Places Go Stale

Moving is crucial to my writing process. Sometimes this is as simple as standing up and stretching. Sitting in the same place too long the body dulls. The mind wanders and fingertips flip back and forth between the writing screen and the Internet. This is a sign that stimulation is needed. The body-mind place is going stale.

This moment often feels sleepy too. This is when my eyelids get heavy and my brain gets foggy. And sometimes a nap does help.

Other times (such as today), I step outside. Stretch. Eat a banana.

Do not return to the same old stale!

I move from the couch to a table outside on the porch where I can feel the cool breezes. My mind gets sharper. My fingers feel a pulsing flow as if they cannot stand not clicking away one word. They practically shake with excitement.

Writing is always a bodily affair tied to place.

Paying for Pleasure

Does spending more money on an activity, such as mountain biking, produce greater pleasure? I really want to answer this question with a resounding no, but at the end of the day perhaps that’s not totally honest.

Over and over in my interviews, people talk about “just having fun” as being the driving force of early off-road riding. It was precisely this fun the drove them to invest more deeply into riding, both in terms of time and finances. Better technology, better bikes, better riding? More fun?

I spent $1,500 dollars on a gorgeous full-suspension bike that I love. Riding on this bike is more fun than riding on my old $400 hard tail. Though this was a huge expense for someone on my graduate student salary, I do not regret it. I’ve learned a lot about how riding technology affects riding ability, and how a bike can make a person a better rider. The new bike makes riding more pleasurable and increases my desire to ride.

Quality equipment is pricey. And quality equipment can improve an athlete’s performance, ability, and comfort. This, in turn, can produce greater pleasure in the activity. So maybe you can buy greater pleasure after all.

Transitions

Writing has been hard lately. Perhaps this is because life has been hard lately. Writing is a highly embodied process for me, and at the moment being connected to my body is a difficult thing. There’s lots of helpless emotions brewing and processing, sometimes bursting from my body in unexpected and sometimes embarrassing ways. I’m fairly certain my attempt to keep these explosions under control is part of what has made my writing so stilted and paltry lately.

At the same time, another strange change has occurred that I only recently became aware of. In the past, when I was upset, I ran. I found that I couldn’t cry and run at the same time, which brought a sense of clarity and control. Though I would never necessarily work out my problems on the run, I would often feel better at the end with endorphins and exhaustion coursing through my veins.

Lately this failsafe method of body-mind-emotion confluence hasn’t been working so well. In fact, running has elicited more breakdowns that it has helped in recent days.

What has helped is riding the smooth trails of the mountains on my bike. Concentrating on the curves and lines of a just-right technical trail make me exist in the moment with a new confidence that leave me feeling solid. The burning of biking is different than running, but more in line with my bodily needs at the moment.

I’ve yet to determine what this means for my writing. But like biking, I hope that practicing in this new writing-body will also produce comfort.

Cloud Riding

The clouds were low, and we were high.

Imagine, riding atop fluffy, billowy pillows. You can ride up and down their steep plumes, with no fear of falling, since a poofy soft landing will greet you.

Cloud riding is nothing like this.

Real clouds are wet, damp places. Riding in the clouds is riding in a fog bank, but wetter. Rain falls without falling. Everything is muddy and slick. The rocks are still there.

The good news is you can see where the water flows.

At the beginning of the ride, I was advised, “Water is your friend.” Follow the flow of the water. Watch how the water moves over and through the rocks. This is the path of least resistance. Let it be your guide as you flow down the rocks. Flow like water.

This is much easier on my new full suspension bike, which yields to the rocky surface, making me feel as if I am floating up and down the rocks. I flow over the rocks in my braver moments. Other times when I am not brave I walk and try not to slip on the slick surfaces.

I am flowing over the rocks. This is much easier than on my old bike. Flow. Be the water.

Suddenly I experience an intimate encounter with the rocks below me. Palms and thighs collide with stone. I look behind me, and spot a thick sawed-off madrone branch gently vibrating from the force of its collision with my handlebar.

Damage report: twisted handlebars, a bruised palm, and a heightened awareness for the greenery.

Telling stories

“The story of a ride like today is a freakin’ novel.” So says my riding partner.

He’s right.

Each ride is a story that stretches from the tendrils of the unopened lily to the straining and slowly decaying muscles of our bodies. It is massive rocks stacked like wafers, whose dimensions change with distance. From the trail, these tell a story of even symmetry and the ongoing patterns of layering in geological time. Up close, I imagine these massive structures talk about grain and texture, foothold and handholds, risk and wonder.

There is never just one story of a ride. It’s multiple from the start, and in the end I like to choose one strand that epitomizes what most needs saying. Today I need to tell the story of how impoverished telling these stories remains. Or maybe how fleeting they are. Or perhaps they are personal in a way that matters most to the one telling the story.

Ride reports are often long, and in my opinion, can read like the story of a longwinded and breathless child. “And then, this happened…and then, this other thing happened…Are you still listening? This is really cool…And then, something else happened…You shoulda been there…”

You shoulda been there.

Maybe that’s one of the important functions of ride stories. To invoke a yearning, in the self to ride again and in the other to join.

Ride reports often point toward feelings, sensations, and emotions. They are about burning muscles, fatigue, bonking, recovery, exhilaration, wonder, contentment, peace, adrenaline, focus, flow, one-ness, laughter, fear, hope, loss… These are difficult things to recreate in text.

Long rides–really any long endurance undertaking–can start to look a lot like a metaphor for life. Fresh-faced to weary, persistence pays off. It’s not always fun, but there you go. That’s life. This is a common trope in accounts of ultrarunning and “epic” ride reports.

Maybe telling the story helps us to sort things out. Sometimes a ride is not okay, and persistence does not pay off. Telling the story can help to reconcile the tragedies of varying sizes and proportions. They can give a series of events meaning and provide purpose, particularly in the face of futility and loss.

Maybe the little stories are practice for when we really need narratives that save us.

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.