In a normal year, this would have been the first Wednesday Night potluck. I would have brought a rhubarb pie. Dave would have brought his famous braised asparagus, with cayenne and lots of garlic. This is not a normal year. While it was billed as a potluck, I saw half a dozen people at the park shelter. Too rich for my blood and, it appears, most others’.
The ride starts in Blue Mounds and immediately drops downhill to Tyrol Basin. With names like “Mounds” and “Basin” you could have guessed what direction we ride. In those first few downhill miles, it is best not to think about the fact that you will have to go back up at the end. Enjoy it while you can. The good news is that it’s not four miles back up. The bad news is that’s because the other side of the hill is steeper.
From Tyrol Basin the route follows the route of the Wright Stuff Century for a few miles, so they are roads filled with memories. We climb the famed Fesenfeld Road. I always know I’m near the top when I see this giant oak. One advantage to riding alone is that this is the first time I have stopped to take a picture of it.
From this tree there is a bit of up and down before a screaming downhill into a gentle left hand bend. The only problem is the traffic coming from the other way around that bend. Some of them might turn left across your path. Today the pavement is damp in the shady areas, which tend to be the downhills. Feeling the water sprayed onto your legs by the front wheel is a hint to feather the brakes.
In the next valley I met two friends in a field. Right after I took the picture, the sheep started over toward the fence, whether because it likes human company or thought I was coming with food, I don’t know. Not wanting to come between friends, I cross the road to shoot the historical marker.
At the midpoint of the ride we reach the lowest elevation. While it has been up and down to here, it has been mostly down; meaning from here it’s mostly up. There is a six mile lead-in to the infamous Mounds Park Road; six miles slightly uphill and usually with a headwind. Nothing like reaching the base of a climb already tired from six relentless miles – you can never stop pedaling for those six miles. Today the headwind was brisk, but I got lucky. A group of four strong riders overtook me at the beginning of that stretch. I tucked in behind and we rode it together. I took the last pull before the turnoff, so I paid my way. We rode faster and I felt fresher than if I’d done it alone.
The best part of Mounds Park Road is that, when the road flattens out to give you a rest, the slope decreases to 8 or 9%, unlike the double-digit grade most of the way. At the top we turn into a long and shady descent. Normally this is a fast drop, but less so today due to the wet pavement. Since I had a recent patient who was admitted after a 40 mph downhill crash, I was maybe more cautious than usual.
The final climb back to the park is, as regular readers know, my favorite stretch of road and the adopted highway of the half-fast cycling club. After the ride, I sit on a roadside bench, sipping a Scotch Ale and cheering on the other riders as they climb to the finish. It is the only channel on this TV, but it’s a good one.
One day at work, when a doctor had done something particularly stupid, I wrote on our white board “Education ≠ Intelligence”. It struck a chord and no one erased it for weeks; in fact, people would point to it to illustrate something they were saying.
I spent years in retail, maintenance, and plumbing before going to college at the age of 40. Did college suddenly make me smart? (“Who says you’re smart?” I hear someone in the back saying.)
The sooner we learn that intelligence, education, and common sense are not the same, the better. I would argue that common sense is the most important of the three. The 18th century swordmaster Chozen Shissai said “If I draw one corner and the student cannot complete the other three, I do not continue”.
| Another way to put that is to look at the line segment to the left. If I ask you to use that to draw a square, can you draw exactly the square I have in mind? People are often paralyzed by the fear of being wrong and stall by deciding that they need more data. In this case, no more data are necessary. We have all we need. The line segment is at the far left margin so the square has to go to the right. We know a square contains four 90 degree angles. We know it contains four line segments of equal length. There is only one square there. Sorry if that seemed obvious to you, but I posed this to a roomful of college-educated folks and was asked for more information. Yes, the problem requires some education, but we should have learned what a square is well before college.
Another doctor did something stupid (that primarily involved not talking to the nurse who actually knew the patient), ordering a bunch of unnecessary tests overnight. The next morning in a meeting, a different doctor said, “Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you can’t be a fucking idiot.”
An advice columnist was talking about college today. When I was contemplating college in my late 30s, a neighbor told me to take one class at night while I continued to work full time. It should be a class that was inherently interesting to me and also applicable to whatever degree I was considering. It was the best advice I ever got about education. For possibly the first time in my life, I liked going to school. I found myself doing more than was expected of me. For a speech on the Black Budget (the Pentagon’s secret budget, concealed in hundreds of separate line items scattered throughout the federal budget in an attempt to prevent scrutiny) I went to a pay phone and called the Pentagon for a response. They didn’t answer my questions, but did ask for my full name, address, and telephone number. Relating that story was probably the most well-received part of my speech. All the data may have been hard to process, but recognizing that the Pentagon wouldn’t talk to me but was trying to keep tabs on me resonated with my fellow students.
On some level, education seems to matter only if you know what you want to learn. As an empty vessel waiting to be filled, or as a student because it was expected of me, I gained little. As a committed learner, school was fun. As a parent, I realized my job was to provide exposure to the things that interested my kids and support them when they found the ones they wanted to pursue. Sometimes we don’t know what interests us until we see it, so a little random exposure helps.
While I teach for a living (much of my work with patients is teaching, plus I teach a workshop to other therapists when there isn’t a pandemic going on) I’d say there’s no such thing as teaching. There is learning and there is the facilitation of learning; but for a teacher to think s/he is pouring knowledge into empty vessels seems like the ultimate in self-importance. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you have to start somewhere. Chew on that paradox for a while. I could write a few more paragraphs to clarify or, as Mike Myers as Linda Richman would say, “Talk amongst yourselves.”
As far as learning is concerned, I never learned anything I already knew. Duh. What I mean is that to truly learn, one must come from a place of Not Knowing. If we are busy showing off our knowledge or trying not to look dumb, there is no room to learn. Only after we admit to not knowing are we able to learn.
Forty five years ago, while contemplating a bike trip across the US, I read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The book chronicles a trans-continental journey as well as a journey to mental health. It looks at our relationship to machinery and to the world around us. Caring for a motorcycle is, in part, a metaphor for caring for ourselves. I thought of the book while working on a bike this afternoon. The bike is more than 30 years old and I realized that maintaining it is balancing acceptance and acquiescence. No matter what I do today, the bike will not be new. I have to accept its aging while not acquiescing to letting it fall apart. I have to know what I can fix and what I need to replace, and when. Failing to keep it in shape can be an actual life-threatening situation. Since I am the engine, maintaining the engine is more than a metaphor for taking care of myself.
Years ago, a friend wanted me to go bungee-jumping. I chose not to. The reason is tied to the paragraph above. I may ride my bike down a hill at 50 mph. At that speed, crashing would likely result in death. If I survived, I may not want to, or I may not ever recover from the injuries. Why do I do it? I am responsible for many of the circumstances. I maintain the bike. A mechanical problem is my responsibility. I am operating the bike. An operator error is my responsibility. Sure, there are things I cannot foresee. An animal may dart into my path. I can be watching for that and prepared for it. A car may pull out of a driveway or cross the centerline. Again, I have some ability to respond to those situations. My awareness and my skill at bike handling (or lack of either) will influence the outcome. I don’t go that fast over unfamiliar roads. (Nor do I go that fast very often.)
Bungee jumping requires that I give up all control to someone else. Once I jump, everything is out of my hands. They maintain the cord. What is the lifespan of a bungee cord when used in this way? Hs anyone studied it? How do they fail? Do they snap, sending one plummeting to the earth? Do they lose elasticity, elongating so that there just might not be enough recoil to pull me back up before I hit the ground? Is the platform the same height and the cord the same length as the last time they did this? None of this is in my hands. It is all in the hands of a stranger. Am I willing to turn my life over to this stranger? Nope. Maybe you are. Maybe bungee jumping is a lot of fun. You tell me. I’ll ride my bike up and down mountains.
You may notice I haven’t answered my own question – why? The answer is probably somewhere in the last three years of this blog. It’s also not one of my favorite questions. What is the favorite question of 3 year olds? Can you ever give them a satisfactory answer, one that does not lead to the next “why?”
Why do I ride a bike? Why do I ride down hills? Why do I ride fast? Because I can. Reasons? We ain’t got no reasons. We don’t need no reasons. I don’t have to show you any stinking reasons.
Rather than “for what reason?” I prefer to see the question as “for what purpose?”
Why are these photos relevant? Because I took them this week. One is from my Wednesday Night Bike Ride. We rode from Salmo Pond, which was the turnaround point for many a ride in my youth. We would stuff our jersey pockets with food and ride to the pond, where we would swim and eat before riding back home. (Small pond image fromChannel3000.com)
For this ride, we met at the pond and rode the ridges south of the valley drained by Black Earth Creek. At the end of the ride, a large maskless group was gathered in the parking lot chatting. I still am not ready for that. Soon after, the CDC came out with new guidelines that say we can do just that. A few days later I came across a gathering of 35 maskless people in my neighborhood park. I’m inching towards acceptance. Why did I get vaccinated if I can’t begin to change my behaviors? I have been walking the dog without a mask this week. Maybe I’ll even ride with vaccinated friends this week.
The other photo is a motivational postcard from a workplace which shall remain nameless.
and much funnier speeches than they had last year.” 1 Graduation is upon us and social distancing seems to have disappeared. While the graduation ceremony itself was open only to students (no family, no spectators), the after ceremony picture-taking and milling about looked like 2019 or earlier. You can see a few people in masks in the background of this photo. The crowd had just thinned – I took the picture while stopped in traffic so I didn’t have a lot of time to wait for the right moment.
The Tayles, a local band of my youth, wrote a song called “Master of the Arts” looking into the future of a friend with an advanced degree (“We all say that we knew him when…”). I wanted to play that for you but cannot find the cassette it was on – I may have thrown it and others out when I had no way to play or digitize them. (It’s available on Amazon Music for those who subscribe.) That’s a long way of saying that I am now the parent of a Master, one of the graduates honored this weekend, though in an online ceremony with the department only.
But since I’m talking about The Tayles, here they are at The Nitty Gritty in 1972, from the album “whoaretheseguys?” For some reason, this is on YouTube, while “Master of the Arts” is not.
I got to hug my son and daughter in law Sunday for the first time since Christmas 2019, or maybe birthday the next month. I wasn’t keeping track of it then, not knowing it would be the last time for over a year.
When people asked if I ran, I used to answer, “Only if I’m late for the bus” or “Only to chase a soccer ball.” Living with a dog who likes to walk, trot, canter, and gallop, I now find myself running so he can run.
Rhubarb season is back. Since we’ve been watching “The Great British Bake-off” I was inspired to make my first lattice-top pie in years.
We lost a musical giant last week. Lloyd Price died May 3 (I have seen 3 different dates published, but this date is quoting his wife, who ought to know), at the age of 88. He had his first hit in 1952 with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”. He went on to start a record company, develop housing, and help to promote the “Rumble in the Jungle”, the heavyweight boxing championship match in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
The Giro d’Italia is underway, back to its traditional spring running as the first of the Grand Tours. Like the better-known (in the US) Tour de France, the Giro has various colors of jerseys for leaders in different classifications. The last place rider in the Tour is known as the Lanterne Rouge (red light – like the light at the back of a train). The Giro’s last place rider formerly won the black jersey (Maglia Nera), which was discontinued due to the fierce competition for the jersey. Once again, we honor Luigi Malabrocca and Sante Carollo as honorary members of the half-fast cycling club.
1 Martin Vanderhof (character), speaking of a college graduation in “You Can’t Take it With You”, by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. This is the role that made me realize I was an old man at age 16.
The winner for today’s highway cleanup (for weight and volume) was soggy cardboard. For the sheer number of items (thus the number of times we had to bend over to pick them up) it was smoking materials – butts, packs, lighters. The brand winner was Marlboro, with Pall Mall a surprising second. I guess even smokers have gone retro. Pall Mall has been around since 1899, Marlboro since 1908. According to The Guardian, five people who played The Marlboro Man in advertisements died of smoking-related diseases.
In second place overall for sheer number of items picked up were the flexible plastic reflectors that were glued down last year to mark the road for pavement striping. We picked up a bunch last fall. Today I think we picked up the rest of them. Over time the glue fails and they wash into the ditch. The road never got re-striped, so the only purpose those reflectors served was to provide a few hours of work for whomever glued them down and some more work for us to pick them up.
We were about to retire the brand championship with repeated wins by Busch Light beer cans, but today they just edged out (due to a six pack tossed in the last 100 yards before the park entrance) Icehouse Edge, a high-alcohol beer sold in 24 ounce cans. Since each Edge can contains roughly the alcohol equivalent of 4 Busch Light cans, we might call this a tossup.
Every time we clean this stretch of highway, we think about the potlucks held at this park after Wednesday night rides – it’s just about rhubarb pie time and we will miss Dave’s famous asparagus. No potluck again this year.
All this talk of winners who are actually losers made me play this on the way home.
We got home just in time to beat the much-needed rain. Maybe it will wash to pollen off of the car. The local weather folks recently changed from saying it was a dry year to calling it a drought.
Today in history: It was 51 years ago today that the National Guard massacred student on the campus of Kent State University; the day that another generation of white people learned that we are not immune.
I just read The Progressive interview with John Cusack. He ends by saying “Capitalism will sell you the rope to hang yourself with and then make you pay for the coffin and pass the debt on to your kids.” I don’t know if it’s original to him – it seems to be his own variant on an old line.