Thursday, December 08, 2011

Pounced With Fire on Flaming Roads

One of the virtues of age, if we age well, is that we recognize our own past errors and use that information to live better lives in the present. We comfort our failing bodies and look with fondness at our scars with the certain knowledge that we are "older, but wiser" and that "experience is the greatest teacher." But I think (but I may be wrong on this) that often the real lesson we gain from past mistakes is not the simple "don't do that" of the mistake itself, but the knowledge that we were and still are capable of error. The best lesson is not that we were wrong then and are right now, it is the knowledge that we may be wrong now as well. Experience, in my experience, is best used to keep the certainty of ego in check.

But I may be wrong on this.

A young Robert Zimmerman emerged from the frozen chrysalis of northern Minnesota to pen the words that still ring true in my head decades later. On my best days I'm still wary of "lies that life is black and white" and I fear that I'll "become my enemy in the instant that I preach."

And so I'm cautious to write these words. Yet I write them because I think they're important.

I preach the gospel of bicycling. There are folks called to far greater service, who speak more passionately about their passions, who are called to greater missions in this great world and whatever worlds may exist beyond this one, but their missions are not mine. We don't always get to choose our missions and of all the things I'm unclear about, I'm the most unclear as to why bicycles seem to shape and fit the core of my being, but they do. As Stephen King said about why he writes horror, "what makes you think I have a choice?"

So I advocate for bicycles and preach, not of salvation in the next world, but of finding a way in this one. I write of trails and traffic, of gears and gradients, of wheels and wonder. I speak of two wheels and balance.

It is balance that I am thinking of today, balancing what I've been certain of with what I'm still learning. Balancing what I've learned so far with what I'll learn tomorrow.

I stop at stop signs. Always. Full stop, foot down.

Except when I don't.

Let me explain.

Here, in the Seattle metro area and Issaquah where I live, stop signs pretty much mean stop. You stop, you wait your turn, you look, you go when it's your turn to go. If you blow a stop sign, you're breaking the social pact, you're putting yourself and others at risk. So I stop, for my good and what I think is the good of all.

But we don't have stop signs at every intersection. But I have also ridden in Portland, in neighborhoods where there are stop signs at every intersection. EVERY INTERSECTION. Most bicyclists don't come to a full stop at these. Most car drivers don't come to a full stop at these. Like the folks at Campagnolo are alleged to have once said of their beautiful but less than effective Delta brakes, "they are not for stopping, they are for modulating your velocity." These stop signs really don't mean stop, they mean slow down. Pretty much everyone in Portland gets that the norm, the social contract is "slow down and don't proceed like a nut." Here in the Seattle area the stop signs along the road through Marymoor Park in Redmond serve basically the same function. Drivers and cyclists both seem to treat those signs as something I remember from my youth, the Yield sign.

If I'm rabidly foaming at the mouth at my fellow road users and berating them for not coming to a full stop at every intersection, for setting a bad example, I should probably calm down and look at the example I'm setting. I should not pounce with fire on flaming roads. I should ride a few miles on their roads and judge not their actions, but my own.

Or consider sidewalk riding. Those of you in the UK call this riding on the pavement and people in places like New York City get livid when cyclists ride on the sidewalk. It is against the law and it is evil, unsafe and wrong.

Except when it isn't.

The city where I live, Issaquah Washington, is east of Seattle located in a valley at the base of the Cascade mountains. We have wide sidewalks in many places, sidewalks that are part of our multi-use path network. Bicycle riders share these routes with folks who walk, skateboard or roller blade. The rule, the social pact again is the one that I think is good: "don't go too fast and watch out for others." If I was putting up road signs, that is what they'd say.

In some cities, the sidewalks are really not made for bikes. In some bad places, the sidewalks are not made for bikes and the roads are made only with thoughts of cars. In those places perhaps the best thing a rider can do is get off the road and walk with their bike on the sidewalk. And then work to make those places better.

I ride my bike as best I can and I try to offer advice to others that will help them in their riding. I'm pretty sure that I don't have all the answers. I used to think I did but I was so much older then.

I'm younger than that now.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Unknown said...

I feel so much like you. I don't have all the answers too. Someday, i think i have lots of them but something happen and i realize i am small and still learning! Everyday i learn that i have even more to learn. Hope my life will be long!

Big E said...

Humility and understanding. Two things that are difficult to come by in this world. But are sparkling little gems that shine very brightly when used. Thanks for the cup of perspective...

Big E

kfg said...

This gospel is good news. Testify!

Small Adventures said...

Good read,Kent :)

"I should not pounce with fire on flaming roads. I should ride a few miles on their roads and judge not their actions, but my own.
I have to say,it does not matter one iota what their shoes feel like,a stop sign is a stop sign...period (as is a friggin yeild sign). Screw em,I stop,what makes em think they're special that that doesn't apply to them? Though as a retired (read; disabled or no longer working in that field) truck driver,I may be a bit jaded on people's driving actions,LOL!

Before I forget,from mine and me,a very merry Christmas and the happiest of New Year's to you and yours,my friend :)

Steve in VA

Kenneth Gibbons said...

Life is all about learning. We never stop learning in no matter what we do. No one is a master since we are all students still learning through out life. I like the blog, good job.