Thursday, December 13, 2012

Up in the Air

I hate flying.

Well, that's not completely true. To be honest, I like the whole “flying” thing, since I get a real kick out of being up in the Earth's atmosphere. It's miraculous if you think about it – applying Bernoulli's Principle by directing airflow over a shaped surface in a way that will provide sufficient lift to pick up a huge metal cylinder full of people, their luggage, a ton of mail, and 250 copies of the SkyMall magazine.

I like the view from up here, too. It's a gorgeous planet, and a lot of it shows no evidence of man and the sometimes lovely but more often horrible things that we have done here. Forests are flatter from a passenger jet, but you get a unique perspective of their colors and textures, and the way that they blend with the rivers and fields and bare mountaintops into what can only be called "gorgeous." I even like the Frankenstein-esque patches that humans have applied, with crops and roads and shiny little towns whose attempt at order proves the natural order of the surrounding chaos.

What I hate about flying is being trapped in the aforementioned cylinder, breathing gasses recently expelled by the people around me as most of us try to behave in this bizarre semi-society to which we are transcendentally trapped. I don't mind the crying baby so much as the efforts of the mother and/or father trying to stifle the child's valid response to being stuck in the mightily shaking cylinder as it heads for what we hope to be a successful landing. (Frankly, I kind of want to cry, too.) I hate the lady in front of me who feels that she is entitled to recline her seat into my lap -- she did pay for the seat, but not my lap -- and I hate the fellow next to me who laid seige to our supposedly common armrest, giving his elbow the right to make regular border skirmishes into my ribcage.

But what I hate most about flying is the feeling of an opportunity lost. When I glance out the window at the ground flowing beneath the plane, I cannot help but wish that I was crossing that terrain in a more intimate mode. The rocky peaks that we are flying above are long climbs that would have been much more painful – and thus more fun – on a bicycle. Once over the snow-capped pinnacle, I imagine the exhilaration of the subsequent descent and die inside, just a bit.

What seems like empty farmland from 10,000 feet is really fascinating country from two wheels. The smells of crops and fertilizer may not always be pleasant, but they are certainly more interesting than the bratwurst burps of the husky man in seat 22E. If you think that the world down there doesn't change much, you just haven't rolled across it at the right pace and been paying the right amount of attention.

When flying over water, I imagine what it would be like to cross it in a good sailboat instead. Spending three or four weeks on a boat that's only 37 feet long and less than 11 feet wide might seem claustrophobic to some, but to me it is an excellent opportunity to perform a series of simple but enjoyable navigational and sailing tasks while I sit and watch and think … and then think a little more. Never are you more in tune with the world than when you are on a sailboat, relying on the beneficence of nature to get you where you think you need to be, but also maintaining a weather eye for the fickle ways that nature may trick and test you.

But today I am on an airplane. It is the accommodation that I must make in order to balance that most precious resource that any of us has: Time.

Emerson said that life is about the journey, and not the destination. In a perfect world, we would always make the most of that journey. But, the sad truth is that this journey does have a destination, if not a point at which our travels end, and so we strike a balance and make a deal with Time ... our benefactor and prison warden.

And so today I look down at a road meandering through tired Kentucky hills and plan a tour for some future summer. I see the white-flecked spume of a wind-swept Gulf of Mexico and fantasize about finding a cutter-rigged Crealock 37 in good shape and fixing her up. And -- if that isn't enough --  I remind myself of long rides that I have enjoyed through similar terrain and sailing trips across this and even wilder waters, and I think, “Well, maybe not now, and maybe even never again, but I once did. My time here may be finite, but I did spend some of it well.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

Stealing My Thunder

This past Saturday, a bunch of us rode my old Cathey's Creek 200K permanent. It was a great day on the bike, starting chilly but getting decently warm later, with a wind coming up out of the south only when we were finally done with the southward-riding part and could enjoy a good tailwind. Eight of us came out, and we stayed more or less together as we pedaled along talking about nothing in particular, albeit in spastic verse as we labored up a few of the tougher hills.

We'd started literally at sunrise, leaving Starbuck's in Franklin at 6:30 am, and hurried through the controls in an effort to finish before dark. I was able to scarf a cinnamon roll at Marcy Jo's and drink half a cup of coffee, but we were barely there 15 minutes as opposed to our usual hour-long breakfast stop. By the time we were 50 miles in at the third control, we were pretty tired.

None of us succumbed to the Bench of Despair, however, and we managed to make it to the finish by 4:30.

By the time I got home, however, and began to tell RandoGirl about it, she had already heard about most of the ride from Jeff Sammons's posts on FaceBook. She had even seen me at the start, and then again at Marcy Jo's and at the Mount Pleasant Grille.

Which got me thinking, again, about the 10 reasons that FaceBook is going to ultimately destroy civilization:

  1. It makes us lazy. Once upon a time, people would read lengthy newspaper or magazine articles. Now, if you can't fit your message into a Status post, nobody will read it. The real world just isn't that simple, so we're all going to end up pretty stupid if we go on this way.
  2. It makes us liars. For the sake of oversimplification, we edit the message down in such a way that it leans the way we want. This happens both with political posts, and with the mindless updates some people love to throw out. (Was that really the best corned beef on rye you ever had? Be honest, now ...)
  3. It reinforces drama. If I want drama, I'll go watch TNT ("We know drama"). If you want to drop Status updates like "OMG! Life sucks!" just to elicit a knee-jerk sympathy chain ... well, I think we know then why your life sucks.
  4. It makes those of us with normal lives feel like ... well, like our lives suck. While you're out there posting beautiful pictures from your trip up the Amazon rain forest, the rest of us are back home working hard and thinking, "Why can't I go do that?" Put a few pictures of the fat German tourist who's on that boat trip with you, too, breathing bratwurst in your ear, or show the scab where you pulled off a leach. Basically, inject a little reality into your self-edited reality show.
  5. It breaks up marriages. I know two people who have at least temporarily lost their spouses to old lovers who rekindled a relationship via FaceBook. It kind of goes back to that self-edited, lying, lazy reality show -- the grass sure looks better from here, and it's easier than dealing with whatever problems you might be having in your marriage. Real problems don't fit in a Status update, either.
  6. It's a time-suck. Sometimes I think that there are people who don't do anything at work other than post crap to FaceBook, and then read and respond to crap that other marginally-employed idiots have posted to FaceBook. Why can't you waste your work day writing a blog like I do?
  7. It lies about us. A couple of months ago, RandoGirl told me that FaceBook said that I "liked" WalMart. I don't like WalMart -- I merely consider it a necessary evil that I must, on rare occasions, visit. Maybe FaceBook knew that I went into WalMart earlier that week to pick up trash can liners, which really makes me concerned regarding the insidiousness of FaceBook and/or WalMart.
  8. It is greedy. It's always suggesting other FaceBook stuff in which I have absolutely zero interest. Bikini waxing? Software to teach me Romanian? Cycling jerseys with Led Zeppelin cover artwork? Where does it get these ideas? And why is Zoosk sharing a link with me, trying to get me to meet local singles? Hooking up with my high school girlfriend isn't enough?
  9. It ruins friendships. Like everybody, there are some people that I enjoy seeing every so often whom I consider "friends." That's real-world, however; if I become Friends with them on FaceBook, I am suddenly subjected to their rants on subjects we would never be so rude as to discuss at dinner. Even worse is the FaceBook Friend from whom you are daily bombarded regarding what they are planting on a virtual farm and/or killing in some virtual gang war. Eventually, you "de-friend" this Friend and he/she no longer wants to be your real-world friend. Yeesh!
  10. Finally, it's a little too immediate. I wanted the chance to bore RandoGirl with a long story about Saturday's permanent, but she'd already seen the highlights in Jeff's posts on FaceBook. If this keeps up, I won't have anything to write about in blogs! OMG, that would suck!