Sunday, June 22, 2014

Risk

Last night, whilst shellacking the wooden teeth before bed, I was reviewing my lovely Sunday ride in my head. The part I dwelt upon was the long stretch above the trees, wending through Wendell State Forest. I was thinking again of how wonderfully isolated I was up there. There’s a long stretch of Wendell Road on which you can’t see a single sign of civilization for miles. Just rolling green hills. The two friends who were supposed to ride with me both had to cancel out, so it was solamente yo, experiencing the forest primeval.
What occurred to me was that, if I had been there later in the day and, say, broken a bone or had a catastrophic equipment failure, it would have been all on me to get bike and body to civilization. I might even have had to make camp for the night as best as possible and wait for the first car down the road in the morning. It doesn’t look like a thoroughfare that gets night-time traffic, much less on Sunday. There are no houses for miles. (Yes, I ride with a cell phone – that’s part of being married, a trade-off I happily make – but I suspect there would have been no signal up there in the middle of the state forest. At least, I passionately hope there would have been no signal.)
Now, it’s important to note that the risk is certainly not why I enjoyed being out there. There are many reasons. Of course, there’s the simple pleasure of time on the bike, then there’s the hard effort of the grades up there, the fabulous view, and, of course, the solitude. Pehaps the most important ingredient was that I decided to explore a new area. I did get lost for a bit, but, even though that gets frustrating after a while, I believe it only adds to the goodness. Study after study has supported the idea that the brain needs frequent challenge. I’ve gotten so good at my standard routes that I can practically ride them with my eyes closed. So, getting lost is more than just adventure; it fires up a whole new string of neurons in the old cranium. Then there’s the new sense data, which also create new paths in the grey matter – smell of the pines warming in the sun… views of a vast, rumpled green blanket over the hills… the road surface rumbling through the CAAD’s aluminum frame. And leave us not forget that the simple fact that I don’t know what’s over the next hill (A curve? A descent? Another cursed rise?) is food for the mind.
All this is true. And yet the risk undoubtedly was an element. It always is, really, but we get numbed to it, no? I mean, anyone who climbs on an 18-pound bike and rides a auto road takes a very real chance every time. But, because we do it every day, we forget. And, let’s face it, that kind of risk usually doesn’t give me the lovely frisson that you might get from rocketing down a snow-clad mountain on two thin strips of fiberglass. The threat of death or paralysis is not a real motivator for me.
The risk I refer to here is that “back of beyond” feeling. Self-sufficiency. It's the way you feel when you're backpacking miles from the nearest road. It’s why randonneurs ride unsupported. It’s the principle of the thing: Bust a spoke? Bent your derailleur into the shape of a pretzel? Yer on yer own, bud. Better know how to jury-rig something out of what you're actually carrying or can scavenge. Or, if I’m not up to the repair, I’d better be ready for an adventure.

With luck, that just means discovering, by staggering synchronicity, one more guardian angel walking the earth, who picks you up in her/his car, engages you in a fascinating conversation that would never have happened otherwise, and drops you off where you can be collected by a friend or loved one. I’ve had my share of these adventures, and I still tell the stories today.

I’m hoping I still have credits for a few more of those after all my misadventures to date, because the whole point here is that, well, you just never know. You have to be as prepared as possible, but life is infinitely variable. May that send a pleasant yet cautionary zitz down your backbone the next time you throw your leg over the saddle.

2 comments:

Patrick Clayton said...

No matter how routine the ride, there is always some risk. A friend and fellow rider here in Newport, RI was hit by a deer the other day while riding on Ocean Drive here in Newport. He sustained such severe head injuries, in spite of his helmet that he passed away Thursday. It was about 8 in the morning and I have never seen a deer on Ocean Drive in spite of riding it at least a hundred times. It just shows how no matter how well prepared you may be sometimes fate intervenes to change the situation.

Velosopher said...

Sobering, Patrick. Life is risk, really.