Garrett (garote) wrote,

I'm here on the grass in the forest behind UCSC, eating some salad from a tupperware. I'm overlooking a hub where five trails converge at a quartet of huge decommissioned water tanks covered with years of graffiti. Got my iPod on; got my old green hat on - the one I borrowed from Ken and never returned.

While chewing on greens, I saw six independent groups of mountain-bikers pass through this intersection. Every single rider was male, aged over 25, wore a helmet, and had a full beard.

I don't know why it never occurred to me after all these years ... but just now I realized that buying all that equipment and riding around in the woods is actually a rather selfish activity. You exert a lot of energy, but it doesn't help anyone but yourself. And all the times I went riding, I strongly resisted the notion that I was doing it for selfish reasons - latching onto the idea of my hobby as an enlightened one, a more natural one - an exercise that I was a better kind of person for doing. Not something that people should thank me for necessarily, but something that people would at least recognize as a sign of my good character.

Yes. It's an extremely cynical attitude.

Now, don't get me wrong. Riding around in the woods on a bike is great fun and terrific exercise. The environment grants a sense of privacy and relaxation. And if you spend time in nature as a kid, your worldview gains a measure of humility and practicality that is hard to find elsewhere. And yet... If I'm honest... I have to admit that sometimes it was just an activity I chose to set myself apart from my peers. I wanted to ride around in the woods, but I also wanted to be The Kind Of Guy Who Rides Around In The Woods.

And now in front of me, leaning on the rusty water tanks, is a trio of thirty-something bikers. All men. All bearded. They're having a discussion about way Santa Cruz County allegedly disrespects its homeowners. I wonder if they ride back here as a show of token resistance to the changes they've undergone. Hell, I don't wonder it. I know it just as sure as I know where I am. Here I am, in the woods behind UCSC, coming back to hike in the woods after eight years. And here's everybody else.

I can't believe how unflinchingly self-centered this is. How self-serving all these outdoor pursuits are, and how I avoided realizing it for so very long. We are kings in kingdoms; we have power and ideas, and could be down in the city changing the world and saving lives. Instead we go dancing off into the forest to prove what men we are. We get lost, and unlost, and stare into the abyss so we can say we did it. Or perhaps just because we're socially dysfunctional and we know it, and our misanthropic urges drive us out here where it's safe.

I don't know; maybe I'm just in a weird mood today.

So I've been biking to work again. It's ten miles either way. La and I bought GPS units to measure our progress. I had a funny realization the other day... I drove my van to work so I could carry my bike home on the days I only felt like riding one way, and it occurred to me that the van takes exactly twice as much gas as the accord. So if I ride the bike to work, and then carry it home in the van, my "environmental balance sheet" is unchanged. It's as though I drove both ways in the accord, with respect to carbon emissions. The irony hit me like a fist, and all through that work day I shook my head and laughed at myself. Selfish reasons.

But riding to work makes me feel much, much better. I go from near zero exercise on the weekdays to plenty. My mood is better, my energy level is more constant, I solve problems at work more efficiently. I like the difference, and La likes it too. Sometime this year I hope to get in good enough shape to go on a very long bike ride - like, cross-country. We shall see.
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