Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Burning the candle at four ends


Before we get started today, a word of warning. This post has very little to do with bikes and isn't very funny. Read at your own peril. 

Red Green famously said that "if the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy."

I am neither handsome or handy. Instead, I am always occupied. 

I work a busy job. When I'm not working, I'm volunteering for COMBO. And I'm a captain of my race team. Oh, and there's this blog, and the Dirt Rag column. And training and racing. Did I mention the three teenage kids?


I don't have to do all of this. If I was wired differently, I could quit some or all of it.  Might be nice to read a book or watch a game of sportsball sometime. But I can't. 

Instead, I burn the candle at four ends at all times.

It's always been that way. When I was younger, I filled my days with whatever hobby crossed my path. Cars, cards, concerts, cooking, tattoos, gaming, drinking, whatever.

Perhaps I'm still doing the same, though at least now my distractions are healthy and productive. 


But it's not getting better; it's getting worse. In the last couple of months, many friends and colleagues have remarked repeatedly that I look tired. I suppose I am. So what?

(Do I look tired to you?)

I don't expect a long and uneventful life. Never have. The hottest fires burn out the quickest. Again, so what?

Case in point: right now, I'm on vacation in Florida. (By the way the photos on this post are of weird stuff I saw in Florida). It's beautiful, clear and sunny. Unseasonably warm. Or, at least historically unseasonable. 

 (Don't swim with diarrea, please)

My kids and wife are relaxing. They're at the beach, at the pool. But they're eyeing me uneasily. 

They know that I can't just rest. They know me and they know I can't. I think that's why they are so easygoing about all the stuff I do. It's probably exhausting to be around me and a relief to let me go do things without them.

But it is my vacation, so I'm trying to rest. Yesterday, I went for a bike ride on the beach. Bikes usually clear my head. 


Mountain biking in particular stops my brain from spinning. If you aren't paying attention to your environment at every moment on the trail, you're gonna wreck and it's gonna hurt. Beach biking, not so much. I had time to think. Dammit. 


As I rode along, it dawned on me that my interaction with the beach was different than most peoples'. Whereas I was riding along parallel to the tide, on the hard sand near the water, most other beachgoers were moving perpendicular to the tide, from their beach towels to the water. Across my path. Or perhaps, I was crossing their path. 

In any event, I didn't mind. I was being attentive and I was happy to stop and wait for someone who toddled in front of me. 

Most of them were indeed toddlers. Or sun-baked middle-aged drunks. If they noticed me at all, my smiling gaze was usually met with an open-mouthed stare. That's to be expected of the very young or the very drunk. 


The few sober adults that didn't see me coming had one of two reactions. Some smiled and waved at me. Maybe even asked about my "big tires."  They weren't bothered by me. They seemed to enjoy the fact that I was enjoying myself on the beach too. 

Others were angry with me. They scowled and glared. Why would I use with the beach in a manner different than theirs? I must be nuts. How could I occupy the same space as them, if even briefly? I must be incredibly entitled. How could I expect them to stop their march to the water for me? I must be selfish, rude, and greedy. 


This got me thinking philosophically. So many dimensions in these interactions came to mind. 

On one hand, it's a classic "tragedy of the commons." This theory explains that mutual gain can be quickly diminished when a person with rights to a common space withdraws his consent to share. 


Or, maybe it's an illustration of the American system of property rights, inherited from the British. Property rights are among the oldest, and most unchanged legal foundations of our country, although the system of private ownership is little discussed or questioned. But I have questions. 

When does someone have the right to put up a fence, or a beach towel, to the exclusion of others? And do our settler private property rights inform the walker's feelings about the biker? Does he have a better right to the linear path to the surf than I have to the lateral path of the coast? Is there a border there that he must defend? Can he zone me out? Regulate me away? Criminalize my behavior? 

Or, maybe it's just a question of individual experience. Perhaps the walker has never been on a bike, but has heard that cyclists are rude and lawbreakers. Maybe he had an unpleasant brush with a cyclist in traffic last week. Maybe he just didn't like my tattoos. 

These personal experiences spill into every encounter and decision. That's why the toddler stared at me - he had formed no bias about cyclists yet, he was just observing. Forming future biases. 

I smiled and waited for him. See kid, bikes are nice! Same with the drunk. His cognition was impaired beyond the ability to accessing bias and process a reaction. His few remaining brain functions were working full-steam on staying upright. 


Or maybe too, it's a matter of self-interest. Perhaps the walker felt entitled to this strip of beach and is unwilling to share. This beach time was a precious resource, bought at the expense of his travel costs and a week off work. And there I was, encroaching on his limited free time and license to the beach. 

Whatever the case, I can't help thinking about it. And wondering what role my own bias plays. 

If I'm being honest, i haven't always reacted kindly when someone intrudes into a space that I am entitled to. I keep trying though. 

(Except for birds. I hate birds). 

In my reasoned view, the beach is nice and bikes are nice. Walking is also nice and so is swimming. I'm not in a hurry and I have no reason to hurry. So, I choose to wait on others, to share, to be kind, to smile. At least, I try to do so. 

But what do I know?

By the way, I'm writing this post on the beach. I took a couple tall boys of PBR and started walking. When the first was finished, I stopped, cracked the second and sat in the shade. Am I resting? I can't tell. 


Be brave and burn out. 

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