Sunday, March 26, 2006
Looking vs. touching
It's interesting how things seem to come around right at the time you are searching for them. I've been trying to explain off and on what makes commuting on a bike so much more special than being in a car. It's so hard to paint the picture with my words.
At this same time Gary is wrapping up his blog "The Baron in Winter". He and I have exchanged comments. We've talked about how people live in boxes. About how so much of what people know and believe to be true comes from things like television. ( another box ) I've written about how a car shuts us off from the world. ( another box ) How a bike is so much the opposite. Riding allows you to be actually in your environment and not just an observer.
Then I picked up the March issue of Motorcyclist magazine. I've been so busy actually out riding that I haven't had much time to just sit and read about bikes. My magazine pile has grown. There's an editorial by Mark Tuttle Jr. ( by the way, Gary's blog is mentioned on page 19 ) Mark quotes from Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", which I read years ago. This quote is so perfect for describing what it's like that I'm putting most of it here.
"In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by 5 inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness."
Bam! It hit me. Looking at the world through a car's glass window or windshield is like watching a television screen. So much depth is missing. In a car you pass a field with a herd of cows.
"Oh, there's some cows".
On a bike you see the scene unimpeded as to sight and smell. The depth missing in a car is present in abundance. Sometimes the smell of cattle and the watered down cow dung they spray on the fields almost knocks my helmet off. So different.
"Wow, there's some cows!" as you wave your gloved hand in front of your nose.
The other strange coincidence ( what's that other word; synchcronicity?) is the situation with my boots. These are good boots. I bought them last March. That makes them one year old. Both boots have severely beveled edges. The right one, which I have provided a picture of, is worn through the seam of upper and sole. I have been looking around the last few days for new boots.
The pavement that Robert Pirsig mentions is, indeed, real. It's right down there to be touched. There is a very tactile feedback when the bike is leaned way over. It tells you that you are alive and in the middle of actually living this rush instead of watching passively. It is Reality. It is Good.
It is also that same reality that becomes our symbolic Saviour. I can feel the pavement under my boot. I can hear it scraping on my metal pegs. I can see the scrapes on my boot and bike. At the moment it is being done under my control. I realize there is a fine line between control and disaster. I am in the middle of the environment and it is very real to me. I live it deeply. To avoid crossing that fine line to disaster I must immerse myself in my surroundings. I fully understand the danger because I have felt it. The reality strengthens my resolve to avoid it.
I am painfully aware that the pavement that scrapes my boot and bike can well scrape flesh and muscle from my bones. It is this awareness that drives me to fully immerse myself in my surroundings. Every sense strains for clues of danger. Any sight, sound, or smell, can be significant, or not. It must be my option to decide, not have it thrust unexpectedly upon me. It is very intense. Yet, it is this intensity that makes me live on a bike like I live nowhere else.
With the clues for danger come pleasant sensations, as well. The intensity of awareness brings these rushing in to a degree not possible anywhere else. Nowhere else do I feel so alive. Nowhere else do I feel so much in charge of my own destiny.
It is so simple and yet, so profoundly true: Riding well equates to living well.