There is an existential beauty in exceeding the abilities of the human form, specifically going faster than it naturally should. Flying through the woods, a place historically dominated by larger, more agile beings better adapted for dodging trees and rocks, it becomes a feat of near-magic, extending the body’s limit again further and beyond comprehension at times. I am frequently stuck by how humans have evolved to a point where enjoyment is a need, it’s a requisite for a set standard of living. The advanced level of what constitutes enjoyment for me, a particular body hurling through space on a rock, it is almost laughable; I climb aboard an over-engineered toy and play a wild game with physics…to think, some people just find their joy in watching birds.
Oddly, I am often struck with a sense of guilt that my main dopamine release arrives in the form a product, a purchased good. I think to myself, “Why does a purchase have to be where happiness is found?” But, this over-thinking is derivate and finds me no answers. It seems my reference point for what drives humanity is centuries old…in my privileged case at least, my basic needs are met without thought, and thus my time is spent filling in the gaps where “hunting and gathering” or working a soul-crushing job just to maintain a level of nutritional stasis might otherwise reside. This sounds grandiose, pretentious even, but I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many places near and far, observing the plight of humanity at its most basic and most lavish extremes. I’m not wishing to patronize, but being an impressionable, thinking young adult, I took to heart the gaps in between the extremes.
Scaling down, to a local level, our local trails are surrounded by a Venn diagram of low, middle, and upper class. It’s equally possible to encounter someone on a bike worth a down payment on a car as it is someone who will never live in a house of their own. I don’t know why this is the sort of topic I mull over while riding, perhaps it’s because my time in the quiet woods is the only time I can fumble with tough questions, when the backdrop of wifi, advertisements, and leering strangers all fades into the greenery as I grind farther down the trail. There are plentiful light-hearted moments, I promise many rides have a sanguine overtone, but I am stuck how at my peak moments of joy, I frequently have juxtaposing thoughts in the contrary.
I wonder if this is part of the “Zen of Riding”, where the deeper considerations for the big picture come to light, with the noise muted and physical strain on high. Acknowledging my privilege can be challenging, as no one wants to discuss their own societal position, but I find it exceptionally important as to better maintain a semblance of sanity. I believe that when people fall prey to the facetious, “Life is so hard” feeling of self-pity, they lose sight of what’s truly important and how a hard life is blunt reality for most other people. I have challenging days, that’s for damn sure, but holding an understanding that there is a scale of difficulty is paramount to coming to grips with reality. It is perhaps not always fair to say that one person’s crisis is another person’s daily cruise, but in a social climate where the phrase “triggered” is used to describe just about anything mildly annoying, it’s a subject to address.
Being out of the collegiate bubble, a mental petri dish I did my best to escape at all costs, it made me see the striking dichotomy with regards to the generational gap of expectations that rained down from older professors who were not in touch with the economic divide that was being created for those of us who were still in their classrooms. Quickly, I realized that the story we were being told was an old tale far gone to the new age of globalism and the unforeseen shifts in the way we all interact. To be told that the “American Dream” was still a thing was a boldfaced lie – how could someone possibly preach such salacious falsehoods to a room of faces which were putting themselves into a house-worth of debt to receive what was arguably a very mediocre education. The concept of spending money that is on loan in an effort to achieve someone else’s dream is the main problem with the current social climate. It is why I feel a tinge of discomfort in having such a reliance on a physical object for my happiness.
These wandering thoughts that zig and zag across my mind while out pedaling through the forest are both a pest and a curiosity. My unending interest in social equality, standard of living, and the uncertainty of my own future provides a wonderful array of questions and personal considerations which I’ve found to be exciting, somehow not tenuous. Because of this, it makes sense that in certain company out on group rides, we discuss the viability of living where we do, the reasons we wouldn’t move, and why we feel fortunate to have such social security in a time of exceptional unease. The turbulent world, as it’s always been, is sadly more up close and personal than ever before, but in becoming that way, has forced me at least to face it head on and make decisions, form opinions, and educate myself beyond what I had ever thought I’d have to consider just a handful of years ago.
And all of this, from riding a bike in the quiet woods…