Tuesday, December 07, 2010

I am the engine

In the title scenario of his book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, David Eagleman describes a hypothetical afterlife in which "you relive all your experience, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.” In this afterlife you spend 30 years asleep, 15 months looking for lost items and so forth. Eagleman's thought experiments are not really about death, instead they provide a lens in which to examine our lives. As I viewed my own life through this particular lens, I saw vast blocks of time spent riding bicycles, working on bicycles, thinking about bicycles and writing about bicycles. And I smiled.

Now I'm sure there are other people (Tom & Ray come to mind) who have filled their lives with cars the way I have filled mine with bicycles, but the automobile never captured my attention and life the way the bicycle has. While it is never possible for the mind to fully explain what the heart knows to be true, I still find time to wonder and speculate as to why two wheels suit me so much better than four.

The engine is a big part of the answer. On a bicycle, I am the engine. The bicycle amplifies my effort by a factor of about four. Energy that would let me walk about three miles in an hour send me twelve miles down the road on my bike. This seems to be a good pace for me and miles ridden build me up to ride more miles. The bicycle is honest in the way it rewards effort.

The automobile, on the other hand, seems to be intent on selling me things I don't need to buy: horses under the hood, refined dinosaurs out the tailpipe, an urgency in going from here to there. And when you get there we'll have a parking place close by the door because this is America, dammit, and heaven forbid you'd have to walk too far...

No, thanks. I'll walk or ride. When it's raining a jacket still makes more sense to me than a big steel box with big roaring motor.

Perhaps I don't think big enough and don't understand simple things like four is bigger than two and more is better than less. But it seems to me that I go far enough and fast enough to get where I'm going. I like the feeling of my effort being made into motion.

I am the engine. That, plus a bicycle, is enough for me.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Steven said...

I agree with you completely. I do have a car, and I use it when it makes sense. As time goes on, it makes sense less and less.

I coworker asked me yesterday (a particularly nasty weather morning) if I "had fun" on the way in. My response without thinking was: "I probably had more fun than you did."

Anonymous said...

Human power FTW! 350 hp? For what? I'll stick with my 1/8 horsepower organically top fuelled V twin hemi, thank you very much. Val

Anonymous said...

As I rode the bus to work this morning for the first time since last February, I missed my bike. 4 degrees, 20 mph winds, 8 inches of snow, and clueless drivers conspired to put me on the bus, but I'm looking forward to cleared streets and a bit warmer weather next week. It is nice to have the bus for those few days that are, for me at least, not rideable!

-J in the cold Midwest

nierman said...

Good stuff Ken.

I tell people, I'm never in a hurry because I'm already where I want to be.

Wherever I go, there I am.


kfg said...

If a horse can transport two people and their camping gear, why do I need 200 of them to transport myself and a head of lettuce? It makes little sense to me.

I'm about to go out on a social engagement with some friends. The meet location is two blocks from my house. I'm having the damndest time convincing one of them NOT to pick me up his car. The distance is too short to even bother with a bicycle, let alone dealing with a car (which will actually have to drive several blocks to transit the two), even as a passenger. I can be seated and drinking my coffee while he's still looking for parking.

Thoreau's proposed race between himself on foot against his friend riding the train wasn't even such a new idea even then. I posted this at Lovely Bicycle! just yesterday, but it bears reposting here:

"If you have to go anywhere go on your own feet. It may be trying, but not so much so as the bother of horses and carriages. Every one with a body has two servants, his hands and feet, and they will serve his will exactly. And since the mind knows the fatigues of the body it works it when it is vigorous and allows it to rest when it is tired. The mind uses the body, but not to excess, and when the body is tired it is not vexed. And to go on foot and do one’s own work is the best road to strength and health."

-Kamo no Chomei

That was written in the year 1212.

Now we have bicycles to multiply the efforts of our own feet and bodies. We no longer need the horse when we can out pace it with less of our own energy than it takes to ride the horse.

Lief said...

Time for another mountain turtle shirt on cafe press.
I am the engine.

The Velo Hobo said...

When I bike on the Blue Ridge Parkway (or any scenic roadway) I’m amused by the car travelers who zoom by honking their horns, passing with oncoming traffic and breaking the speed limit, hurrying to get to the next overlook.

They are actually in a hurry to commune with nature.

Wonderful post, Jack

reverend dick said...

I like the idea of reshuffling our life. Much of my own will be bikes. Here's to upping that percentage!