Forecast for the Future

"Every individual without exception bears a potential writer within himself. The reason is that everyone has trouble accepting the fact that he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it's too late. 

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not that far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding."

- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Week 20, Day 1 Meditation: A Very Long Bike Ride (MORE TO COME)

i haven't posted in forever, so i'm putting this up before it's finished... will try to finish today...

Getting ready to ride

Hyperliving has been a little derailed lately by, well, a deraileur. But, while I can't deny that I've drifted away briefly from my quest(s), I feel like I've been getting on track in certain important ways that are good for me.

Chief among these, obviously, is my new obsession with biking, which began a month ago but already feels like three years ago. Obviously I'm excited about biking because I've felt like I've needed to be more active, but more specifically I've been disappointed in the way that I've struggled to connect with any of the number of exercise routines that I've attempted to adapt over the past few years. And now that I've found one that works, well, I guess my brain is pretty much running away with it.

The Montauk Bike Ride -- "65 mile" leg

This week is supposed to be a week of meditation. It hasn't quite been. But on Sunday I had what was easily and absolutely the most meditative experience of my life: my 69 mile bike ride across Long Island to Montauk.

View Larger Map

Full map including ride home

View Larger Map

As I said in my liveblog posts on Sunday, this "65 Mile Ride" turned out to be actually more like 69 miles. But either way, it was four hours and fourteen minutes of me losing consciousness of everything around me except the ceaseless movement of my legs, up and down.

This experience was profound in the way that it literally transported me to another place, a place of calm and stillness that I have rarely had acquaintance with.

But let me step back a few steps and mention two brief anecdotal notes from my past that have come to mind this week.

Anecdote #1
The first time I ever even thought about the idea of meditating came while I was a teen attending youth services at my Unitarian Church. My leader, the wise and magical Maia M, had us try some basic forms of meditation, and brought in a local Buddhist friend to give us an instructional talk. She also told a story, from either a book, or her head, or one that had been told to her when she spent time at a zen buddhist monastery in the Catskill mountains, one which has stuck with me for a long time.

The story was of a young monk who was struggling to find his place at his monastery, feeling like he was running through the motions and doing the right things, but neither satisfying his masters nor himself with his efforts--and most importantly, he didn't not feel like he was on the path toward understanding nirvana.

As life as a monk in a monastery is generally simple and contained, one of his responsibilities was to wash the dishes every day. There were a variety of other tasks that needed to be done, but he had been assigned to wash dishes--and try as he might, he couldn't get past the fact that he just hated washing dishes. The tireless monotony of it, the grossness of the plates, the fact that his only goal with them was to reset them to point zero--it all felt superfluous and unpleasant.

After a while, the monk finally asked his superior if there was anyway he could switch to another task, any other task, instead of washing the dishes. But his superior just looked at him and said slowly, "My friend, why is it that you wash the dishes each day?" The monk looked back and said, "Well, obviously they need to be clean so we can use them and eat off them. Also, if we don't wash them, the dirty dishes will pile up." His superior put his head down and paused, before speaking again. "My friend, I do not think you understand. There is only one reason that you should be washing the dishes, and that is: to wash the dishes." The superior let this comment hang in the air for a minute before continuing. "When you wash the dishes, you must only think about washing the dishes. Focus all that you have on washing the dishes, allowing each step to become one large fluid movement, all part of the goal of dish washing. Do not be tempted by thoughts of 'outcomes' or goals, do not dwell on thoughts of your life; think only of washing the dishes."

This story continues--the monk begrudgingly follows the instructions and then slowly begins edging toward low-level enlightenmight--but the basic point that has stuck with me is the idea that we as humans always think many steps ahead, causing our minds to race and making the idea of meditation basically impossible. Me "getting this" is a little amusing, of course, because anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I have one of the most criminally-hyperactive brains out there, and that it's usually thinking four or eight steps ahead of just about everthing at every possible moment. But still, from time to time I am able to find situations where my brain is able to just engage with a specific pursuit in a singular enough of a way that all of world is reduced to a simple glide of life.

It is a constant problem for me, of course, that these moments are too fleeting, and I don't know how to find them when I really need some calm. But that is why I am continuing to search for the answers.

Anecdote #2
When I was in middle school, the father of a friend was talking about bicycles and mentioned how on an optimal ride, a rider will pedal at almost the same rate the entire time, even while going up or down hills or shifting gears. This method would produce the best aerobic exercise to the rider, and would also be best for the body.

As I've taken on the task of cycling, I've thought quite a bit about both of these memories, because I've found that through some combination of the two ideas, I have been able to achieve while biking a type of relaxed psychic calm that is completely meditative.

Sleepy volunteers help with check-in at Penn Station. I do not believe that they are bikers.

Ok then, so back to the Montauk Bike ride.

My motivations for doing the 65 mile leg of the Montauk bike ride (alone) therefore boiled down to two factors: a) it would be a great physical challenge and would be good for my body, and b) it would give me a chance to spend some time alone and do some bike meditation.

As mentioned here previously, the longest ride I'd ever done before was 28.5 miles, just done the week before, so 65 (or 69 or 78) miles would be more than twice as much as my previous high. Some of my friends were skeptical that I would be able to do such a ride, but for some reason I just had a feeling that I would be able to handle it just fine.

Of course, after a few weeks of getting ready, when they day finally came I began it somewhat ridiculously: I woke up around 4:55 am, after having fallen asleep the night before at about 3:20. I can't really explain why in god's name I insisted on giving myself as little sleep as possible prior to undertaking one a physically exhausting activity like this, but part of it was nerves and part of it was just typical Ben sleep stupidity.

After waking, I got dressed--in bike shorts and jersey--and began packing my belongings--which I should have done the night before. As you can see in the photo at the top of this post, I had a bag on my bike for carrying items that I'd bring with me while riding, and then also a backpack containing things I'd want after the ride (transported ahead on a truck to the finish line). In the backpack I packed some clean clothes and a book to read on the ride home, and in the bikebag I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two Clif bars, my digital camera, my phone/wallet/keys, and a light windbreaker. Also contained in the bag was a bike pump, an extra tube, and a set of Allan keys for any emergency repairs I'd need to do.

Right before leaving the house, I remembered that I needed to reattach a toeclip that had come off to one of the pedals. I finally departed at about 5:40 and decided that I would ride to the Bedford L (stupid weekend construction) and ride it to Union Square before getting off and biking up to Penn Station where check-in was taking place.

5:50 am on the L train...

After waiting a while for a train to come, I finally got to Penn Station around 6:25, where there were already a few hundred people milling around antsily.

Bikers mull about at Penn Station waiting for the call to head to their train for Mastic Shirley

Check-in breakfast tables

After checking in, I loaded my bike on the truck heading out to Mastic Shirley and helped myself to a cup of coffee, a banana, a glass of orange juice, a blueberry muffin and some grapes and began poking around. At around 7:15 they finally signalled for us to head downstairs to the LIRR for our train to Mastic.

Bikers walk to the LIRR

LIRR map... Montauk at the very end on the right

The train had reserved the last few cars for Montauk riders only, so my traincar was entirely filled with them. I sat down next to a pair of women named Stacy and Amanda who were also doing their first lengthy bike ride, as part of Amanda's training for a triathalon in New York at the end of the summer.

Antsy bikers

The train ride took over an hour, maybe 90 minutes (?) before we finally got to Mastic Shirley. Everyone filed off the train and went off to find the respective truck carrying their bike.

I'm not sure what this guy is scoping out but the I'm very curious

Volunteers handing off bikes.

After grabbing my bike I went to wait in the ridiculous line for the bathroom. I had a sense in my head that I would want to ride without interruption, so I wanted to make sure that I got everything out of the way before I got going.

I had originally had the idea that I would travel with the "Escorted Ride Group" so that I wouldn't have to go alone, and so I could get some help with pacing and whatnot, so I waited until all the other bikers had departed to leave with them. As soon as they began though, I realized that the stated 12mph speed would be ridiculously slow and that I would neither have fun nor feel like I was pushing myself if I went that slow, so I just took off and went out looking for folks who might be more interested in traveling my speed.

The escorted ride group

The first two bikers in front of me.

The last time I paused for any length of time...

And then, I was off.

The first official rest stop, which I stopped at for thirty seconds to take one photo.

Scenery, snapped while riding

A bridge: it was beautiful. I cranked up it and went down it at 33mph

And then I thought my camera battery had died, so i stopped bothering to photo while riding.

I continued riding the entire way, with only three more stops.
- Slow down at 28 miles as my right leg became completely and totally cramped up... gliding and pedaling slowly using only my left leg.
- Stop at second rest stop at 40 miles for 30 seconds to do a brief live blog
- On last stretch of hill, without about seven miles left, I looked down to adjust my bike shorts and then veered to the right and hit a patch of sand on the side of the road, causing me and my bike to halt to a stop. Because I was going up a hill, getting started was going to be difficult, but it was even more so due to the fact that I was completely and totally exhausted. When I swung my leg back over my bike to get going again, it completely locked shut with a cramp and I had to stop and rest and massage it for a minute before I could get going again.

But once I did, it was straight home for the finish.

Tired, and exhausted.

Collecting delivered luggage

Eating some of the crappiest and most desired food in my life.

A woman who took this photo said she was a photographer and that she was turning the camera sideways to make the photo "artful". Erm, yes.

And now, onwards!

Digg this

No comments:

Hyperliving Google Calendar, Click + to Subscribe