Empty Days

Friday, August 13, 2004



Do-it-yourself.

It's very inspiring to read touring-biker sites. You know - all those crazy guys who keep going and going and never stop. The most inspiring part for me is the ingenuity required to adapt bikes and gear to one's own needs and find solutions to endless problems on the way. Basically this involves building or creating things yourself (like this here)- either because you can't buy from store or because stores don't sell what you need. It also involves getting around terrible situations on the road. Perhaps it's the most interesting part of "as is" travel, this problem-solving part. What I dislike most about "civilized" tourism is that everything is too smooth and predictable - unless all your money is stolen and your plane crashes in the ocean and I don't know what else.

This reminds me of my childhood. As kids we constantly built stuff for ourselves. For example, if you wanted to play cowboys-n-indians, you had to build a bow and arrows that was precise enough and powerful enough for your ambitions, and find big bird feathers to stick up your make-shift bandana. Or if you wanted to play modern war, you had to build a machine-gun out of wood with a trigger made from thick aluminium wire and a particularly taut rubber-band to shoot little aluminium-wire triangles into your opponent - the farther the better. This strange weapon had to aim properly too, and be hurtful to your foe. So it wasn't no simple task and it required some ingenuity. Nobody was paranoid about security - as kids we played throwing knives too, though not at each other.
The pleasure from being able to build stuff exactly fitting your needs is hard to over-estimate. When kids insist on building that house-in-the-tree themselves, it's because the pleasure of achievement and personal power associated with this is real and attractive. It's far less fun to watch papa do it for you.

For all I know this kind of play beats by far computer games or all those endless shiny and ugly toys the stores are saturated with. Sure, a kid will still play in his mind, but the more ready-made things are thrown at him, the less incentive there is to actually find a way to do things by yourself. It's basically useless for parents to try and limit their kid's access to all this fake paradise of shiny exciting objects - the temptation is too great and too easy to get, unless the parents are really dirt-poor which is kind of rare due to dollar-store shit.

The more "civilized" your world, the more saturated with ready-made products, the less you are inclined to build or invent stuff yourself. It simply doesn't make sense to build something that you know waits for you in the store - all you need is to get some cash and save yourself the effort. Once again, unless you're totally moneyless, the temptation appeals to common-sense and you can't find it in you to exert your brain and body to work it out on your own.

In this way, your environment educates you and shapes you to be a lazy s.o.b. or a money-hungry s.o.b. - makes you brainless and timid with things. It requires a special mental effort to break out of this vision of the world and see all the things you can do with your own hands. Sure enough, you will look really odd to people, building a table or whatever when you can easily buy it, let's say. I think many men are possessed with the need to build pretty much genetically, simply because endless generations of their forefathers had to build stuff by themselves - all this weekend garage-tinkering and backyard wood-working affords a little bit of that original freedom of doing-it-yourself.

*

It's interesting that I should have such a strong impulse for these things - which I think is just a form of the impulse to personal freedom - and yet my social education makes me timid and tells me I am not supposed to mess with life in that way. There is a strange conflict somewhere at the very bottom of my mind between what I long to do and used to do so freely as a kid, and this huge superimposed structure of later concepts that constantly oppose these drives.

Ultimately, it's up to me to break through these barriers, but I am fighting my own self and this is the worst kind of fight because you can never see clearly in there - both your so-called true-self and your so-called false-self are part of who and how you are, how you think and act and what you desire.

*

I have a dim idea of just where it all started. As a kid a had a nearly incestuous relationship with my father - very much in the freudian oedipal-complex vein. My mother was always something of a hidden enemy to me, even though there was never any open hostility - only constant power-struggle from very early on, I think. At the same time my dad essentially ignored my younger brother ever since his birth (who knows why) so that it set a very binary pattern in the family that lasts up to this day - I and dad on one side, mom and bro on the other. No matter how profoundly things have changed in the meantime, this inner pattern seems unbreakable.

I resisted my mother and her feminine influence madly and instinctively. As a pre-teen I was a regular tom-boy and I have no explanation for this other than being too hooked up on my father and perceiving my mother and thus all feminity within and without as hostile. All I remember from that time is that I was a leader, I fought a lot, and all my friends were boys.

But according to accounts, it started even before I can remember myself. My mom recently told me an anecdote of how stubborn I was at 5 years old. She brought me to a toy-store where I begged that she buy me a war-toy (a ballistic missile carrier) one of which I already had at home, and my mother thought it silly because she wanted me to have a nice little kettle to play house. So she deceived me: she told me she was going to get me that ballistic missile carrier but bought the kettle instead and only showed it to me when we were already out of the store. Of course I made a loud scandal. Is this called "stubborn"? According to my mother - yes.

That's a great anecdote, actually, because it was like that all my life - as long as my mother held any parental power, she tried to force standard girlie behavior on me, which I kept fighting ferociously. Up to this day I can't wear a skirt or a dress - it makes me sick because it is so strongly associated with utter humiliation. I can't really blame my mother: she was automatically executing a social program she was herself educated in and probably also used it as a means of unconscious revenge against my single-minded attachment to my father. That's all I can say for my mother. But for me it is still something of an inner pit - this whole "social gender" problem and where I am with all of this. At the same time my dad, following his own idea of how girls and boys should be, kept excluding me from his specifically male endeavors - he only allowed me into his intellectual realm, never that of his handy-crafts. I can understand that but I also know what offense it created every time. When I finally started messing with bikes on my own, I had to learn everything by myself while my father kept thinking he knew better - which was simply not true since he hadn't touched a bike in decades, but he was "supposed" to be better at it because of his social gender. I should say that he never had a father himself and thus had to learn whatever he could from other men in later life - it was never easy for him but at least he was "allowed" to learn, which I can't really say for myself.

These are very curious, very basic things and if I weren't so wrought up in them, I'd probably never care to look so closely. The fact remains that I am kind of lost between man and woman, and only part of this particular lostness imports on the sexual sphere per se. The deeper confusion or, should I say, conflict has to do with basic personality - I regularly don't "allow" myself to be as I want because I so strongly feel I am not "supposed" to.

The model of female behavior that was constantly forced on me presupposed too many things I could never accept. I think the most revolting of these consisted in using sexual power as a means of surreptitious passive-aggressive domination. My mother presented this model perfectly - she has always been the unspoken boss in the family while my father completely submitted to her while imagining himself as head of the family.
I probably acquired all these behaviors myself because whenever I get out among people I keep attracting swarms of weak troubled males in search of a master. But I hate this model and I keep pushing them away - I am afraid to be as I am because that would certainly mean becoming an unwilling master of a too-willing slave. I don't want to be in a relationship ever again until I am able to defeat this tendency. I am not sure I will ever be able to.

But this is only the visible, relational part. There is an invisible one - the fact that I hate myself in general because I can't be as I want to be, can't allow myself any real freedom. This is much harder to "explain". Already the above interpretations are somewhat dubious and maybe there are other ways of looking at it.

*

When I was a small kid I kept saying: "Let me do it myself". I also kept running away - just walking away into the open, without "permission", getting lost in the great wide world and going for miles and miles without either fear or purpose. This is my original desire - to be by myself and be lost without fear. It doesn't mean that I somehow want to be asocial. Rather, I am asocial because I can't tolerate all the endless limitations that social life would impose on me. My whole idea of social life is based on this sense of limitations that I can see no purpose for. I guess I lost my personal power too early on and am still in frantic search of this by now mythical state.

No surprisingly, I want to die pretty frequently - a bit too frequently, as a matter of fact. I can't resolve something completely intolerable within myself that blocks me and makes me hate all life, my own first and foremost.
The problem is that I don't really know what it is and where to find a way out. I don't know what I want - or need - and even whether I can really let myself desire anything from the bottom of my heart. Without this basic desire there can be no freedom, no power, no life, nothing.

If "having lost oneself" means anything, that's exactly what it means - inability to desire to be as you are, let alone actually become what you are. It is fairly clear by now that I don't want what most people want - even if I were somehow conditioned to want all these things, they wouldn't solve it for me. I know this pretty deeply. So I fight all these conventional ideas in my head - it's only natural that I should fight them. And yet I can't find the path to what I really need - it's not a path of ideas but that of desires, thinking is just not enough here.

Basically, I have no clue where to look and what to look for. I am completely blind here and maybe it's just the way it should be, I don't know. Groping for the road in the dark.

Is it freedom I want? But what is this freedom, what is it made of?

*

Perhaps it's enough to look for what happens to be inspiring and follow such clues without questioning. I am inspired to go on a bike-tour? Ok, let's go - who cares why.




Portage :-0



I bet it's all aluminium...




Cancer as a fact of life.

I can feel a lump growing in my breast. Sometimes it hurts a little. They say cancer is a chaotic over-growth of cells, a genetic mutation of cells from normal into abnormal. It's a fairly organic though unwanted process - and of course it starts hurting when the mass of surplus flesh starts bothering nerve endings.

Cancer begins in silence - usually a few years before any pains and visible tumors appear. I am perhaps already sick and know it not. Soon I will have to find out.

The exhaustion of the organism occurs when there are already metastases all over the place. Before that years can go by without any visible impact - yet it's the very time when mad cells begin taking over the whole body. It's a bit like HIV - you can be positive and yet not be sick, for years and years, and then finally you develop the actual disease, which is AIDS - first it debilitates you and then it kills you.

If I do get cancer it will likely be because of the way I smoke - using that cheap chemical-treated tobacco from the cheapest cigarettes and rolling it into joints to save money. Come what may - but I sure don't like the idea of suffering unto death.

The rain has stopped for now.




Rain-rain-rain.

I wonder what it would feel like to be in the rain out there - would I want to bike? I doubt it. But what can you do in the woods when it rains like that? As far as I recall, not much. Everything gets damp. The only solution is to build an ad-hoc wigwam and make a fire inside it. Or go on biking unless it's really pouring.

My glasses don't fare well in the rain - they become unusable, as a matter of fact. It's still possible to ride without glasses but then landscape will be mostly lost to view. I hear motorcyclists experience similar hardship with their helmet's visor - they just can't see much when it rains. Equivalent to driving a car without wipers.




Another freak news:
A University of Toronto student driving a solar-powered vehicle was killed when the car veered out of control and was struck by a minivan on a southwestern Ontario highway. Andrew Frow, 21, of Toronto, was driving the car from Stratford to Waterloo at around 4:30 p.m Thursday as part of the Canadian solar car tour, which promotes people to think about alternate ways to use energy. OPP Const. Tim Diebel said the vehicle lost control, began to weave and crossed into the oncoming lane of the two-way highway. A Chrysler minivan hit it.

The impact destroyed the car.
That's why people buy those SUVs that look like small tanks - there is more chance of killing than getting killed.




Sometimes I catch a glimpse of news and it looks bizarre.

Apparently americans are still fighting Al-Sadr in Najaf all these months later. Meantime westerners keep getting kidnapped and beheaded - not soldiers but various contractors and journalists. The obvious thing is that there are so much more Al-Qaeda types in Iraq now than there ever were before. It's their hands-on holy-war area at the moment. And nobody can do a thing about it since the civil order in Iraq just doesn't seem to exist at all. What's more, it doesn't seem that there will be such an order any time soon. Nobody cares, of course. I certainly do not since I can't do a thing about it. It is more than likely that Bush will be re-elected - yet another thing I can't do anything about. I wonder what's the point of bothering with politics under such conditions.

*

Another relatively interesting news the other day: the handsome married-with-children NJ governor publically admits (under legal pressure of course) to having had an affair with a man. Oh my god. What is interesting about this is that he immediately declares himself "a gay american" whereas in fact he might just be bisexual. I suppose, current politics are such that it might look too frivolous to declare onself so indiscriminate in sexual affairs, while it sounds somehow politically correct and "tragic" to "come out of the closet" and all that crap.

Ever since the gay movement became a militant political force a certain stereotyped vocabulary has been forged which is extremely limiting to reality - as all political vocabulary usually is. I am strongly suspicious of the idea that people are supposed to be either entirely homosexual or entirely straight. There are vast gray areas in between that are not accounted for and are still considered extremely impolite to mention. As a result of gay militancy, people have been "educated" to think of sexuality in black-n-white terms: either gay or straight, choose your camp. If you don't go ahead and choose your camp, you're basically a pervert and a traitor to whatever accepted ideology. Funny, hein?

I don't believe this married governor is a homosexual - the fact of loving men from time to time does not automatically signify you should leave your spouse and run for the next gay-bar to find innumerable mates. Imagine what it is like for a bisexual: what exactly determines which person of which sex you will choose to spend your life with? Perhaps not simply sexual attraction but mostly social and personal considerations. A straight man who marries may want to cheat on his wife with other women - it's a choice to do it or not, and it certainly makes no difference that you might cheat with men instead. If your wife can tolerate sexual vagrancy in principle, from the standpoint of being a couple it doesn't matter which way you go - your homosexual needs are just sexual needs from that perspective and are no more or less excusable.

*

Another distorted effect of all this politically sexualized rhetoric is that whenever you hear of two men becoming close friends there is always this silly question popping up somewhere in the mind: do they sleep together? This is absurd - can't two people be friends anymore and do things together for no other reason than the pleasure of each other's company? Apparently not. Luckily, despite all this endless crap, friendships still exist and people disregard such bullshit - but you have to make a special little effort to forget these notions.

But I think close friendships are rare these days for many other reasons. Sexuality is a way of using another person, just as a lot of our over-all relation to the world has to be a way of getting something useful from it. Friendship is too much of a disinterested affair to survive amidst such thinking.

*

In Queens, NY there was so much rain that cars were washed off in a torrent of flood. Two people tried to escape their car in waist-high waters and were electrocuted by a downed power-line - onlookers could not help for obvious reasons.

Sometimes you just have to stand there and watch people suffer.




Very wet weather today.

I tried the sleeping bag in my bed - it's a joke of a bag, not surprisingly. I guess I will take a wool blanket with me as well as whatever other wool clothes I can find in my closet - socks, pullover, sweater... Hopefully this will prevent catching a bad flu on one such night in the open. I would imagine the chief advantage of a tent is not so much bug-proofness but the ability to keep out cold air. Perhaps two gabage-bags scotched into a long over-bag will isolate just as well.

Also practiced patching the tube. There was good opportunity since I had 1.5 flats in one shot (one being a nascient cut that didn't look like a full puncture). I was so right to get a new tyre - this old piece of shit seemed to let everything through.
I don't know how long it should take to fasten a patch, but with my glue and my unique skills it takes a long time. I seem to remember that it took less time with the glue I used last year - maybe it's just an illusion and I was more patient back then. It may also be that the glue from the dollar-store is indeed somewhat crappy and takes longer to grip.

Thursday, August 12, 2004



I think the "cultural revolution" of the 60's in Amerika created some barely-tolerated space for some such freedom - but the movement broke down, got swallowed by the vast swamps of "civilization".

It is even strange that it occured at all.




Do or die.

I got so violently depressed because of this whole endless procrastination & phobia over the biking project that I basically just exploded. Which means that instead of going along with my bad mood and pessimism and the inclination to drop the whole thing, I started a series of actions in the opposite direction, not knowing how I would react to it. It paid off - because it immediately relieved whatever inner conflict I was having and made me feel like I could actually do whatever I want for once.

Ok. So I am tinkering with the bike, I got myself a new sleeping bag and I will have to imagine how to fasten a backpack on the rack since I can't afford those "real" bike-bags in any case. I will need to get myself some green tarp because it's so much less visible than bright-blue and also get a velcro rainsuit because it's the only affordable kind. I am giving myself a couple of days to complete these preparations and check maps, and then i will take off - having prayed the weather gods to give me a break.

*

I looked at some camping stores and found them insanely expensive. I don't know what this means - why it is that people need to pay that kind of money for fancy stuff to go out into "wilderness". I guess there is a severe mental block functioning here somewhere - people are simply afraid of the outdoors, afraid of possible discomfort, afraid of just going out there. So this whole best-equipment illusion sets in and you find yourself compelled to spend incredible money just to get all sorts of comforts and feel "safe".

At least that's exactly the kind of mental block I had to deal with myself - this whole money-phobia was due to the conventional idea of "oh my god, what if I get uncomfortable out there."

But then I remembered all those travellers of old who went on very long pilgrimages by foot, with very little money - to pray at some shrine, let's say. Well, picture these peasants: they didn't have fancy camping stores to shop at, they didn't have fancy fat backpacks but only a small self-made bag with the most necessary stuff, they didn't stay at motels with reservations, they were frequently uncomfortable on their journey, they slept on the ground, they got wet in the rain, but they were guided by a higher idea - that's the very essence of a voyage, that higher idea, and not all manners of best-comfort-gear.

The up-side of this mode of travelling is that nobody ever told these pilgrims not to make a fire except in "designated camping area" and nobody questioned their ragged clothes and chased them away from under a bush because it was "private property".

Funny how the so-called civilized world has turned out - you can't make a step without being told you're either out of bounds or breaking some stupid rule. I suppose "civilized" people forgot how to be polite to the world - how not to leave plastic bags and cans and litter all over the place, and how to extinguish a fire so that it doesn't ruin a whole forrest. Instead rules and laws had to be put in place since people forgot how to rule themselves.

Basically, I am fighting urban perversion in myself all through - it's almost harder than to fight the very forces of nature.

*

It's very hard to escape civilization, bordering on the impossible. It is said that outside of civilization the world becomes lawless. But this is not exactly true. There are still laws, unwritten ones - the kind of laws you need to obey in order to survive. Laws based on common-sense and best adaptation to the world you find yourself in. The so-called law of the jungle is not all there is to it - there is also a kind of wisdom that you couldn't develop unless you really had to.

When civilization is disrupted as in times of war let's say, people learn to survive without the usual comforts - the very same people who could not possibly imagine they would ever need to learn to cook on open fire or fetch water from a far-away place or mend their clothes.

Another interesting effect of such lapses in civilized life is that people develop a totally different take on the world - they suddenly learn to cooperate with others because survival depends on it. No amount of civil rules and laws could ever force you to learn this level of cooperation - civilized comfortable life makes you ignore people, simply because you basically don't need them.

I strongly feel I don't need people and view them as a nuisance - because there is no place in this world for either solidarity or real common-sensical cooperation. Huge demographic entities are an abstraction where people view each other as abstract foreign elements in an immense structure which itself appears as a loose abstraction. I truly have no idea what I am doing living in this city - I could as well not be here, could as well not exist, and it would not make a shred of difference to anybody including myself.

*

Capitalism is synonymous with civilization - it promotes the most comfortable economic system because it constantly increases production. The fact that this system doesn't evenly provide for everyone is not the point. The point is that everyone is expected to participate in this system in order to increase production - it's called free entreprise.

Money-making and increased production are the same thing essentially. Even if you do nothing but speculate on capital, you still participate in the over-all system and are not really doing anything different from a small-time store-owner. You will make much more money than the shop-keeper without creating any palpable products, but in doing so you will help to maintain the flow of the market and prevent economic depression - the shop-keeper would close down if there was one.

On the other hand, if you don't participate in the system, you will have a hard time surviving at all. If you refuse to make money or buy products from the shop-keeper, you will hardly find a spot on the whole wide earth where you could survive from hand-to-mouth. The point is not that you will be deprived of all the comforts of civilization by not participating - the point is that you won't be allowed to have a place where to lead your uncivilized existence.

Hoboes live like that - but they're breaking a pile of rules just by existing completely outside of the system. In fact, hoboes are not allowed - they're only tolerated, and just barely at that. There are laws against vagrancy and there are laws against people occupying a spot of earth without paying for it - all land is either public or private, subject to a pile of regulations, but there are no such places where the ground is really free. Hoboes disregard this fact - therefore they can't be allowed, only tolerated.

The end-formula of this is that civilization doesn't allow actual freedom - it only barely tolerates its various unwarranted expressions.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004



Small-time travels.

I clicked through some online maps and it turns out I biked a respectable 40 miles (65km) on that round trip that took me 7 hours practically non-stop. With that I did get lost a couple of times, so it is possible that if I had a speedometer on my bike it would register some more pedaling still.

What it means is that doing about 60 miles a day is just not a big deal unless the terrain is quite hilly in which case it is better to forget about mileage altogether and just manage your best without dropping dead.

*

I remember I biked from Berlin to a museum-town in the suburbs (Potsdam) - I had borrowed a gearless bike and it was still a wonderful ride despite the mountain I had to go over because the road went through the forrest - the famous Grunwald park they have there. According to this antiquated document, "the distance from Berlin to Potsdam is eighteen miles", and as far as I remember I got there in three hours, having stopped for sight-seeing on the way. I couldn't go back by bike because I then spent the rest of the day up to sunset touring the gentil castle's park on the bike even though bicycles are forbidden there (but it was november and there were few tourists, while that park itself is huge with many pavillions) so I just took the subway back to Berlin and did some night-riding in the city. Berlin is a very good town for biking and a lot of people use bikes for transportation, it's a natural thing to do.

*

Two summers ago I did the tour of the Montreal island in two full days. I live roughly in the middle of the island and I used to go up to the western-most point a lot, which is about 35km (that is 70km round-trip). The eastern-most point is somewhat farther away, that would be at least 45km. But I get these measurements from the standard road-map and of course I took round-about ways instead of the high-speed thruways that cross the city east-west. So I suspect I put in some more mileage than if I were driving a car. The only way to do a complete tour of the city in one single day would be to start very early in the morning, to pedal like mad with a maximum of one half-hour stop, and then you may expect to get to your point of departure slightly after dark - a minimum of 12 hours of biking, and very high-speed too. I read somewhere that the geographical circumference of the island is 277km. That likely includes all those creases in the coast-line, so let us say it's 250km in reality. The problem of course is that it's still a city and you have to stop at various traffic lights and other typically urban obstacles, so these 250km will feel very different from the same distance on a country road. You will lose a lot of time with these, no matter how hard you bike.

So I did it in two days and it took me about 10 hours per day because I was leasurely about it, sleeping in the park midway or stretching by the river when I felt too tired and relaxing in a cafe once I got back to central island after dark. I can't know how much mileage I put in exactly but probably something like 100-125km (65-75 miles) per day because I travelled at the very edge of the island as much as possible.

Outside of that I've never done any serious biking because I mostly hate going to suburbs as I get lost there and don't like the landscape at all. This is why the thought of having to cross all these suburbs to get out of the metropolitan area makes me wince in disgust - it's like the outer circles of hell, the way I see it (factories, warehouses, thruways... and endless residential areas).

Here is what I read on some website and I sure can sympathize:
From Montreal to Wells, Maine

Sunday, August 7 - From Chambly to Frelighsburg, Quebec (81.4 km, 4.3 h)
At noon, on a gray Sunday, we were pedaling southward on the cool bicycle trail along the Canal du Richelieu. To avoid crossing the boring suburbs, we cheated a bit on the starting point: we begged friends to drop us in Chambly, some 25 km east of Montreal. After some 20 km, we reached the end of the trail in St-Jean-sur-le-Richelieu and we switched to Route 133, the main road going up the Richelieu River. That was arguably the worse part of the trip. We were running upwind in the flat countryside, crossing endless corn and soya fields, squeezed on the side of a narrow, shoulderless road by the fast and noisy traffic. We should have cut through the small village of St-Alexandre to avoid that horrible corridor; it certainly couldn't have been worse. In Pike River, we finally took quiet Route 202 and moved on through Bedford, then past Stanbridge East. We headed south on route 237 and reached the first stop, the Chutes Hunter Campground, just a few kilometers before Frelighsburg, where there were lots of available sites. In August, there is little need for reservations if you leave on a Sunday, while everybody else is going back home.
I can picture all that quite clearly - the landscape south of Montreal up to the US frontier is so boring it's even hard to bear when going by car, let alone by bike, you just wish it were over already. Not to mention the southern suburbs, which stretch for miles on end and are all the same. As to the shoulderless narrow roads - you bet. The map shows that these guys made themselves suffer needlessly as they could indeed have taken a much less hectic road and got to their destination faster too.




Fuck it.

Yesterday we had a huge thunderstom starting late afternoon and going well into the night - the electricity was knocked out momentarily when the lightening strikes and thunder were at their most ferocious, it made for a Frankenstein moment when total darkness was sharply illuminated by nothing but brief shots of lightnening. Meantime the rain was beating the hell out of everything, saturating all things with water. My cat hid in the deepest closet - it was so loud outside.

I liked it a lot - even though it shut down my computer and made me lose whatever shit I was typing at the time.

This evening we are supposedly due for another suchlike performance of natural forces, but the day has been mostly sunny and hazy so far.

*

I feel really lousy - not wanting to bother with anything. Small things are often enough to put me out of tune. Yesterday I went to refund that "junior" sleeping bag I bought from a department store for lack of a more affordable variety - I could never use it in any case. The clerks at the store gave me a hard time with it, and at this point I am so fed up with these fucking stores and having to hunt for supplies, that I feel like forgetting about this whole idea altogether.

And so, fuck it - the lot of it.

*

To alleviate my bad mood I am again reading Ken Kifer's Bike Pages. This guy lived in a town the whole of which was as big as the borough I live in - 20sq km, population 8,500 in 2001, exactly the same size even. This is so ridiculous. Of course he could ride out into the country all the time, it was way too easy and the most natural thing to do. I live in a city as large as Chicago and of course it's a royal pain in the ass to attempt to get out of it - it may not be quite as bad as NYC but it's bad enough: it's a big metropolitan area and growing larger every year.

This is a small-town guy speaking, because he can actually walk out of his town in the first place. It'd be pure hell to try to "walk" out of a large city and this statement makes no real sense to me:
The whole world is right outside the front door. We don't need to have money or methods to see it. I rode a bike, but I could have walked.
I wish it did make sense though - my preferred movie scene ever is Forrest Gump taking off directly from his front-porch and running for three years thereon - *avoiding* all those fucking big cities on the way as if they didn't exist.

Anyway - it's no use complaining, it's just the way it is and blah-blah.

*

Btw, the philippino carwash is out of the picture for good. The environment is extremely peaceful again and nobody is getting on my nerves except my own fucked-up mind. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004



Saw another pigeon convulsing on the ground. This looks like an epidemic - I do hope my cat won't catch it, whatever it is. Avian flu maybe? Hope not.




Long day biking.

Went biking yesterday - first time this summer. Took a bike path that lead to far-off suburbia, in the hope of getting an idea of how long it would take to really get out of the city. Basically, it would take a full day and even then I am not sure I could really make it out of the metropolitan area. A more practical solution would be to take a suburban train to the end of line and start biking from there.

I am not entirely out of shape but, obviously, I am in no great shape. I am not sure how much mileage I did yesterday. The whole thing took a full 7-hour round trip, and I got a flat on the way back when already in the city because of some glass on the road and too old a front tyre. So I had to take the subway to get home. When I started off I sort of had a feeling I was going to get a flat that day but decided not to bother with tools anyway. I even forgot my cigarettes which meant that I never stopped to take a break and relax for the whole trip because I'd have been too pissed-off about not being able to smoke. As a result I was completely mangled and exhausted on arrival - everything was hurting: ass, legs, arms, back, even got some blisters on the hands... I am still tired today but nothing is hurting anymore, which is a good sign.

I think I'd do just fine on a long trip. The fact that you can just bike until you feel tired and then stop and camp for the night wherever instead of having to return all the way back makes a big difference. Since such a trip would not be limited in time or destination, there'd be less pressure in terms of how long to bike each day.

I also experimented with steep climbs. My gears are a pile of crap - I basically have four useful gears and two of those for hills. I can't manage very steep sudden slopes but I do ok on moderate long slopes that I can see coming. It's pretty clear that I wouldn't be able to do any normal biking in the mountains.

I also got a bit of trouble from too much blazing sun. Midway I cut a big leaf and fastened it on my head with a long grass stem. It looked goofy but it did save me from getting totally sun-struck. Lesson learned: I will need a baseball cap for rides in the open country.

The next few days will be rainy, they say, so I am still postponing this mythical trip. Maybe indefinately even. But the right time has not yet come, because I haven't reached a frame of mind when you know what you need and what preparations are in order.

Monday, August 09, 2004



Life and unreal realities.

What is truly absurd is that I practically haven't done any regular biking this year - at least compared to the past few years. This is due to my increasing impatience with my life, I think - I can't enjoy myself, the idea of always having to go through the same places takes away any desire to go for a ride. This is something that comes from my mind, obviously - I was quite content to take the same route many times over in the past and enjoy the ride every time. Basically I hate myself because I can see no space ahead, no future - and naturally I hate everything that limits me by association.

So I suppose this whole idea of going on a trip somewhere far was meant as an escape and a change of form - a metaphorical spacial opening up of mental space. This is an illusion, an illusory activity that can't really change anything, but I think the purpose of these illusory acts is for the true changes to occur in the backstage, while I am preoccupied with playing out some illusory set of all-important acts.

This is how things really change, in the subconscious or what not. You get busy with something oblique, and what is really important gets some mental free space to work itself out, and then you are suddenly "enlightened" and things fall into place. The famous advice to "sleep on it" refers to this unconscious thinking - your conscious mind is busy churning out dreams but your real mind keeps sorting it all out while you're not looking.
This is why I could never understand what it is those all-wise psychologists mean by advising to "work through your problem". You can't do anyting about it directly, you can't even see what it's made of, so how the hell are you gonna "work" through it? Nonsense. What happens rather is that you get illusory drives to do something, but in fact it's your problem wanting to get some free space for itself while you're not looking and are busy with those crazy drives. It's an interesting dynamics - you can't be wiser than yourself.

Perhaps the world as a whole is nothing but a symbolic place - where everything is only obliquely related to what constitutes the meaning of your world, and maybe not only your world but reality as a whole. This is not a new idea, but it's still pretty impossible to ever really grasp it, because the concept of reality is extremely imposing. To perceive real things as unreal would mean a great fall into the void - it does happen from time to time but it's hardly a welcome experience. You get a glance and then you hurry to terminate this vision because, frankly, what else beside reality is there?
Having a sense of reality means to have some control of the world - it may be limiting and frankly paranoid, but at least it's something to hold on to. At the root this attachment is nothing but fear. But it's a very deep and great fear. And it's not just courage or bravery that it takes to overcome it but complete abandonment - which requires some very basic confidence, that you can't get if you don't have it. It's basically a sort of blind faith that you won't be lost in the chaos if you abandon yourself to it.

I think that's what Wittgenstein tried to describe as his experience in war when he felt safe under heaviest bombardments - he called it faith in the religious sense: being protected by a higher power that doesn't need to explain itself to you, it just makes you feel safe from inside while the most destructive and out-of-control things happen on the outside. For that reason it doesn't really make sense to talk of God - because nobody ever knows what is, all this.

Primitive religions likely have a better and more empirical grasp of these "unreal realities" than highly civilized religions because the latter tend to make their symbolic language into the letter of the law and thus completely lose sight of their actual purpose - which is to point out to something outside of the concept of reality that nevertheless impacts on life quite palpably.
The endless dispute over God is meaningless - there can be no such dispute because nobody quite knows anything specific about this on either side of the dispute. Ignoring certain unreal realities doesn't make them go away, but explaining them in improbable religious terms doesn't make them less unreal either.

However there is likely a grain of truth in the statement that if you determine to look away no matter what, you will feel abandonded at a certain point. You can close your mind to life - and thus to whatever unaccounted powers that operate through it. You will lose faith in life while chasing complete control over reality through reason and its concepts. Rejecting a religious view of the world because our traditional religion happened to be so stupid and barren did not lead to a better grasp of life - it lead to a greater blindness in many individual cases. The "powers that be" still operate over your life but you don't want to pay attention because you're taught that it's either too stupid or too scary if it's not in a certain approved well-understood form - which is even more stupid and practically bureaucractic as a view of the world.

The problem is that there is very little to say and a lot to experience. The problem is the great fear of such experience. You don't want incomprehensible stuff - so when it happens, you immediately pretend nothing "really" happened. The problem is that you can't think about it - because there are no terms you can think in about such realities.

Tricky stuff. The easiest way to put it would be thus: suppose you believe in Jesus and you have a certain heavy idea of what God is, and you call out to this god you imagine in times of need. But suppose all your ideas about God are dead wrong but there is still a higher power that knows you mean to call out to it but are just caught up in your absurd ideas of it. Well, it still answers your call, so to speak - knowing that you can't do better in terms of concepts. In other words, life doesn't pay attention to our ideas of it - we still live and we are not full masters of our own life, and if our idea of reality is wrong we still get to live in it and experience things that we don't understand and ignore for that reason. Some calls are "answered" and others not, and some "gifts" are given and sometimes nothing is given. The most vague way to talk about it is to speak of "luck" and coincidences. And a lot of other things beside.

I am not aware of any understanding of life that can be transmitted ready-made - it can only be learned through experience and then you won't be able to talk about it. Heh.

I suppose the less pre-conceived ideas there are, the better. But this is a rarity in the civilized world. The more you know the less you understand it seems. To actually "know" one has to experience - but if you are pre-loaded with all sorts of concepts you can't know anything, you can only imagine that you know and refuse to admit experience. You can't let yourself live because you think you know it all already and that it has to be a certain way. The blindness of this ready-made knowledge is the worst kind of blindness.

Faith in life is fundamentally faith in chaos - and it's not you that puts order into it upon discovery but something else that lets you discover it in the first place. "May the force be with you", as they say - how else would you want to face chaos?

Sunday, August 08, 2004



It's warmer now when it's dark than it's been at noon. I guess the temps are reverting back to summer-time in a hurry. I am wanting to take off real bad again.

***

Got an e-mail from Moscow - my cousin finally decided to make an invitation for me. It won't arrive for another couple of months, but I will need to start thinking about how to make that trip and where to get that kind of money.

So far there are two possibilities - either attempt to gain a kilo in weight and go for a drug-trial (I am always 1 kilo under their height/weight minimum), or go suicidal and buy the ticket on my other credit card where I have zero debt and a seven thousand dollar margin.

Going to Russia is important. The last time I visited was in 1994 for two weeks and I was a mental wreck. Right now I could go for much longer and make it into a meaningful encounter with the past. It could also be the very last time I even go there as I feel I am at a crossroads in my life, about to take a radical turn with unforseen consequences. I might forget Russia altogether and never want to see it again.




Never follow the cyclist.

Ken Kifer rages a lot against bikers who don't follow traffic rules to a T, under the pretext that it's dangerous and that it makes motorists hate cyclists. Of course that would be me - I don't follow all the rules all the time, but I am mostly careful about traffic and I don't despise motorists: I share the road with them, and they with me, and motorists are more afraid of me than I of them - they could be charged with murder, after all.

On the other hand, a cyclist can still cause murder through no fault of their own. There is an interesting phenomenon that car-drivers should be told about in driving-school because it could endanger their lives: never to follow the hint from where a cyclist goes and assume that the way is clear or that the street is bi-directional and they can go there too.

There were situations in my riding where this follow-the-cyclist instinct nearly caused deathly accidents for car-drivers who followed my moves instead of thinking and looking for themselves.

Example: I was going against traffic and a car-driver from the side street stared at me instead of looking in the direction from where traffic was coming, and started crossing the road - I just had the time to signal ferociously for the driver to back down and only a swirl from high-speed incoming car avoided full side-collision. Is this my fault? Not exactly - the attention of the driver was caught by my approaching the intersection from the wrong direction, and she got focussed on her goal to cross before I did. As a result she paid no attention to the life-saving rule - not to cross a road that has no stop-signs without checking for high-speed car traffic.

Similar example: I am in a two-lane road with parked cars on the side. I've approached a red-light, there is a tall van parked on the corner that blocks the view into the side-street from a car who got to the intersection a little ahead of me. The light is red for us, but I can see that there is only one car coming from the side-street and that I have all the time I need to cross. The car-driver next to me can't see into the side-street yet follows my move forgetting the red-light - the car from the side-street honks to it furiously, luckily preventing it from advancing into collision.

Most recent example. Yesterday I was taking a leasurely ride in rich residential neighbourhoods with a variety of meandering streets and not much traffic. I was a bit ahead of a SUV coming into an intersection with a one-way road. I smoothly curve into the road, against traffic (there are no cars but the street is one-way and narrow). The SUV behind me begins the same move to follow me and I just have time to signal to it that it's taking a wrong direction so it has time to change course. The driver looks all nonplussed and puzzled from the discrepancy between my behavior and signs (the fact that all cars are parked in one direction usually means it's a one-way street, even if you can't see the sign).

I can understand that motorists would consider motorbikes similar to cars in behavior and follow their moves, just as they would follow the moves of other cars. But a cyclist is not a motorbiker - cyclists don't go on high-speed thruways, but they can go on sidewalks and they squeeze on the side of the traffic in streets which makes them more similar to pedestrians than motorbikers.

I never assume I can ride in front of a car as if I were myself a motorist, even when traffic is fairly slow.

The trade-off of this is that I don't consider it unthinkable to go on sidewalks, but I only do it when the traffic is too hectic, with too many cars parking and opening their doors, when there is almost no space to squeeze between parked cars and the traffic moving in lane, and all other conditions that make it impossible to ride on the road. However when I go on sidewalks, I do realize that pedestrians are more important than me, so I either ride really slow or stop and break to let people have right of the way and I don't try to pass impatiently unless there is enough space and I am sure no kid will decide to fall under my wheels. Eye contact, some respect, and patience - that's all there is to it.

I also don't think that it makes sense in city conditions to follow all traffic rules "as if" you were a car. You're not, you go much slower, you don't have all the rights of a car, there are too many streets and intersections, and you will lose quite a lot of time and effort stopping and starting at every sign instead of just breaking, checking for turning or incoming cars, and going through if there are none - red-light or not, stop-sign or not, and even wrong direction or not.

So basically the trade-off for not having all the rights of a car is the common-sensical ability to disregard some traffic rules. There are two ways of disregarding these rules - a foolhardly dangerous way, and a circumspect careful way. It also depends a lot on your ability to control the bike well. If you can't stop and balance without dismantling, it will make it more dangerous to disregard signs because you won't have time to check for dangers when you slow down - you will be ennoyed to dismantle instead of just pausing and continue, so you'll be driven to go right through at some speed rather than go full stop.

I don't like to see what some bike-courriers do in downtown traffic however. They sure have all the required skills and they could ride upside down for all I know, but I don't see how this is a reason for riding on the separating lane between two flows of dense traffic, or zig-zag between cars surprising every driver by your sudden appearances and disappearances from view (car-drivers can't see all around, I've never driven a car but even I know that), or scaring the shit out of pedestrians by flying right in front of them and so on and so forth. When people get too used to downtown traffic they become heedless that way. I've seen this in some business parts of Manhattan, NY, where bikers do unbelievable things in unbelievable traffic. It's even hard to be a pedestrian in NYC, let alone ride a bike like they do these guys. I hear they get run over fairly regularly - hardly a great surprise.

I've tried to bike in Paris a little bit but it's just way too hard there - too many streets are way too narrow to accomodate both cars and bike, and there are far more people than side-walk space. There are boroughs where you can bike, and there are others where you just can't - no matter what you do, you can't.

So basically I don't know what it means to bike in an environment where car-drivers have no clue about cyclists and don't know how to share the road with them. I don't know what Ken Kifers talks about when he says he militates for motorists to respect cyclists. I get all the respect I need in this city. It gotta be different on inter-city roads but I have no experience of those. I suppose if the road is only two way and there are no shoulders, then the motorist with his much higher speed gotta have a problem seeing that he needs to encroach on the opposite lane to pass the cyclist. If people are not used to cyclists being out there, it can get them nervous and ennoyed to either take risks or slow down - disoriented between the need to follow the speed of traffic and being pushed off into the wrong lane.

This kind of fear is something I see only rarely in town - usually it's a nasty old lady in a huge 1970's cadillac or chrystler honking at me bitterly because she can't envision the option of speeding up and encroaching on the opposite lane to pass me. I wonder what such a lady expects to achieve by honking at me: make me go at 30mph or maybe see me squashed into a parked car? The latter is more likely - usually such an old bitch waits for a chance to finally run me off the road altogether, speeding and honking triumphantly. The fact that this kind of thing usually happens on a distance as short as a 100 meters doesn't matter - it's a psychological thing, got nothing to do with real time lost or gained.

It could be that in Ken's days all motorists were similarly affected by the rare cyclist on the road - it forced them to take risks or practice a behavior they couldn't envision. So they got all nervous or bitter and bitchy. I think things have changed somewhat - there are more cyclists, cars are not as wide, and speeding to pass is not such a problem. On country roads a wide slow trailer is probably more of a problem for traffic than the slow yet narrow shape of a cyclist. However, narrow roads without shoulders still offer a wonderful opportunity to get killed - or ride off the road and get a lot of wonderful flats to boot.

With all my cycling, I can say that the only few accidents I ever had were due to me being foolish or careless or discoordinated (when I started biking after a long depression and was totally paranoid about everything). Only on one or two occasions I nearly missed a very bad accident due to a motorist being foolish and/or mean. That's a matter of luck - people make mistakes due to nervousness or absent-mindedness, not to mention those drunk or behaving as if they were.

I ride carefully as much as possible but I know that it is no garantee of an eternal safe-riding - Ken, the great legalist, got squashed by a drunk driver. Following rules does help - but you only die once, as they say.




The weather is mercilessly cold - and I am freezing in my two shirts and one sweater. This reminds me of early June - it was hardly any warmer. There are rains every day, what's more.
It would still be great to go on a long bike trip despite all this, but with these harsher conditions it would all depend on proper equipment and warm clothes - there is just no escaping the department-store trap.

At this stage I feel like bombing these stores, instead of buying from them.





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