A remembrance of things present – Part 3

by Steve Brock on September 19, 2012

My rediscovery of the value of my old Motobecane ten-speed bike came in part experientially from my riding in Whistler. But it also came conceptually through reading a book at the same time. In fact, with travel, reading about a place or activity and experiencing it simultaneously adds meaning to both. You have both theory and practice intersecting and informing the other.

Before our trip to Whistler, I had loaded a library book on my Kindle for reasons I still don’t quite understand. It was titled, It’s all about the bike: The pursuit of happiness on two wheels by Rob Penn.

The book chronicles Penn’s journey to build his dream bicycle. He travels the world to select the best components, from the custom-built frame he has designed in the UK to the world-class stem and wheels he finds in the US to the artful handlebar and derailleur he acquires in Italy.

Nice trip.

As he describes his odyssey, he also tells the story of the history of the bicycle. And in so doing, I came to learn several things.

  • The modern-day bike, despite improvements in materials such as titanium and carbon fiber, has not really changed since the first incarnation of the “safety bike” back in the 1890’s. Take a look at a photo from the turn of the last century and you’ll see how remarkably similar bikes are in their geometry and design to today’s bikes.
  • I wasn’t alone in my newly discovered enthrallment with the elemental act of staying upright on two wheels and going at great speed based solely on my own efforts. Others seem to be at a similar loss of words for their delight in such a seemingly simple (though actually quite complex) act. See Bruce’s comment to Part 2 of this series for an example of someone who is able to eloquently explain part of the joy of riding.
  • My new love of mountain biking didn’t replace any desire to ride my old road bike. It enhanced it. I discovered that many others enjoy both forms of riding and have multiple bikes.
  • My initial shock at the price of new bicycles became replaced by an appreciation for what it took to create the various components, many still made by hand. It’s still an expensive hobby if you buy new, but it is one I now understand better. It furthermore made me realize the value I had in my old bike.
  • My old French ten-speed may actually be as good a bike as many of the new modern ones. Good basics never go out of style. We merely change our labels from “old” to “classic.”

So when I returned home, I checked out books from the library on bike repair, picked up a few new tools and supplies, and within a week I had renovated my old Motobecane ten-speed road bike. And that is when I came to my greatest understanding about this whole journey with the bike…

To be continued…

Read Part 1 or Part 2 if you haven’t done so. Or go to Part 4 for the thrilling (well, maybe not thrilling, but at least meaningful) conclusion.

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A remembrance of things present – Part 2

by Steve Brock on September 12, 2012

So what two things changed to help me rediscover and better appreciate my old ten-speed Motobecane touring bike?

  1. I took a trip
  2. I read a book

So many of life’s most transformative moments occur in the course of carrying out these two simple activities.

First, the trip. My family and I traveled to Whistler, British Columbia this summer. Amidst the discovery of places like HemLoft and Train Wreck, I spent part of each day mountain biking.

I did so initially because my teenage son, Sumner, was so excited to ride the many marvelous and world-renowned bike trails in and around Whistler. I wanted to share in his enthusiasm. So each day, I rented a different mountain bike with the thought that if I liked the sport, I’d have a better idea of what bike to one day buy myself.

I’d been mountain biking a bit before, but on an old garage-sale bike that was too small for me and thus about as enjoyable to ride as fish oil is to drink. But when I got to Whistler, I realized that my previous experience on a mountain bike compared to my current one about as well as the music quality of an AM station on a transistor radio stacks up against state-of-the-art surround sound.

I had been practicing on my son’s bike before we left for Whistler to avoid the inevitable pain in places you don’t want to talk about when you haven’t ridden a bike in months. But it still took a few days to warm up leg muscles that somehow don’t get used on a stationary bike at the gym. Then, after that, something magical happened.

When I was a kid, I never delighted in riding a bike. Sure, I appreciated how much easier it was to pedal my Motobecane over my old Huffy, but my focus was on transportation not pleasure. In Whistler, it was exactly the opposite.

I remember the precise spot when it happened. I was leaning into a berm on one of the many Lost Lake singletrack trails. When I straightened out, I suddenly had the sensation that I was doing more than riding a bike. I was gliding through space.

Anything I write here to explain that moment will likely sound corny or cliché. I’ll only note that my awareness of the experience shifted. All the minute details of balance, motion and self-propulsion came alive. The entire experience of riding changed from that point on. It was more than just the fun of racing downhill over roots, rocks and banked turns. I became aware of the sheer joy of movement in general.

I had a similar experience once while snorkeling off the northwest coast of Oahu. I had been pursuing a sea turtle underwater. When it swam off more swiftly than I thought possible, I sensed my own movement through the ocean. I seemed to awaken to each muscle and action. It felt as if I could swim forever without tiring – reach, pull, reach in an ongoing rhythm of delight.

I was fully attuned to my body, my breathing, the water and all that was around me, keenly aware of the very act of swimming itself, probably (at least to that degree) for the first time in my life. We take for granted and ignore the most basic blessings until in moments like this when we’re blown away by the simple motion of a body moving through water.

So it was on the mountain bike. That day and each day thereafter, I would have episodes of pure exhilaration, not due to the speed or terrain but just because I was riding a bike. I can’t explain it any more than that, but if you can remember that first day as a kid when you rode a two-wheeler on your own – no help, no training wheels – you’ll have an inkling of that feeling.

The photo above isn’t of a mountain bike or one of the many singletrack bike trails. But it does show you one of the many bike paths in and around Whistler that also contributed to that inexplicable joy of simply riding, a joy that only came about by taking a trip.

To be continued…

You can read Part 1 here or Part 3 here

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Another chance to remember

by Steve Brock on August 3, 2012

This past winter I started looking at moss in a new way. I began to notice something that was around me all the time back in the wetness of February.

Mossy Log with Mushrooms

But now that it is summer, most of the moss around me has dried and gone. So when I see it now, I don’t have to force myself to pay attention. It stands out on its own.

I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, whether I’ve learned to look for it or whether scarcity forces itself onto our awareness. All I know is that when I encountered this moss and mushroom covered log last month on our trip to Canada, it caught my attention and served its purpose: It made me remember that moss was a trigger to remind me to be grateful for all that I take for granted.

So what are you taking for granted? Family? Health? Work? Friends? Food and Shelter? Summertime? Blessings beyond awareness and grace beyond understanding?

Take a second – make that a minute or two or ten – and pause right now. Yes, now. Be grateful. Don’t wait for more moss to remember and give thanks.

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The allure of secrets: Train Wreck – Part 2

by Steve Brock August 1, 2012

Finally making it to Train Wreck outside Whistler, BC revealed more than crashed train cars: we discovered something very unexpected…

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The allure of secrets: Train Wreck – Part 1

by Steve Brock July 26, 2012

Another “secret” location in Whistler, BC beckons. But with this one, Train Wreck, we find that the journey to get there is as surprising and interesting as the destination…or so we think at the time.

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 3

by Steve Brock July 17, 2012

Discovering the secret treehouse known as HemLoft was one thing. Finding connections to others who had already done so was quite another. It’s a good reminder that discovery is highly personal but it isn’t always private…

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 2

by Steve Brock July 12, 2012

Secret places woo us and can, in terms of travel, lead to quests with unexpected results as I found out at HemLoft, a secret treehouse near Whistler, BC.

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