Neither Guilty nor Innocent

The preservation of spaces of nature is far from a natural act. Sites of wilderness are more museum than found artifact, replete with the historical baggage of colonialism, racism, ableism, and sexism endemic to some of our nation’s finest institutions of preservation. They are stolen, taken by violent means, made ‘pure’ through the extinguishing of that which was branded dirty, wasteful, or unappreciative of the ‘treasures’ around them.

This is the refrain environmental historians know too well. Its haunting tune enters the consciousness of the outdoor enthusiast and leaves them deflated, thrown into chaos as they watch their innocent nature assemblage become reterritorialized as imperialist, sullied, and soaked in histories of oppression. Access is racialized and privileged. Redwoods become sites of eugenics. Parks are preserved at the expense of others who suffer environmental degradation out of scale. The rhythm is thrown in chaos.

And so I come back to the mundane refrain. The sun warm on my skin feels good. Moving through the quiet hush of the trees calms me. I am a platitude. I giggle like a child. Is this a natal refrain of footsteps and heartbeats, breathing and wind? Maybe here is a refrain prone to deterritorialization. The refrain is a new budding.

“the intra-assemblage, the territorial asemblage, territorializes function and forces (sexuality, aggressiveness, gregariousness, etc.) and in the process of territorializing them transforms them” (325).

Just because I giggle in the outdoors does not excuse me from the territoriality of violence that we call nature. The ongoing legagies and everyday enactments of privilege ensure that I am always reterritorialized into these histories. But we need not escape one assemblage to enter another. When moments oscillate in the vibrations of shuddering leaves or the wind howling in our ears, these refrains can be “a prism, a crystal of space-time.” Assemblages are both amplified and eliminated. We are both fully complicit with and fully outside of colonized nature.

In a seminar, a woman asked, “can we decolonize hiking?” Perhaps the answer is yes and no, a both/and. We’ll never get free, but we can still certainly be swept away in moment when the music of the most mundane refrain catches us.

A reflection inspired by A Thousand Plateaus chapter 11: On the Refrain.

Out of True

Last week I replaced two spokes in my rear wheel after an intrusive stick stuck itself where it did not belong–between my rear derailleur and spokes. Luckily, the spokes gave up the ghost before I did, which meant metal bent and broke rather than muscles and bones. I made the repair at Bike Forth, and left with the rear wheel spinning true.

Unfortunately, I forgot a part. You know that moment when you finish putting something together and you feel really proud, only to find a missing part waiting patiently to be put in its proper place? And you have no idea what the proper place is? This was one of those moments. Being the stellar mechanic I am, I shrugged and shoved the silver ring of a spacer in my rear pocket where it was promptly forgotten and  probably spin-cycled.

The next day, I went out on The Ride. This is the Ride I’ve been waiting for, on The Trail that I’ve been thinking and writing about. A Trail Worth Fighting For. Others have called this trail “a work of art,” and I was ready for some culture.

Or so I thought.

The spacer I so casually neglected apparently held my freewheel securely in place. Fortunately, trailside repair kept my bike functional, minus my biggest chain ring in the rear set. Yet another minor technical issue in my bike’s litany of minor technical issues. At least my wheels are true.

Unfortunately, my body was not true this fine sunny day. Something was off. Slightly out of rhythm. Nerve synapses were not quite communicating. Muscles did not respond with their usual speed and power (as slow as that normally is). Eye-steering coordination felt just a bit off. I felt not quite present and slightly out of sync.

Then I fell. This was not spectacular crash. In fact, it was embarrassing in its mundanity. As I was WALKING my bike uphill, I slipped in the mud. Then it happened again. I laughed it off both times, though with a tinge of annoyance the second time.

Then I fell again. This time I was riding on a wide open fire road. I managed to nudge my front wheel into the one crevice along this ten-foot wide trail and awkwardly fall to the side, bruising my palm in the process. Bad falling technique.

The next fall was spectacular, both in execution and aesthetics. Braking synapses were still off-kilter, either too strong or too weak. Never just right. Add to this my less-than-true eye-steering coordination and the stage was set for devastation. The only thing that could save me was my refined falling skills.

Over the bike and into the deep loamy soil. I landed heavy on my left side. Later evidence of bruises and scratches indicated that my lower lip, and left breast, forearm and thigh took the brunt of the fall.

Though this crash affirmed the strength of my falling skills, it did nothing to bring my riding body into true. I awkwardly stuttered down what might possibly be the most wonderfully flowy trail I’ve ever ridden. This day, I could only experience the flow visually and intellectually, an as-if flow of an imagined rider much more attuned than my own stumbling bike-body.

I can see flow on trails such as this, but I cannot be flow.

Training. Regimented practice. Repetition. Attuning your attention to the one place most out of sync and making tiny, balanced refinements. Give it another spin. Another tiny refinement that requires the utmost attention. Only this and nothing else can exist when truing the body. Over and over, over and over. Cultivate attentive relaxation. Another way of saying flow?

What they don’t tell you about flow is that the getting there can be unbearably mundane. And exacting. Particularly for a body out of true.

Rhythms to Learn By

When learning music, repetition is important. This is likely why my housemate plays the same song over and over. I’m not complaining. I like the song, and he’s pretty good. He also plays a version of the same song sometimes while he’s cooking dinner. This is the song.

Repetition teaches bodily rhythms. Rhythms live in bodies. Perhaps this is why when we rode our bikes onto Wagon Wheel, a trail named after the old wooden wheel found during its creation, this song popped in my head.

More precisely, the words for the refrain of this song popped in my head.

As the song played in my head, I found comfort in its rhythm as I maneuvered the curves of the single track. I started softly singing aloud.

Wagon Wheel
 
Rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama any way you feel
Hey, mama rock me.
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a southbound train
Hey, mama rock me. 

Over and over my lips repeated the refrain as my bike rolled over the terrain without stutters and stops. The lessons of music repetition flowed into arms, legs, nerves, and balance. Perhaps the music simply distracted me from over-thinking my riding. Perhaps it made me ride more in muscle-memory moments than in fearful what-ifs.

Regardless, I plan to keep singing.