Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The men on Mt Wilson

   No wind. Just that hard baking consistent thing the sun becomes down here in Southern California.
   Like a hand pressing you down, a calm weight of light on the shoulders, the face, the forehead.
   The end of Fanny and Alexander - the dark ghost forcing the boy to the ground. Forever.
   Seems like it sometimes.
   And then some days....I don't mind. I feel myself a plant being fed by all the lambent Vitamin D come from heaven. I like the bake on my arms. The salt caking my face.
   Rode back up to Mt Wilson on a quiet Monday. No one about. A nice tailwind taking me along. Saw only two other cyclists, both coming downhill. Cars passing in threesomes, the pulse of the green light down on Foothill felt 8 miles above.
    Nothing special. I was slow. I didn't really care. My back hurt like Hell. I wondered with all the biking why do my legs still seem to be decaying into middle age. "Because you're middle aged Dave that's why", came the voice from the Malabar caves. Or Big Tujunga.
   I took the descents and didn't reach for the brakes. I decided I knew in my head which corners were which and I thought, stop trying to invent drama, trauma, fear. Trust the instrument and live better.
    All this Fear of ....?
    Has the whole world become a triage center?
    I walk down the street in a major city in the full light of day in a crowd and I can feel people all around me clocking each other for the threat level. "Is that a stalker?" "Is he following me?" "Will that car stop at the red light!?" I read about the snow storm Back East and I feel like I'm reading the London Times describing the Blitz, its so full of potential trauma. When did blizzards become extinction level events??
    Have we gradually been trained to exist in a constant state of alert? Of fight or flight?
    An entire nation leaking cortisol and caffeine.
    I'm reminded of Gore Vidal's accusation that we're an armed state, the USA. A consciously constructed military empire.
    Many people scoff at him but his grandfather was in the Senate and was in the room when a fellow senator said - "gentlemen now that the War's over how we gonna keep this economy rolling at this kinda pace? We need to keep building stuff for the military that's how. And how do we convince the American people to do that? We scare the Hell out of them."
     Loosely quoted. Feel free to google.
     People of the urban persuasion and that means most of us make fun of Fox news alerts and conservative fearmongering; the urge to build a "safe house" with guns and kuggerands, an off the grid retreat for the family when the Walking Dead cross the border but we- the liberals - are getting just as bad. We heighten the trials of daily existence into a kind of stress test that air traffic controllers would fear. Conservatives/ Liberals. Remaking the political realm is their personal mission and we've brought what should be mostly personal into a political war no politics can manage.
    And by doing so we hand over the reins, the levers of actual power to the paymasters of the former, the Roves and the Bannons and the Kochs of the world.
    Because we're so afraid.
    In the last decade in which the American Government actually stepped in to the nation's life and was trusted to do so, the president at that time spoke, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
    His point has gone kind of meta now: we don't just fear poverty or the lack of jobs we fear EVERYTHING. We identify as fearful people. The badge of modernity says "I am scarred". (Scarred and scared!) Because to be afraid is to have an enemy, and to be put upon, to have been victimized, which somehow now automatically lends a person legitimacy. Or ends debate.
    But when you end debate you end culture. You hand it over to fanatics and romantics. Who more importantly are being watched by cold eyed amoral politicians who can work those fantasists into a frenzy we don't need to come sweeping down the American plains.
    I love America (and I even love tariffs) but America First you might recall was a phrase used by American fascists, John Birchers and the brilliant homeland defenders who voted to keep America out of WWII and Jewish refugees from escaping the Holocaust.
    I love radically liberal causes (to call me a socialist would be conservative) but I also realize that compromise is the name of the game when you wanna make change and shouting someone down you should be working with over their use of a pronoun is plain stupid.
    Hmm. I was on a bike ride....
   The heat does it. Makes you focus. The time alone. Makes one song or one subject go round and round in your brain.
    I guess what Im saying is fear adds up. Fear of anything. "Fear" as the old Sci fi book said "is the mind killer" and fear more often than not will be the thing rather than the thing feared that will kill you. Try it. Lock you brakes up taking a corner. Stop breathing when you're cold. Run from a dog.
     It's the little things in the end that will make or unmake us.
     I got to the top of Wilson where there's a little park and a cabin devoted to Native American heritage, closed on Mondays of course due to budget cuts.
     Snow sat on Mt Baldy 20 miles away. The air was cool in the shadow of the pines.
     Two guys came out of the trees on their well packed mt bikes. These, I saw immediately, were not men out for a day's jaunt. Ive always wanted to ride up Wilson on a Mt bike but I didnt know if there were contiguous trails. I rolled over and joined them on their lunch break stoop. I asked about the trails up Wilson. They didn't know because they'd come by a different route.
     One guy had been on his bike for over two years. He'd left San Francisco, gone South...to Chile...and was now a week or so away from getting home. The other guy was an English dude he'd met in Venezuela 8 months before who thought he'd tag along for the "home stretch".
     As they unrolled their story, calmly, without any kind of sell or pitch, without any of that comparative RPMishness cyclists often throw down to test the merits of a stranger, my jaw dropped. They'd ridden around the Salton Sea "oh it wasn't that hot.." they'd just been thru Death Valley "the wildflowers were amazing" and yesterday "yeah we came over Mt Baldy...that was a tough section thru the snow wasn't it mate?" The English guy had normal pedals...no clips....no cleats....and he was wearing a pair of Skechers he could have bought in a surplus store. HE'D JUST CLIMBED A 9,000 FOOT PASS IN THE WINTER.
    They'd ridden a continent and they talked about it like it was still their daily meditation. Which I imagine it has to become.
   Baked brown, wrinkled, eyes glowing like shamans, legs boiled down to the essential knots, clothes fading into that unified shade of grey that underlays all color....I started laughing because I felt so lucky that Id run into them and they understood, they didnt think oh this dude's laughing at us, they laughed with me cause what else can you do in the face of that kind of devotion, those kinds of numbers, that many days in a saddle. If there isn't joy underneath it all, and a crazy kind of joy, like the kind you feel when you can't stop laughing and you start to wonder am I okay...then why do it??
   I think I may have bowed to them a little when I left. I did say "We are not worthy". I didn't ask their names. I don't know why I didn't.
   The drop down to Flintridge felt like a trip to the mailbox.


  1. I think a part of todays fears come from some very simple human rules which have been forgotten. ie... Being kind to one another for no apparent reason or hidden agenda. Just be nice. There are those of us who say hello and smile at a perfect stranger, just because. We give compliments and chit chat, not because we want something, but maybe trying to give something positive. Real human interaction. Not hiding, bashing or embellishing through social media. Technology is great when used correctly. To gain some sense of knowledge and share opinions with out the fear of shaming or retaliation. I think there used to be a time when opinions and thoughts could be shared with some mutual respect. Not everyone always agreed, but that's ok, because at least there was communication. Thought provoking. Simple. We are our own worst enemies...It's a shame.
    Today, every hour we're being fed information to create drama. Drama to get attention. Attention should be given for sharing hope and kindness. Maybe if we did this we could find peace within ourselves; and not get caught up in so much fear, negativity and judgement of others. Yes, we all still need to be aware of stranger danger...that's being safe...
    It is a conscious choice to bring people up. It's a terrible habit to leave them confused and fearful.

  2. I have to say it sounds like a very interesting day. (2 years! Wow, seriously one with the bike). Yes there is too much fear. The spider is gone. I hope you could straighten up when you bowed, you are getting to that age. I liked your blog today and look forward to the next one.

  3. Greetings Dave. I loved your post, even though English is not my language of birth. But with a proper translator and my knowledge Intermediate - Professional, I could understand your words.
    For a memory of Facebook I came to your blog, and decided to see what new items you had placed. I started reading and immediately, I moved to the area you describe and I went through every word, every term explained, every social thought that came to your head, in the moment of sports solitude hahaha. In short, I have lived it. Every time I embark on an adventure, in places close to my city, I remember those years of mountain climbing, the excursions in the Sierra de Machiques (Zulia State), I remember the days of walking in villages on the border with Colombia and immediately, I remind my friends that they has also decided to make bicycle tours through South America. And not only by bike, but by bus or motorbike ... touring Colombia, Ecuador, Peru ... I remember French women traveling from Colombia to Brazil in Bicycle, and more never know anything about them. And at that moment, when I am in front of the Lake of Maracaibo skating or simply watching the other cyclists and skaters activated in this activity, I remember my country, the situation in which it is, I remember the social problems of the world, linked to us ... And not so bound to us.
    Dave, I have lived it and I congratulate you for sharing your thoughts and your anecdotes. I imagine you ask yourself: Where am I from?
    I am from Venezuela.

  4. Fabulous posts, Mr. Conrad. You capture the moment and bring it to life. Great writing. You should submit these to Spillwords.com as well. (Great place for both writers and readers) (Excerpts, poems, editorials)...CHECK IT OUT :-)

  5. Great piece. Thank you for keeping it up.

  6. It's funny I was just having a conversation about fear and how we intuitively stick to what we know for the fear of change, the fear of uncertainty. I think it's natural to have fears we have to just understand it's not the thing in itself but the possibility of it happening that holds us back from living.

  7. Especially liked your sharing about your time spent w/ the other 2 bikers ~
    how great for you all to be where you were, when you were.

  8. menThanks for your information, it was really very helpfull..

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  10. It's been a long while since I read your blog (I've never commented before) but today I finally found a moment to check and see how you're doing. I enjoyed your posts and pictures of your biking. It's something I never got into myself, however I participate in annual fundraisers and work with many of the riders as their team therapist here in Texas. I know firsthand the amount of stamina and sheer willpower it takes to get through some of those terrains. I applaud you for doing what you so obviously love and sharing your experiences in such a way that we feel as if we were right there with you. Many blessings x