Saturday, May 17, 2008

Needs

Date: May 16
Mileage: 78.6
May mileage: 621.4
Temperature: 42

This past January, I went hiking with a friend who has one of those uber-stressful, all-consuming types of jobs. He claims to love it and earns his share of fulfillment from it, but this job leeches just about all the energy he has to give, emotional and physical. It was all he could do that day to motivate for our one-hour stroll in the snow. My friend, the same guy who used to leap up mountains and scale canyon walls, requested that we turn around after a mile and a half. As we returned to my house, he admitted that his job had changed him. "Sometimes I come home from work and watch TV for five hours," he said. "I used to feel guilty about it, but now I know that sometimes I just need to watch TV for five hours."

I nodded and tried to be a supportive friend, but the little voice in my head was screaming Why? Why? Why? Why?! I wanted to grab his shoulders and shake out whatever oppressive worldview was convincing him he needed this job and tell him to get back to the mountains, get out of Alaska if you have to, go back to the desert and quit your job!

But then he said, "It's sort of like your biking."

The phrase caught me off guard, because it resonated with unsettling truth. I work a relatively lax job and then come home and pour my creative energy into a blog, and then I wake up the next day and pound out the rest on two wheels. I have excess energy to spend and he has a deficit he feels compelled to conserve, but both of us have a need to approach equilibrium.

"Really," I asked myself, "what makes his five hours of TV any worse than my five hours of biking?" I mean, after you carve out the obvious health discrepancies. Whittle it down to pure emotional benefit, on a strictly psychological level. I bring this up now because I have been a little bummed out in general since Geoff moved south for the summer, and I am turning into a heavy bike user - I mean, more than usual.

Geoff mentioned on the phone today that my May mileage was a bit off the charts for not actually training for much. "Here I am, down here training for the Great Divide Race, and I look at your blog and you're still riding more than I am." (Full disclosure: My cycling miles are much easier.) He said this before I told him that I had ridden for about five hours today.

"Oh, it must have been a nice day," he said.

"No," I said. "It was awful."

"How awful?"

"Well, in five full hours it never stopped raining. Not even for a minute. Not even a sprinkly lull. Driving rain. My hands and feet went numb even though I was wearing all of the neoprene I own, and when I pulled my camera out of my coat about halfway through the ride, there was several inches of water built up inside my pocket."

"Oh." That was all he said about it, but I could tell what he was thinking: "Why? Why? Why? Why?!"

But what I wasn't able to explain to him is how much better I felt at the time than I did this morning. I was uber-moody when I woke up today. For whatever reason - the weather, the fun fishing trip that had to be cancelled - I was just sick of the world. I had already absolved myself of any real need to do a long ride this weekend, and my plan was to get more work done today - work that I've been putting off, because I'm always biking or blogging or doing other stuff I don't need to do.

But by 1 p.m., still unproductive and even grumpier, I finally just gave up. "Whatever, I'm just going to go out for a long ride." I set out in the pissing rain with a change of base layer in a ziplock bag - just in case - and thought, "I'll just go until I feel like stopping." I was feeling pretty awful heading out and moving slow to boot - which I was bummed about, because through all this bike abuse, I am trying to increase my fitness. I'm so used to southeast winds that I thought I was riding a tailwind and feeling awful and moving slow. I decided to turn around at 33 Mile (the mile marker on the highway, just about 40 miles into my ride) because I was picking up a pretty serious chill and I doubted the dry base layer would stay dry long enough to ward it off. When I turned around, I felt a rush of air at my back and realized that I had, in fact, been fighting a headwind the whole way out. After that, just like last week, the ride just got better and better.

During the last 10 miles, I rode by a lot of bike commuters - more than I have ever seen - moving with the 5 p.m. traffic. It brought joy to my heart, because the weather was as bad as it gets and still people were out riding. One guy going my direction passed me. He was wearing heavy-duty rubber gloves. "How's it going?" I asked. "How do you think it's going?" he answered. (He didn't say this maliciously, just truthfully - it was awful out.)

And then of course I chased him but lost him in the construction area. The rain drove down and the feeling in my hands and feet faded and still I felt amazing, riding with that wind, feeling that I could just keep going. But I had already turned my thoughts to dinner and maybe still making this party I had earlier resolved not to go to, grumpy as I had been. But when I arrived at home, I felt perkier, decompressed - equalized.

I do believe it's possible to be a substance abuser of your body's own chemical stimulants, just like it's possible to become dependent on the tranquilizing effects of television. Whether or not this is a bad or good thing, I don't yet know.

21 comments:

  1. In The Hard Way, author Mark Jenkins laments the loss of his friend John and realizes he needs to save him, and himself, as well. He writes:

    "I was beginning to fear for John, and lately, for myself. The integument of everyday life seemed to have begun to harden. We were both working too much. John was struggling to keep a small magazine alive; I was battling to finish a book that had lost its bearings. We'd call each other at midnight, still in our offices--appalling for a couple of tree bums who once lived out of a VW van and survived on tins of sardines. John, in particular, was in trouble. He'd spent so much time trying to build a business he was in danger of becoming one more Cubicle man, ass-wedged between a green screen and four white walls."

    It's a really awesome read, and speaks, I think, to men of our generation (I'm 41) who crave adventure but are trying to balance all the demands of this present circus. You might want to buy it for your friend.

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  2. some say it's all about balance....

    :)

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  3. Jill,

    What constitutes the 'good' (read 'moral') life? You've hit on one of the more enduring philosophical questions within metaphysics. Is it 'good' to have a high-pressure job and watch TV, or ride for 5 hours? Notwithstanding theological answers - most approaches to the question focus on context. Plato's context was what constitutes a 'good' society, and he then derives 'Guardians,' etc(Republic). Aquinas was concerned with reason and faith - and certain lives flow from that context (Suma Theologica).

    So, if you live in the outdoor capitol of the world (Alaska), and you spend 5 hours a day indoors watching TV - hmmm, not 'good.' Conversly - if you live in the suburbs and spend days slogging through snow/mud on a bike with a bag of trailmix the only food in the cupboard - that's odd!!

    A few questions are helpful at the personal level. What are my talents? Have I made the right life choices such that I am now using them? If not, what choices should I make now? Am I abusing them? Am I now considering a change in how I employ my talents? Are my talents mismatched to my 'context?'

    You're an adventurous spirit, Jill - you've chosen wisely.

    One beautiful aspect to all of this is that we can choose anew everyday. Not just what to wear or what to eat - but how to live! Balance is fine, but living within a passion is exhilarating!!

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  4. Blue-ribbon post. As always, your ruminations are worth chewing on for awhile, and great photos to boot!

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  5. Anonymous6:23 AM

    Random thoughts:

    I'd say both you and your friend are depressed, and both of you use different means to escape "reality". He watches TV, you ride your bike.

    There is such a thing as "exercise addiction" whereby a person who exercises regularily becomes depressed when they stop.

    Bicycling for you is a hobby, not a career, and you seem overly preoccupied with JUST this one hobby. You might feel better if you had a more well rounded life and spent more time on either other hobbies, or relationships with friends. What happens if you can't ride your bike anymore ?....you've already seen the answer to that....you get moody.

    Both you and Geoff use excerise as a means of escapeism. Both of you do it for a hobby, and neither one of you seems to have any long-range goals or plans beyond the immediate future.

    You seem to talk more about Geoff on YOUR blog than he talks about you on HIS blog.

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  6. Do what you feel like doing. When I was your age I burned the candle at both ends and in the middle being a great journalist. Then when I had that down pat I quit and went off and did something else. I read your blog with appreciation, because it reminds me of the angst-filled choices I made at your age, how the extremism of that time in my life has permitted me to be easy going on myself in my 50s. Peddle away, you are making excellent memories.
    Summa Theologica related to suburban cycling. whatever next?

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  7. Anonymous11:40 AM

    I don't know - hedonism?

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  8. Your friend could come on a ride with you, and you could watch some t.v. with him and you both would probably enjoy the time together because you are friends.

    Get a box of Edy's popsicles too, they make everything great.

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  9. Logan4:29 PM

    I'm trying to understand how anyone could think tv watching and excersizing are on any kind of an equal playing field, but it's beyond me. Consider yourself blessed that your "addiction" is good for you. I'm sure there are millions of people that wish they had that problem. Probably not as many that wish they were addicted to television watching.

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  10. Do you worry that your riding is making you one dimensional? Don't get me wrong, your blog and reading about your Iditarod was amazing, but there is also something to be said about cross training. Maybe you need to spend a little time outside the saddle pursuing something else, athletic or otherwise.

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  11. Anonymous10:04 PM

    The good news, Jill, is sooner or later, you will figure it all out... Good post! It's courageous of you to bare you self in this way. Here again I will suggest, service to others as a nice complement to a life well-lived.

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  12. Anonymous12:48 AM

    Here's what you need to do.....you know how they say opposites attract ?.....you and your "friend" should have a fling together while Geoff is screwing around doing that Great Divide Race. You could mellow out and watch some TV with him so you wouldn't be so alone, and you could get him outdoors more often to make him more well-rounded and improve his outlook on things. It's a win-win situation for both of you.

    What's the deal with this whole Great Divide "Race" anyways. There's no prize for "winning" it, and there was only what like 7 people who did it last year ?. What's the point, just to say that you did it ?. To me it's like the kids who spent all their summer and money playing videogames in the arcades just so they could have their names listed as the highest scorer on the game.

    Geoff seems kinda self-centered about this whole race thing, it's not like he's doing it for the money to support himself, more out of vanity. If he was a REAL boyfriend he would spend some quality time with his sweetie this summer instead of doing the amateur bicycle/running racing equivalent to following the Grateful Dead around on tour.

    This is your future you're starting to see here with Geoff.....you'll become a "racing widow" sitting at home alone while he's out running around the country pursuing his goals of becoming amateur racing guy. You need to get yourself a REAL man, instead of Peter Pan the endurance racer.

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  13. How seriously do you take the above comment? Hmmm ... Well I have also debated this issue with myself and have several friends who have no steady job and ride during normal work hours. At least you have a habit of working. Basically I decide what I want to do in terms of goals for work and goals for fun and if any one discipline is becomming mundance or totally predictable then I move on to another. Work is "what skills do I want?" and fun is what would be really amazing to do ..whilst I'm young and able? I'm learning to build houses so that travel will come easy - fund as you go - which is a bit of a change of tack after a degree in Ecology and Physical Geography (environmental studies). It seems wrong to waste my younger years stuck indoors with a qualification gaining job (i've given away one stable life-long job), when the time to learn a practical skill is most certainly best done earlier than later. Hard to find the energy to do all the fun stuff outdoors when you are using your body under the elements on a daily basis too. Easy to overdo a certain context. Indoors work inspired outdoors play! 5 days on 4 days off roster used to be a sure recipe for regular solo adventures since I was often free during weekdays. Take your pick because we still have the luxury to live the life for ourselves not for others. I envy my friends who don't appear to need a job but they are happy and busy too. Nothing is forever.

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  14. P.S. I figure its always possible to retrain the brain for different and interesting sedentary/office based work at a time when your body is not so resilient. Doing more study in later life has more appeal since you never really want to let your brain go to mush anyway.

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  15. I've been lurking as a blog reader for about a year or so now. You always amaze me. As I was riding my 15 miles, with lead legs at mile 10, in the Southeast this weekend I was thinking that if you could ride through snow I could suck it up. I think I finally posted because that's where I am. I am wondering "Why?" as I work, and "Why?" I'm not riding in the woods more as I'm there.

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  16. Jill,
    Very introspective, very well written. I have often been accused of melodrama and hyperbole; you don't need it.

    As long as you don't feel you are really neglecting anything important, I say bike all you want. If it feels good do it.

    I must say that I am a little shocked at the armchair psychologists that have popped out of the woodwork. Poor Geoff has been brutalized. I don't know if it is fair to give relationship advice to someone whom you don't really know, blog not withstanding. It's easy to tap out a knee jerk reaction. Just remember, that there are real people at the other end. Whoa, I seem to have gone all sensitive for a minute--Lets go Pens...okay, I'm better. I have to go barbecue some meat now.

    TG tuesdaygrimpeur.blogspot.com

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  17. Thanks for being so authentic and open Jill. Makes for great reading.

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  18. Jill, if your passion were watching TV for 5 hours a night, I doubt I'd be reading your blog. Be true to yourself. I enjoy reading every word of your adventurous life.

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  19. Hayduke4:02 PM

    "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."
    - Dr. Seuss

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  20. "Find what you love...and do it with passion"

    That's exactly what you do. And there is absolutely nothing wrong, incorrect, disgusting, disgraceful, or shameful about being passionate about cycling.

    These "blog preachers" can go to hell.

    I love you

    xoxo Sara

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  21. Anonymous6:48 AM

    Jill, Just found your blog, so as a complete and total outsider, I veiw the difference between five hours of TV, and five hours of cycling pretty different extremes.

    I don't consider myself a cyclist, but I do cycle to work most days. I am also a paddler, and a climber. All three of those activities, either focus me, or allow me to think clearly, they give me the perspective of distance from the things in my life. When I am climbing, I am thinking about the 10 square feet of rock around me, and nothing else. When I am paddling, I am thinking of the weather, and the waves, and the boat, and how it all feels. When I am cycling, I am free to think, while keeping an eye out for killer cars. cycling is the one sport (even though it's a commute) where I enjoy the speed.

    All three of those things allow me to think, clearly. without input from the outside world unless it applies to what I am doing.

    When I watch TV, I am not thinking. and I would bet your friend isn't either. He is letting his mind leave the bad work world, and not think. which may be what he needs, but to me says there are more serious underlying issues.

    but, then again, what do I know, I just got here.

    turn off the tv, and keep cycling.

    b

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