In middle of last month (July 2015), because Americans are free to travel at will within the country by car and I wanted to visit my friend, Eric, I took a bike with me and drove to Alamance County, North Carolina. He’s been out this way to visit with us several times over the past few years, so I thought it might be a good time and simple neighborliness to pay him a visit at home. You may remember him from my earlier posts about swapping my Pouch E68 kayak for a Razesa road bicycle, and my posts about going back to Asheville to sell my Pionier 450S kayak – Return to Asheville Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Eric and I met in the 1990’s, when we were both attending seminary at Louisville, Kentucky, and were housed on the same dormitory floor. His room was at the top of the stairs and was a natural meeting place for the floor’s residence. Eric was sort of the community social director. We became friends, and some years later, Eric served as best man at my wedding; he is my son’s godfather and probably my closest friend.
Garmin Confusion at Asheville
The drive to Asheville was pretty uneventful I-40 through Knoxville and then follow the signs and drive up the winding, mountain road. As I ascended the mountains nearer Asheville I saw river outfitters’ school buses carrying rafts on top and crowded with tourists within. I listened to the Minor Prophets on the car’s CD player while driving because I’ve been studying Nahum to preach through the book, and all of the Minor Prophets in order and context convey a message I’m trying to discern.
I’m down to one pair of bib-shorts for cycling and my old Castelli jersey is showing signs of wear – threads coming loose, zipper-pull broken off – generally looking worn-out enough to replace. On my way to Eric’s house, I planned to stop for lunch (I brought a couple of sandwiches with me in the car) and buy a jersey and bibshorts at Hearn’s Cycling & Fitness downtown Asheville. I remembered that odd used bike shop from my previous visits as a friendly place, and thought it would be cool to have a Hearn’s bike jersey.
At Asheville, Garmin GPS – I used “Voice Command’s” Find Place feature – routed me to an address on Broadway that has no bike shop. I tried to remember the location of Hearn’s from my several walks through the downtown area, but consistently failed on my own to find the bike shop. I did drive past all the places I’d walked past or eaten at or window-shopped with on my two prior visits to the city.
Without any difficulty, though, I found the Four Points Hotel, where I stayed during my first visit to Asheville. Helpful hotel desk staff found for me the correct address for Hearn’s, 28 Asheland Ave. Garmin, supplied with the correct address, got me there without difficulty.
The vibe at Hearn’s was completely different than it was at the time of my first visit to Asheville. I had the impression that the grownups had gone off and left the store in charge of an indifferent and underage staff that knew little about cycling. Or, rather, knew something about cycling related to their own use of bicycles, but had little or no idea how to communicate that effectively to customers in a friendly, welcoming, and productive way. I did buy a set of cleats for my old SPD shoes to try out with the old SPD pedals I bought used at Stepford a couple of months ago. Next time I need a bike shop at Asheville, though, I’ll look elsewhere.
Before leaving Stepford, I googled cycling routes in Alamance County, North Carolina. The North Carolina Department of Transportation has detailed information in the form of maps and brochures by county and region. Here are the county maps: http://www.ncdot.gov/travel/mappubs/bikemaps/ The State of Tennessee offers nothing remotely close to the wealth of data North Carolina provides to interested cyclists. The cycling maps I’ve reproduced here were taken from this brochure: http://dotw-xfer01.dot.state.nc.us/gisdot/DOTBikeMaps/Alamance/alamance.pdf In addition to the NCTDOT website, googling this morning the phrase “bicycling alamance county nc” returned this link, as well: http://burlingtonnc.gov/index.aspx?NID=1499 . Burlington’s one of the three bigger towns of Alamance County. The other two are Graham, the county seat, and Gibsonville.
Heat and humidity in Alamance County during mid-July were oppressive. Daily thunderstorms provided some relief from climactic conditions and opportunities to practice rain-riding skills.
Eric lives in a 660 square foot two bedroom, one bathroom, condominium on the good side of one the three Alamance County municipalities that all run together to form a more or less seamless small urban or large town area. The condo, as these owned apartments are colloquially known, is part of a development built in the 1940s that resembles housing built for married officers during World War II. Brick exteriors, well-built interiors with hardwood floors throughout, but tiny compared to what we’re used to nowadays. Our expectations of comfort and personal space have changed a lot during the past 75 years.
Eric’s condominium reminded me a lot of his old dormitory room from seminary, only quite a bit larger. Books everywhere, as well as photos, pictures, wall hangings. Actually, a pretty comfortable small home. Eric filled me in on the goings on in his neighborhood; he seems very well informed and seems to know his immediate neighbors pretty well.
I arrived in the late afternoon Thursday, and got my travel gear moved into the spare bedroom, where I camped out with an inflatable mattress and a sleeping bag. I parked the bike in the living room, against a small couch Eric had inherited from a deceased aunt or uncle. We spent some time catching up, and then Eric gave me a driving tour that included a 20+ mile route he used to ride pretty regularly before he swapped me his old roadbike for my old kayak.
For this trip, I took the Jamis Supernova rain bike because stormy weather had been predicted by www.noaa.gov; turns out I made the right choice. I got caught in rain and thunderstorms every ride. The Supernova, equipped with Clement X’Plor USH tires handled slick, wet conditions in town and in the country without the slightest problem. I visited Elon Bike Shop initially in search of cycling togs, but also out of tourist-like curiosity; while there, I did buy a bell and some wheels.
My visit lasted five days and four nights. I rode every day, even the day I arrived, if I recall correctly, except the Monday I left. My rides took me through Graham, Burlington, and Gibsonville – the Troi Villes referenced in the title line, above. I also rode through Elon (and visited the university there as well as the famed Elon Bike Shop) and Ossipee near which municipality I crossed the Haw River on my way to and from Berea Christian Church’s building (built in 1903) – where on a couple of rides, I rested and drank Gatorade, ate a snack, and snapped a few pictures.
During my rides I saw fields of cultivated tobacco growing green and healthy-looking, as well as soybeans and corn in abundance. The crops in Alamance County looked better than most of what I’d seen earlier in the summer while riding through East Central Indiana. While riding I came upon a couple of derelict houses. One appears to have been built of cinderblocks stamped with a starfish design, and intended to resemble houses built over a century ago. The other house appears to date from the 19th Century and could at this point provide shelter only for the birds of the sky and the small, wild animals of the fields and hedges. The chimney is still standing, but it appears the section of house in back where the kitchen was probably located has long since returned to the ground. After I rode past the broken house, I wondered about the family or families that’d lived there. Were they happy? Did things turn out well for them?
On Friday, Eric and I visited his family’s lakeside dacha at a private hunting and fishing club. I saw an albino deer stuffed and displayed in a glass case at a gas station bait shop on the way out to the lake.
We grilled out (chicken soaked in a marinade that defies adequate description) and spent most of a lazy day reading (me), fishing (Eric) and talking. I’d gone for a ride in the morning and was pretty worn out by the time we got to the lake. Because I was pretty spent, I didn’t take my old companion, the Pouch E68 folding kayak Campsis Radicans, for a paddle around the lake. Still, it was good to see the old boat again, and to remember how ill its badly fitting hullskin made me (which is why I was so willing it to swap the kayak for old roadbike). A family of ducks swam over to the dock and disruptively demanded to be fed. Eric gave them some dog food he’d gotten from somewhere, and the ducks were satisfied for a while.
On Saturday, 18 July, my grand tour took me on a circuit that included the county seat, Graham, where I attended a rally in support of a monument in remembrance of the Confederate soldiers of Alamance County who gave their lives during the the American Civil War. I listened to an informative and well-reasoned speech made by a member of the local Sons of the Confederate Veterans camp. In a separate post, I’ll talk more about the rally, but here let me say that if 20 years ago you’d told me I’d applaud and express hearty agreement with the statements made from a man wearing a Confederate uniform in support of Southern heritage and values, I’d have said you were crazy. But I would have been wrong. After the speech ended, a thunderstorm broke and rain poured down on me as I rode on.
The town of Gibsonville is memorable for its model railroad hobbyist store, Bobby’s World of Trains, an outdoor model railroad, a Saturday market on the green, and an ice-cream shop. I visited the hobby shop where I snapped some pictures of its train-table. If you have any interest in electric model trains or railroading, you should pay this place a visit. The owner and customers seemed friendly and knowledgeable. They’d even heard of Tennessee’s Chapel Hill Ghost Light, a phenomenon I saw many years ago. Bobby’s World of Trains is located at: 113 Lewis Street, Gibsonville, NC 27249 Telephone: (336) 449-7565.
I visited Six Scoops ice-cream shop and ordered two scoops in a cup getting something closer to two pounds of ice-cream made on site. Six Scoops has a Facebook page here. I got lost on the way out to find a very old Lutheran church building, but found my way back to the familiar course I’d been riding since my arrival. One of my ancestors, William Jenkins, was a Lutheran pastor who made his way to Bedford County, Tennessee, from North Carolina.
On Sunday morning, I attended a worship service with the church to which Eric belongs – a mega-church in nearby Greensboro called Westover Church. I enjoyed the service and the outgoing friendliness of the diverse, upscale congregation. This came as a great surprise to me, given my tendency to disparage big, showy, institutional Christianity. On reflection, though, it seems that should not have come as a surprise – if a large congregation did not offer a pleasant experience, it probably would not long remain a large congregation. In the afternoon, I again rode a circuit that included Berea Christian Church and Gibsonville. In the evening, I worshiped with a Reformed congregation – Beacon Baptist Church near the Burlington airport. If I’m able to visit Eric again next year, I plan to again attend that congregation’s worship service. Again, on reflection, it seems to me that Westboro Church presents as informal, but its organization is doubtless highly structured and somewhat formal in its operation. Beacon Baptist Church presents as formal, but I had a sense that it may be less so in its actual operation.
A Long Drive Home
The drive home was uneventful – I stopped at a Cracker Barrel on the Tennessee side of the mountains for lunch. Getting back to my own county, I encountered heavy rain. Rain bothers me less than it used to.
That Magellan Cyclo 505
The Magellan Cyclo 505, which comes pre-loaded with maps detailing the entire United States of America, has a feature that allows the user to navigate to points of interest or POI. While at Greenway500 bike shop, we had a look at the Magellan Cyclo 505 Mike had bought to test, study, and get his mind around so he could become sufficiently knowledgeable to discuss with customers the product’s benefits and drawbacks. The points of interest loaded on the Cyclo units includes Bike Shops as a category. Neither my updated (software/maps) unit nor his just-out-of-the-box unit showed any other bike store in the greater Muncie area than Goldman’s Bike Shop at Selma. That’s got to discourage a retailer from carrying a product that only lists a competitor in his category. I checked the Magellan support website today and compared the POI update file (dates from May 2014) with the file on my 505 unit. Mine is a more recent iteration, and it does not show the Greenway500 bike shop as a point of interest. I made a suggestion about this on the Magellan website, but who knows whether the company is even a little bit responsive to support website suggestions?
During the fairly steady rain through which I rode on the day of Richmond trip, the Cyclo’s touch screen became entirely unresponsive after first becoming EXTREMELY SLOW to respond to touch input. Eventually, the screen just froze (appearing to register no new data as I rode) and I had to restart the unit. Even then, it failed to respond to touch and only thereafter did respond to touch after I’d dried the screen with a piece of toilet paper from a trailhead outhouse. Then, instead of hitting the arrows to move from screen to screen to see what hills were coming up or location on the map or how far I had left to ride on the track I’d pre-loaded from RideWithGPS.com, I left it on the basic data screen showing average MPH, distance traveled, current speed, and so forth. But screen fail irked me and I wasted too much time monkeying around with the device.
When I first used the Cyclo in Indiana, it took several minutes to acquire satellite signals and begin recording data. The same thing again happened when I used the Cyclo again in Tennessee after returning home last week.
This year, we were at the farm for two Sundays, and on both days we attended Church of the Nazarene worship services with family. Although my own theology is extremely Calvinistic, I noted the Nazarene preacher did a reasonable job of exegeting the texts from Colossians. The emphasis of his preaching, though, fell upon application. I appreciated the fellow’s work and, with the exception of the congregation’s musical program, enjoyed worshiping with the Nazarenes on consecutive Sundays. Certainly, my young son enjoyed the children’s Sunday School class and Children’s Church programs. That said, he was unable to tell me anything he learned on either Sunday.
This year, we missed the Vacation Bible School grand finale worship-show. I was okay with that.
The first Sunday at the Nazarene church, one of the pastor’s PowerPoint slides failed to load or loaded in the wrong order and he seemed peeved saying, “That’s wrong,” and waiting for the sound/tech guys to correct the problem. I wondered why he didn’t just use spoken words to convey his point when technology failed. The following Sunday, something similar happened and the pastor simply carried on speaking through the technical glitch, indicating he is fully capable of unlearning reliance upon the sort of electronic audio/visual marvels that have become the hallmark of the modern worship service experience. This is to the good.
About the musical program, the thing that irked me most was the overwhelmingly LOUD canned audio presence – so that even when the audience was encouraged to join in singing, they were completely inaudible. At one point, the music-team sang a song that struck me as a sort of incantation or spell intended to conjure the third person of the Trinity. The four singers stood in front of their microphones each waving at least one hand in the air overhead, rhyming “Holy Spirit, you’re welcome here – come and fill the atmosphere.” The lyrics would have been more appropriate to a séance, in my reckoning. Anyway, to accompany the song, the canned music included repeated heavy bass-notes that reverberated against my spine threatening to convulse my colon and thereby producing a windy emanation from my bowels. I was not pleased. To me, this kind of attempt by a congregational music team to impose its will on my mind and body by an intrusive attempt to establish its rhythm in my person is among the most offensive forms of unwanted touching. The obvious goal of this musical number was to render the audience susceptible to the power of suggestion for the purpose of faux-charismatic manifestation. I don’t think that’s Christian. I felt angry and wanted to smash the church’s audio equipment – sort of like Gideon destroying the village Baal idol.
On a couple of the days I rode, I felt pretty guilty about not spending the time playing outside with my son. The guilt was a little assuaged by the fact that he seemed to enjoy the time spent with his cousins. On one afternoon, I’d planned to take him and a cousin to a local playground to run and climb, but a behavioral problem interfered with that. On another afternoon, I’d planned to take my son and some of the other kids to a lakeside playground to run, climb, and throw rocks in the water, but an old school-mate of one of the kids’ mothers showed up with two of her own children and all the kids played at the farm together. I’m glad my son seems to have bonded with his cousins – he was very sad the day we left for Tennessee because he didn’t want to leave them. Still, I need to spend more time with the boy on these summer trips. I’d hoped to take him canoeing at Daleville, but the heavy rains during the previous weeks made that seem like a less than safe idea for a father-son outing. Maybe next year.
Not the Tour de Corn ride that’s an annual Missouri event – this Tour de Corn is my own annual vacation activity in East Central Indiana. Every year my family drives up to Indiana for a visit at the farm and, since 2012, I’ve been taking a bike and riding around the local farmland on chipseal backcountry roads and, lately as the economy has continued to worsen, on roads unpaved that were formerly paved.
Here are my previous posts about riding through Indiana’s corn and soybean country. Ordinarily, once I get back to Stepford, I spend a lot of time writing up Indiana ride reports, illustrating them with pictures. This year, I think I’ll spend only a little time writing a brief narrative framework for the illustrations. If you click on an image posted here, you’ll be shown a (usually) bigger version of the picture in its own page.
Because the weather projected for our nine days stay was a good chance of rain every day, and because I remembered how the Miyata, shod with Gatorskins, was not best suited for unpaved and formerly paved surfaces encountered last year, this year I took the Jamis Supernova rain-and-rough-bike with its recently installed Clement X’Plor USH tires.
Speaking of the X’Plor USH tires, the people at Clement never did respond to my email about inverted tread patterning.
This year, I noticed I was not taking pictures of things that formerly interested me on previous cycling jaunts. Some of the novelty of riding through miles and miles of farmland, as well as upon a dedicated Rails to Trails Greenway, has worn off. This year, in several Indiana counties, gigantic windmills are turning, and I observed them across the state, during my visit. Their construction was last year responsible for the poor state of some of the farm roads, but it appears that compensation to municipalities for the repair of roads may have been diverted to other uses. As I said, the worsening economy in the United States has a real effect at ground-level.
Greenway 500 Bike Shop
On the day I rode to Prairie Creek Reservoir, I stopped by Greenway 500 bike shop, near the Medford trailhead of the Cardinal Greenway Trail, to see if Mike had time to diagnose and correct a problem with the Supernova’s Ultegra front derailleur. Turns out it got a bit bent one of the times I crashed the bike. While I was there, shop discussion centered on the bad effect large, online retailers have on local bike shops – difficulty selling new bikes, difficulty competing with accessory and garment prices. One of the other customers in the shop that day talked about a friend who makes a living writing reviews and who receives, as additional benefits, all-expenses-paid travel to annual events showcasing new products, bikes, etc. The consensus seemed to be that in order to continue writing reviews in exchange for money and products (which the reviewers may get to keep and sell), the reviewer’s likely to turn out little more useful than positive ad-copy.
I don’t feel badly about buying from Nashbar/Performance, Bike Tires Direct, Jenson USA, Amazon, etc., because I don’t have a local bike shop at Stepford. On the other hand, while riding in the Greater Muncie area, out of deference for the several bike shops in the area, but especially Mike’s, I mostly refrained from wearing my BTD jersey.
Where’d I Go?
This year, I didn’t ride into Muncie for lunch at Chic-Fil-A; I thought it would be a good idea to avoid any Obama-inspired interracial strife in that depressed, formerly industrial, urban locality. Anyway, I wanted to ride through areas that were new to me, as opposed to repeating what I’d done in prior years. That said, as far as I know, there were no Obama Race Riots during June/July at Muncie.
I think I rode eight of the nine days we stayed at the farm logging about 239 miles, according to Magellan Cyclo 505. That works out to just under 30 miles per day. A lot of riding, for me, not so much for a serious cyclist. Of course, some days my rides were much longer, and others much shorter. I rode MKS Lambda pedals wearing 5-10 “Canvas Guide Tennies”, and wore my usual motley collection of lycra cycling attire. One day the temperature was sufficiently cool that I rode wearing my orange merino wool Kucharik long-sleeve jersey with bib-shorts, and was quite comfortable. My other Kucharik garment was a “sublimated” bib-short I’d got on sale last year – a satisfactory purchase that compares favorably to the Sugoi bib-shorts I bought back in 2012.
Because temps most days were in the low to mid-seventies, I drank plain water on my rides. Except the day I forgot my water bottles and realized it about three or four miles into the ride. Then, I stopped and got bottles of Gatorade at a gas-station, filling one with water at lunch after I’d drunk the original contents.
While the lower temperatures, overcast skies, and occasional rain were a treat for me, the wet conditions this season have been disastrous for many of Indiana’s farmers. At the farm, there are about a hundred acres that could not be planted with soybeans as intended, as well as many ponded places in the beanfields that had only dried enough for planting while we were visiting. The corn was mostly small and an unhealthy yellow-green in color. The fields had been so wet that no side-dressing had been done when we arrived, and by the time we left, only a smaller percentage had been done. In former times (1950’s ?) the adage had been, “Knee High by the Fourth of July.” But corn that’s only knee high by the Fourth of July these days indicates the likelihood of a meagre harvest. By July 4, the corn’s usually more than head-high and a healthy, dark green in color.
During my rides I saw numerous chipmunks, maybe three rabbits, several red-wing blackbirds, several large sparrow-looking birds, several bright-yellow finches, several cardinals, many geese, a woodpecker, a deer, a small herd of longhorn cattle, one small groundhog, dead possums, dead raccoons, dead field mice, and got chased by five dogs.
Although I took photos every day I rode, many are so similar that I’m only posting snapshots from a few rides. Here are some of the pictures I took during the week, in rough order:
Summit Lake State Park
This year, thanks to the Magellan Cyclo 505, I was able to find the lake; I wasn’t even close, last year. Many of the Henry County roads were unpaved, but reasonably well-maintained. The Clement X’Plor USH tires handled these conditions very well – much better than the Gatorskins did last year while riding the Miyata 610. Summit Lake State Park has camping areas, regularly scheduled activities, much less boat traffic than Prairie Creek Reservoir, and much more user-friendly beach area, as well as several well-maintained playgrounds. Nicer, all around, than Prairie Creek Reservoir.
Prairie Creek Reservoir
This year, I only rode out to Prairie Creek Reservoir one time. I was disappointed not to find Cave Baby Smokers set up for the coming weekend’s triathlon, but my ride was pretty early in the week. Muncie Sailing Club’s water was on, so I was able to refill one of my water bottles from their pavilion’s spigot. This year, I noticed that mountain-bike and ATV trails have been opened up around the lake’s western shoreline; maybe I’ll ride them next year. While at Greenway500 Bike Shop, I meant to buy a set of cleats for Shimano SPD pedals I haven’t tried out, yet. Also, wanted to buy some cycling togs to replace my aging collection of same – and I like Greenway500 and Dirtway500 kits Mike’s got for sale. Justifying the expense of new cycling clothes to Caution-Lady, however, was something I didn’t feel like tackling last week.
Richmond & Rain
This year I returned to Richmond for lunch at 5th Street Coffee & Bagels – a long ride and much of it on the Cardinal Greenway trail. About three miles in to my ride, I realized I hadn’t brought my water bottles with me. When I got to Losantville, I stopped at the gas station and bought a couple of 28 oz bottles of Gatorade Citrus Cooler and an egg, cheese, bacon, lettuce, onion, and tomato breakfast wrap. That breakfast wrap was HUGE and highly recommended for a long ride. The Gatorade bottles just fit, when I forced them, into the Supernova’s bottle cages. They were too difficult to pull out and stow back to drink from while riding, not to mention the screw-to-tighten lids, so I drank pretty sparingly. Had a fried egg, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion bagel sandwich at 5th Street Coffee & Bagels.
For this ride, I’d mapped a route at www.ridewithgps.com and exported it as a GPX Track (or some such type of file), then followed the Ride With GPS instructions for installing the file on the Magellan Cyclo 505. Pretty easy and it worked fine until the last couple of blocks before getting to the coffee shop. Then it routed me up and down a block here and a block there. I followed the directions to see what it would do, then got bored with the activity and asked a neighborhood person for directions. Her directions were accurate and I rode to the coffee shop and ordered lunch. On the ride back, I got rained on a lot. Once I accepted the annoyance as unavoidable I found it was not at all uncomfortable and rode without mishap or problem. My Magellan Cyclo 505 unit, however, had a lot of trouble. In the rain, it’s touch screen became ENTIRELY unresponsive, and that was an annoyance I was unable to accept. I was only able to get it to work again after drying the screen with a piece of toilet paper from a trailhead outhouse. After that, I left the stats screen alone.
Soybeans, corn, and wheat looked better in Wayne County than in the counties further north.
Some of the pictures I liked best from the Indiana trip were from the rainy segment of this ride – I couldn’t get the camera’s lens totally cleared of water drops, but was not able to see in the LCD screen how the water distorted the image.
This year, instead of riding to Selma, Farmland, Muncie, and getting bad lost in Henry County, I rode out to Winchester, Indiana. I’ve previously posted snapshots of the county seat’s interesting American Civil War memorial. That time, I drove through Winchester after buying a canoe in Ohio. Last week, however, I spent time riding around what turns out to be an attractive small city (about 5000 residents, I think). I enjoyed riding through the older neighborhoods networked with rough paved alleys. My approach to Winchester routed me along some of the worst formerly-paved and badly potholed-but-paved roads I’ve seen. The Supernova with X’Plor USH tires more than compensated for the horrible condition of the roads, though.
Last Thursday, I again rode through Normandy, this time arriving by roads I’d not previously ridden. On a bridge over the Duck River end of Normandy Lake under which I used to paddle fairly often, I stopped and snapped a couple of pictures.
Because I was hungry again by the time I got there, I stopped and ate a sort of second lunch at The River Café. Even though I was wearing tight-fitting cycling apparel, dripping sweat, and doubtless stank, and offered to sit outside, the waitress told me I was welcome to sit inside the restaurant. The day’s high temperature, oddly low for this time of year, was about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I’d hoped to get a bowl of chicken rice soup but that day the only soup on the menu was tomato basil. Instead, I got a grilled Cajun chicken sandwich with a side of fries that tasted fantastic and was easy on my stomach when I continued my ride. Also, got a water bottle refilled. The friendly service and good food warrant return visits to The River Café.
I’ve written elsewhere about those lousy Kucharik cycling gloves I got last year; that they disintegrated within the first 90 days of use. What I haven’t written about yet is what Kucharik does well, and that is make merino wool cycling jerseys. Two Christmases ago, I received a bright orange Kucharik long-sleeve wool jersey. I asked for and got an Extra Large, but a Large would have fit better – I’ve tried to shrink it a bit in the dryer, and it fits a little better, now. My choice of orange has nothing to do with the University of Tennessee. It’s a color I’ve liked since the mid-1980’s. The jersey is comfortable, with sleeves pushed up, in temperatures to about 70 degrees, when worn with shorts, and is able to accommodate a base-layer for winter temperatures. Additionally, the garment does not retain the stink of my sweat after a hard ride. Highly recommended and can be purchased cheaper than elsewhere at Bike Tires Direct. No, I don’t receive any compensation from Bike Tires Direct, but lacking a conveniently located bicycle shop here at Stepford, they’re a good source of reasonably priced bike stuff and their customer service is second to none.
In regard to the color orange and, incidentally, Portland, Oregon, I recently emailed scans of a few small images to a friend who works at the unit where I completed my recent internship. She’d been working on a fish painting for one of the rooms in her house, and I remarked that the fish I have depicted tend all to have an orange cast to them – that their souls, if they have souls, are orange in color. The two larger images below are from or about my time in Portland.
The image of the mermaid, the fins or flukes of her tail behind her shoulders like the wings of a celestial being, I call The Angel of the Waters and she represents the Williamette River where the Fremont Bridge crosses over from North East to North West Portland – all of humanity is unaware of her as anything other than a body of water to be crossed or used. Her only means of getting the attention of passersby is to rise up and harm them, but in this image she exercises patience, refraining from doing harm but not wholly content to be ignored. Fish crownlike keep their places around her head – they are orange. I gave the original of this drawing to my younger sister for a wedding gift, if memory serves.
When I lived at Portland, I had a series of strange, frightening, and semi-recurring dreams – for a couple of weeks most of my nights were troubled by dreams each resuming where the other had left off. My second-floor apartment on North New York Avenue had a view of the Saint Johns Bridge. The image wherein can be seen the Saint Johns Bridge (perspective all wrong, by the way), the yellow house, and the hamadryad depicts a scene from one of these dreams during which I, my dream self, remained hidden during the hours of daylight to elude discovery by those who inadvertently served the evil powers that roamed the streets by night. As I sketched the image lightly in pencil, I realized the tree looked a little like a woman, so I developed that into the composition. As to what is written below, the allusion is to that part of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome in the eighth chapter that talks about the fallen state of the created order in relation to the redemptive work of God in Christ.
And then, a few marginal scribbles made during one of many time-wasting trainings (these in about 2004) while employed by the State. Fish – again fish – a recurring theme in my work.
Last Wednesday evening, I skipped a congregational meeting during which we’d planned to continue reading and discussing the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes. Prior to joining (several years ago) the congregation of which I am now a member, I routinely skipped congregational meetings and almost never attended those scheduled midweek because I had a strong sense my contributions in terms of presence and participation were meaningless. In turn, I experienced no learning from them save a growing dissatisfaction and unease when present with that group of people in its various activities.
Experience (although I don’t consciously seek “religious experience”) in the congregation of which I am currently part is vastly different from what I knew previously as a member of that other local church. The congregation’s meetings serve as frameworks within which learning occurs as scriptures of Old and New Testaments are discussed, as opposed to a framework for upholding social and denominational norms.. Even in this setting, though, sometimes I observe a tendency toward groupthink – probably an unavoidable sociological condition. I bridle against it because I am incapable of conforming my mind, nay, my self, to group norms that do not seem reasonable to me. I cannot or will not color within lines that I haven’t drawn, myself, that don’t make sense to me, or weren’t drawn by an authority I recognize as greater than myself – the hand of God.
This all sounds grandiose, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, it’s my honest evaluation.
Think of a graph depicting multiple bell-shaped curves radially extending from a central point (think of an X or an asterisk drawn with squiggles) – on any of these bells (which may represent interests, enthusiasms, intelligence, aptitudes, personality styles, and so forth) most people fall between the lines which are defined by one standard deviation above and below the mean. I would guess that most people can be “found” only on one or two of the radial arms. I can be “found” well beyond the mean on most of the arms that serve to capture data pertaining to whatever it is that I am. On some of those graph arms, I’m almost the only data point I can perceive. All this to explain why I am incapable of conforming mind and self to group norms – while rules of ordinary decency and courtesy do apply to me, as do those laws that protect the rights of individuals from one another individually or in aggregate – most human-derived and agreed upon strictures and systems of meaning mean not much at all to me. I don’t see the value in them nor can I affirm the ‘truth’ of the perceptions they for some serve to enshrine.
I think this is simply basic, rational understanding. In other places, possibly even in a post here, I’ve remarked that the road to self-understanding is a dead end street because insight (about one’s self, others, circumstance, etc.) does not always or even often provide of itself the power to alter or better what is understood of the self.
In practical terms, what this means for me is that I experience frustration when my insights and, to use a hackneyed term, the ‘box’s’ inability to contain my thought and those of my thoughts, themselves, are not understood (agreement is unimportant or without valued meaning – to me). I feel this most intensely when that occurs while interacting with people who matter to me – like the people who are part of my congregation or the family of my birth.
A related problem I experience is when I join groups that form around shared interests in activities, such as kayaking or cycling. What I find is that, while interested in, engaged in, and engaged in thought about the activity and things related to it, such as gear and conditions of use, other people are not interested in the same way that I am interested. While in one sense, I have something in common with other club members, in practical terms, I really do not have much at all in common with them.
In conjunction with (or it may arise from the foregoing) a social awkwardness you’d have to be me to understand, this makes any kind of participation in group activities potentially unpleasant for me. Oddly enough, I haven’t experienced this unpleasantness in relation to my current congregation. But I did experience it last Wednesday, the evening I skipped the usual congregational meeting for scriptural and theological reflection in favor of a cycling club activity.
That cycling club activity was a local Ride of Silence – a slow four mile or so ride through town on busy streets with police escort. I wore normal street clothes because it was only a slow, four-mile ride, and showed up early. That’s one way to manage social awkwardness – show up early and strike up conversation with one or two people I already know. Also, being late means finding a place to park and possible difficulty hearing what’s going on. I said hello to one guy I know slightly and he completely ignored my greeting – jackass? didn’t hear? preoccupied? Who knows. I didn’t really know anyone else and my attempts to converse all proved abortive. I felt unpleasantly like the only one of my kind in the group, even though there were several club members present I genuinely like.
Most of the other riders wore what cyclists call their “kits” – matching lycra shorts and jerseys, etc. Some, to be sure, rode from their homes, however distant, to the assembly point. I wore the same pair of baggy shorts I wore the day I bought the Miyata 610 in Louisville two or three years ago, and a faded red Dickies t-shirt. No sense in wearing Lycra and chamois for a four-mile ride – if my nads are so diseased as to go numb on a short, easy bike ride, there’s something bad wrong with them.
The ride leader gave a short talk about Ride of Silence, the police sergeant’s SUV rolled out ahead of us and police on 29’ers brought up the rear. I thought it was cool that the police chief, himself, rode along.
I rode the Jamis Supernova, a cyclocross bike with heavy, slow commuter tires, because the tube I’d patched for the Miyata’s front tire didn’t hold air. Mercifully, for me, the ride of silence is silent, so no conversation is expected or wanted. Some of the guys on racing bikes in full kit ahead of me pointed (as is courteous to do on group rides) at gravel and road surface irregularities. On a cyclocross bike equipped with Continental Tour Ride tires, I several times caught myself thinking, “That $#!+’z not a hazard for me.” But I likewise pointed out the hazards for those behind.
When the ride was over, I pedaled right up to my car, loaded up the bike, and left immediately. Back home, it felt good to sit on the livingroom couch with my wife and son. In the warm embrace of my family, I felt wanted, accepted, understood – that I belonged. Later, I sent an email to my friend, our congregation’s pastor:
I guess I’m just not bikey enough; won’t skip another meeting for a cycling activity. During the entire ride, I found myself thinking, "I could have been discussing Scripture with my favorite people." The Ride of Silence had no emotional or spiritual impact on me and only served to remind me how little I have in common with most people, even cycling enthusiasts.
Returning to practical matters, how does one cope with one’s own awkwardness, being out of step with and occasionally feeling unpleasantly alone in when in the company of numerous others he might reasonably expect to have something in common? A constellation of maladaptive strategies fueled by feelings of grief and anger are available to the sufferer, but I’d like to list here a few methods that have worked for me and enabled me to function in a world largely constructed by and for the masses:
- I acknowledge my feelings identifying and categorizing them without feeling ashamed of having them, then make a conscious decision not to let them curdle my spirit and mind. This is something that’s only occurred to me here in the past several months. Difficult it is in the moment and when experiencing unpleasant emotion to become aware that the choice is one’s own whether to become overwhelmed by feelings of shame, anger, grief or to function in a way that does no harm to self or others and does not preclude positive interactions with others of the group at some future time. There’s no sense in self-crippling by allowing oneself to become embittered and twisted.
- Related to the foregoing is making a decision not to say anything unkind to others when experiencing unpleasant feelings. In Alcoholic Anonymous the cliché This Too Shall Pass is used to remind the recovering alcohlic that the irritant of the moment or the difficult circumstance inhabited will change in time and with patience may be got through without resorting to use of drink.
- Complete the mission, accomplish the goal, carry out the task – if there’s no harm in it. For instance, last Wednesday, although I felt like, “What the hell am I doing here?” the condition was one that could be got through by simply participating in the activity in which I’d come to participate and then leaving when it was over, as opposed to hitting the “Screw This” button and bugging out early. I mean, really, unpleasant feelings are simply feelings and part of the human task is learning to master one’s feelings.
- Think about the feelings – dissect them – their utility, what causes them, what they signify. By intellectualizing one’s feelings, one can become attenuated from them and this can be a useful to prevent acting impulsively according to their dictates. I don’t usually enjoy experiencing emotion, but it sometimes does serve to inform me that there is some problem in my circumstance that requires my attention. Sometimes I experience pleasant emotions, such as those I experienced while I was sitting on the couch with my family after I got home last Wednesday, or those I experience when applying my mind to and discussing scripture and theology.
- Don’t look down on those who are different – in their own ways, they may be well beyond the mean in ways you are not. Take other people seriously and respect their mastery of or competence in what matters to them. Ask intelligent questions and learn from people who are different. Wish them well and try to take pleasure in their successes.
- Recognize that most people experience in some instances something like the unpleasantness you’re experiencing. Like you, they may be wondering, “What the hell am I doing here?”
- If circumstances warrant aborting the planned activity, feel free to leave. Try to do it without making some kind of unkind, conclusive statement that may serve as a barrier to you in some unforeseen way, later on. Leave quietly and draw as little attention to yourself as possible. Unwanted attention is worse than that unpleasant aloneness you’re leaving behind when you leave the situation.
- Remember what Christ said about casting pearls before swine – you don’t have to and should not share your insights, perceptions, values, thoughts, and self with those who are incapable of understanding or who are malicious twits who should simply be completely avoided.
- Invest your time, effort, thought, love in people who matter to you. Just one friend, even if he or she does not completely understand you, may provide an oasis of peace in what often seems a hostile universe. Love your family, cultivate friends if there’re people with whom communication and understanding is possible.
- The apostle, Paul, enjoined his readers somewhere the letter he wrote to the church at Rome, “So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” That’s good advice.
- Prioritize, although sometimes this takes trial and error (as I learned last Wednesday night), and participate in or expend effort in or for what matters to you to the degree that it makes sense to you.
- Never stop learning
Last Wednesday, April 1, 2015, was the Fifth (?) Annual Go for a Ride By Yourself Day and that is what I had planned to do. Maybe a short 10 or 15 mile ride to get a breath of fresh air conducive to clear thinking. But Wednesday was a busy day and during my two or three free hours in the early afternoon, I found they were not so free and got some stuff done, instead. By late afternoon, though, my son and I were going to take a quick ride after doing some chores and messing around outside.
Then, my wife got home from her job and the three of us set out for a family bike ride. We rode less than five minutes before our boy crashed after hitting a gravel patch. His cycling gloves were in his trouser pockets so, in addition to scraping his knee painfully, the pavement tore a flap loose on the palm of one hand. We all walked back to the house, my wife pushing her bike, I pushing mine. I walked back for our son’s bike after unlocking the house.
Not long after that, it was about to be time for Wednesday meeting, and I drove over to the where our congregation gets together for midweek coffee, dessert, discussion. When I got back home , though, I greeted my family and then took the Supernova for nighttime solo ride around the neighborhood. Afterward, I turned in and slept.