a hailstorm. We need protective umbrellas against the news deluge that constantly hammers us.
The Gaia theory advances the notion that man is a mere facilitator for the global organism. Our collective job is to construct a communications-based nervous system for the planet. Well, we’ve done that, only to snarl the techno-consciousness with static.
On a bike tour, I find shelter from the ubiquity of news noise. Not only is it pleasurable to escape the pervasive onslaught of data and pixels, it is healthy. And not just for me, but for those with whom I convene.
When a trip ends and we face re-entry, we speculate, “What do you think happened while we were gone?” Answer: The same old stuff. Sure enough, it takes about five minutes to catch up on the headlines, then it’s business as usual.
Breaking from the orbit of world events requires levitation from the gravity that holds us down. We all need a break. Bike touring, backpacking, a hut trip on skis, these are the ways I levitate. Lifted momentarily from the morass, I look around at a world spinning through space on a trajectory no one can truly plot. Uncertainty has its pleasures.
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.