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.


Breaking In

Today was a day to break things in.

A list of things better for the wear after today:

  • A new full-suspension mountain bike.
  • The mountain bike destination closest to my home, Rockville.
  • My left knee and elbow.

I approach the new with caution. When I let the bicycle careen down terrain that gives me pause, I am surprised at the ease with which it rolls over rocks and roots, both up and downhill. So different. No need to stand! Sit, relaxed and solid. Steering-eye-trail coordination is improved, and I doubt the thanks goes to my hapless body-mind. I still walk more than necessary on this new bike-trail site.

The trails are teachable. Their features are diverse, from narrow twists to short steep climbs to rocky descents. A little playground for practice.

My new body-bike survived the first fall, no worse for the wear save some superficial scratches at the joints. Remember, keep pedaling!

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.

Somnambulistic Reflection

A Methodology for Reading D&G

Reading A Thousand Plateaus can be a confusing and potentially frustrating experience. Readers often complain that they do not understand precisely what the authors are talking about, or what the point of the whole thing is anyways. I know often in my own experience I find myself thinking, “What in the world do they mean by strata? Plane of consistency? What is all this nonsense about anyways?” So I try to read in a looser, more flexible way. I let the words wash over me. I pay more attention when a phrase strikes me, but not too much attention lest I get caught up on concerns of precisely sorting out the difference between content and expression. If there is one thing D&G know how to do, it is to name things. The defining of things, not so much. This can be frustrating, to put it mildly.

Luckily, I stumbled upon the ideal method for encountering this esoteric text. I have a particular talent that lends itself to this methodology known within the medical world as idiopathic hypersomnulance. In everyday terms this means, “you are really sleepy, and we don’t know why.”

As I sit at the table diligently plowing through Prof. Challenger’s lecture, I surreptitiously slip out the side door into a less linear narrative that complements his style quite nicely. Strata slide into new assemblages that revolve around a wagon wheel spinning and bumping rhythmically along a trail that is both over and in the strata. It wobbles along terrain, bumpy and uneven, but with a flow that suddenly slips and flies off into a gully unseen from the original angle of view.

I jolt back to the room as my eyelids fly open and encounter the white page with black text adorned with a few stray marks of purple lines, placed practically randomly upon the page. Probably the best way to situate them. I make a new mark in blue. Those knees. Yes, I like the knees. Imagine breaking to make this articulation. We break trail to make a new possibility. Destruction is perhaps then simply planes of consistency reaching stratum for new assemblages. I mean, look at where our dear professor ends up when this is all said and done.

Signifiers and signs blur and disarticulate. This feels so cozy and familiar. I’d forgotten the pleasure of the slipping away, of watching the world remove itself from its banal congruity and take on more surprising and simple forms. The comfort of nothing more than the eyes, barely open. The next word on the page. What was it? Time becomes elastic, measured in eye-beats. One. Substratum. Two. Divisions of stratum. Three. (hold onto the phrase. Don’t move the eyeballs while they are closed. It’s easier to find the word again then with little effort) Four. Stratum.  And so on this trance reading slips between the black figures on the page and illustrative assemblages behind closed eyelids.

“Hello.” Eyes shoot open. Smile. Greetings. I look down. “woman-bow-steppe assemblage?” Of course. Like my body-bike-terrain assemblage.

And so you can see that this method of somnambulistic reflection offers much promise to the scholar seeking to read with D&G in a manner befitting their style.

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.

Stuck in Second

Some days you have to settle for your second choice. Today was one of those days.

Second rate weather. The rain wasn’t so bad that we couldn’t ride. Just a hazy drizzle with a tease of sunshine here and there. Not nearly as great as the sunny beach weather we’d enjoyed the past few rides, but rideable and relatively enjoyable despite the misty chill.

Second pick of trails. We really wanted to ride a long, lovely all-day route taking us into some of the most isolated trails of Marin county. As we climbed west, we also climbed into the fog. The mist pervaded. The chill penetrated our layers. The mud gummed up our tires, gears, and brakes. After multiple indecisive conversations, we abandoned our initial plan in favor of drier trails closer to home.

Second gear. 32 teeth. Ten more than I’d like. The gummy mud penetrating my chain exploited my overused small gear. Chain suck. To keep the pedal spinning, I found myself stuck in the second chain wheel up front. Harder for grinding up those sloppy, steep inclines.

Second soak. Hot tubs break at the most unfortunate times. Post-ride, we all looked forward to a dip in the hot tub. Broken. Fortunately, this sumptuous site also offered a sauna and cold plunge.

Second blog post on one ride. The first follows and precedes the second.

Sometimes second isn’t so bad.

Criminal activity

This is what illegal trail riding looks like.

Four of us grind up to the high point along the legal fire roads. The front riders dismount in a suitable scenic locale, remove their helmets and backpacks, and settle in. The slower riders soon join in, and everyone pulls snacks from their packs. Some have fold-up pads to sit upon, or brimmed hats to keep the sun off their faces. Homemade cookies are passed around, and a pipe full of marijuana is offered to any interested parties. We admire the view, and more veteran riders point out the area landmarks to me.

After fifteen to twenty minutes pass, folks slowly pack up their belongings and prepare for the descent. We begin by descending along a legal fire road, until the dirt emerges onto pavement. Two quick right turns and we duck under a barrier barring off a long-abandoned road. Here is where the illegal ride begins. We barely avoid two walkers spotting us as we dive into the overgrown brush lining a four-foot wide stretch of dirt.

The riders in front of me slow as the brush encroaches onto the trail, narrowing our passage. One long thin tendril stretches across the trail at eye level. Carefully maneuvering around this innocent-looking bit of greenery, one rider tells me, “This is poison oak.” I meticulously follow her example taking care to brush neither my body nor my bike against the offending leaves. We slowly pick our way through the dense foliage, much of which proves to be poison oak, a native plant to the region. We push aside more benign brush to make way for our handlebars, all the time walking our bikes along the narrow trail. I slowly pick my way along, careful to avoid the potential rash of a poison oak encounter.

When I emerge onto an open meadow, my fellow riders are gone. I follow the trail, even as it grows more indistinct and overgrown by grasses. Soon, I am following the trail of bent grasses left from a recently passing bicycle tire. I catch up at an abrupt gully, which causes us all to dismount  and carry our bikes down and up its steep sides. More poison oak greets us on the other side, along with a canopy of green with slivers of sunlight passing through the overlapping leaves high above. We pause and comment on how beautiful it is here.

The trail is more distinct here, and I can see how this used to be a road. No one has cleared the fallen brush from last season, making the riding punctuated by recurring stops to dismount and wend our way over and under fallen trees and branches. When we do ride, I worry about one of the many branches I ride over and through flying into my spokes.

We stop at a particularly branch-ridden section and clear out the fallen debris. Logs, sticks, small fallen trees all move away from the trail into the gully below. After around fifteen minutes of this, the trail is remarkably clearer. We ride on, stopping periodically for more fallen branches, clearing as many as possible.

The lower brush grows thicker as we descend, and the poison oak more lush. At one point, I am fairly sure that virtually all the brush on either side of the trail is poison oak. I shield my face and ride quickly through. Dismounting would only increase my exposure.

We finally arrive in an opening surrounded by tall oaks and a few redwoods. Sections of two massive redwood trunks rest on their sides with benches carved out. The wood has grown decrepit with time, but they still support our weight as we snack, drink, and chat. One rider offers the pipe again, and we all enjoy the sun-dappled patterns of the leaves that give this grove a particular vividness of color. We are deep into this illegal ride, relaxing without a care in the world.

Reluctantly, we eventually don our helmets and backpacks to prepare for the final descent. I am cautioned to be quiet in the last half mile of the trail, so as not to attract attention from nearby homeowners. We have seen no one along this entire overgrown trail, and we hope our luck will hold. The dangers of getting caught on illegal rides such as this are always at the end. Rangers are known to lurk near the bottom of popular illegal rides. We proceed along the final stretch soundless save the cracking of branches and the telltale whirring of the freewheel. Emerging out of the brush onto the pavement, we quickly bike on.


Note: I wrote this after riding my road bike on a trainer on my back porch, watching video footage of this ride and listening to my field notes from the ride.

Conclusion: The best way to watch unedited footage of a bike ride is while biking.

Making Single-track

We are becoming single-track. Single-track is riding along desire, moving in a suspended line of dirt, rock, rubber, sinews, muscle, metal, and nerves. It is the possibilities of negotiation between things we think of as separate. Body. Bike. Trail. To make single-track is to fashion multiplicities.

Throw out a line. Let go and brake less. A thrill of terror enters the bloodstream. No time for logical reasoning, just motion as the rocky terrain passes faster than thought. We know this is working until it is not. Thrown.

Now we have new connections. Synapses that connect speed and nerves to fingertips gently squeezing the brake lever. Centers of gravity that account for slopes. Tires that skip off rocks of a certain size in direct relation to speed.

It takes awhile to learn how to use the sensory capabilities of the rubber pads. Sensations are crude, mostly limited to slipping at first, the times the dirt slips from beneath the rubbery nubs. Sometimes I can feel them dragging and sticking into the soft layer of pine needles. That means the tires need more air.

Everything crowds around me. Sight lines are short as movement and sight curves. In another configuration the trail is a raw sore cut open. Bleeding ruptures of tree stumps and broke branches, eroded soil and trampled grasses. Making single-track is an ongoing business that requires ongoing injury. Kill the life underfoot and alongside to keep the wound open and rideable.

A tight turn ahead, switchback. If I switch back to my body negotiating this bike around this trail turn, I stop riding. I stutter to a stop as my eyes track my fears. The brambles lining the trail that my front wheel stubbornly follows so long as my eyes see what is not the single-track. To make the switchback means not switching back. Look forward and lean, steady on the nerve-brakes. They are sensitive to even a millimeter too much in either direction. It really is a measurable thing, making this switchback. I know the formula, but the middle is the messy part. Moving outside the moment is disaster, or at the very least a minor inconvenience.

Making single-track is hard to sustain. I get scared at the flows, the loss of the me that I have grown so accustomed, and cannot sustain the line of flight. Nor can the multiplicity remain quite yet. I worry that I will get drunk on the flow and move beyond current possibilities into the impossible, the making of injury.

Riding single-track relies on making memory. Short term memory happens in the moment of making the ride. It relies upon those tendrils of long term memory extending from nerves down the metal frame into rubber nubs and flinging out to rocks and roots and soil. Memories are in the making but they don’t stay there.

It’s like riding a bike. You never forget. What they don’t tell you is that the forgetting is in the not-making. Remembering requires making riding, another multiplicity that’s more than just a memory in a body. Two wheels and a sense of surface make riding a bike a memory of relations. So we store ourselves in the middle, in making multiplicities that are always one less than the sum of the parts.

The above is a reaction to reading the Introduction to Deleuze & Guattari’s Introduction in A Thousand Plateaus.

Rhythms to Alertness

Bzzzz….bzzzz…bzzzz….Flip. Snooze.

Bzzzz….bzzzz…bzzz…Flip. Dismiss.

A blurry world greets me as I move the phone away from my face. Fumbling for my glasses, I stretch and groan. Half awake, I stumble into my running clothes and out the door. Barely conscious, I arrive at C.’s door with no significant memory of the half mile I ran to get there.

Groan. My legs swing into a gait almost more natural to me than walking. An efficient shuffle with minimal knee lift and a ball-heel-ball motion. Breathe. Relax the shoulders. Fall into this rhythm that is waking up.

Five miles later we end at my home. It is winter, so we pick an orange from the overburdened trees. My lips pucker at its tart sourness. Tomorrow we will eat from a sweeter tree.

Shower. Dress.

Breakfast-making is a fast-paced and well-timed affair. Heat three burners. Fill the kettle with water for one. Drop sesame seed oil in a skillet for the second. Place a comal on the third. Chop kale and mushrooms and scrape into the skillet. Crack and beat the egg, just a splash of milk. When my forearm feels the intensity of the quick beating motion, the egg is ready. Throw a tortilla on the comal. Push aside the veggies and slide the egg into the skillet. Water boiling, pour into the mug with the tea ball waiting. Flip and stir. Flip. All burners off. All food on the waiting plate. Tea ball out. Fork at the ready.

Breakfast is served.

Writing begins.