Bike Camping Shakedown

Bike camping shakedown at Keeowee-Toxiway SP 2021

A lesson for aspiring aging athlete want-to-be’s–

Not only did it turn out to be a “shake down” for my gear but for me too! Monday (10/11/’21) after my annual eye checkup and a readjustment from my chiropractor, I headed out for my first bike camping trip, a shakedown adventure for both me and my gear. Let me just say, the gear shook down fine, me, not so fine. Before it was over, and with great chagrin and on my return trip, I ended up calling my daughter, Elian, to come rescue me, still 16 miles from home. How embarrassing!

As learning goes, it was a successful trip. I “learned” a lot! Nothing like the real experience to put things into perspective. The basic and most fundamental thing I learned was that I’m still a long way from where I need to be to do my planned epic, 2022, Sacred Canyon bicycle tour, much less the longer Southern Tier portion. Lord, help me. I’m going to need it. I need to be 20, 40 years younger, not 73. So, here’s the story–

It was beautiful weather as I pulled away from my home at 2:00pm: 70 degrees and sunny, with sunny weather and 77 degrees predicted for tomorrow. Humidity was a low, wonderful, with a dew point at about 60 degrees. It was just a single overnight camping trip to a park I had gone many times in years passed. Never mind, these earlier trips were always in a motorhome, not a bicycle and a tent. I was in near full gear on the bicycle. As this was a training run, I took my touring bike as opposed to my e-bike. A choice I would soon regret.

It was just for one night, so I was not carrying as much gear and food as I would be taking out West next year, which will mean even more weight. It was my first trip “geared-up”: trailer, panniers, tail bag, and handlebar bag. On my first uphill I was a little surprised that I could tell the weight difference with all the gear. It was only 20 miles to the park, Keeowee-Toxiway State Park. No problem, right? I mean I was routinely doing 18 – 20 mile training rides these days, with longer rides of 26-32 miles. This 32-miler, however, was on my e-bike as I had just done a 26-miler two days before and had not fully recovered from that. The e-bike turned out to be a wise choice on that ride as it would have been for this one.

So here I was on my way, pedaling happily and naively down the road. This time, however, going a different route, guided by Google Maps bicycle app. It was a great back roads route through hill and dale, pasturelands, farms, sparsely populated, and with low traffic. It didn’t take long for that scenic, idyllic illusion to start to crumble–on about the fifth hill climb. To make a long, hard ride/story short, let me say, it was a brutal ride! I could swear Google Maps must have plotted to take me on every hill in the area. Most of it was uphill it seemed. (But I also knew, it would seem like that going back too–i.e. uphill.

I was still not half-way there, around mile 7 of the 20, and I knew I had made a mistake in not bringing the e-bike. Before it was over, I had to get off and push the bike and trailer up three hilltops and take several rest stops. Three hours later, I arrived at my camp spot–exhausted, done in. A big average milage of 7 mph!! I had been averaging around 8.5mph on the bike in my trainings, 8.1 on bad days.

Here I am now at the park. Putting up tent time. It had been several years since I had used my solo tent. No problem, I had the instructions in the bag with the tent. I was so fatigued, however, I struggled to follow them, having to reread several sections multiple times to get them into my addled brain. What seemed hours, the tent was finally sat up, my sleeping bag thrown in, the air mattress and air pillow blown up, and the sun setting. I sat on the picnic table bench, sipping on water–hydrating after my long, sweaty ride. I had brought an easy-fix supper, but was too tired to eat it. The bottle of wine, decanted into a plastic water bottle to cut the weight, however, was calling. Before I indulged the wine, my left-brain kicked in and I ate some trail mix and the apple I’d brought. I still needed to finish setting up my camp. I knew from too many times experiences, the alcohol would render me worthless.

As I returned to setting up my camp, one of the fellows in the next campsite over approached me, apologising for bothering me, but he was very interested in what I was doing, where I had come from, where I was going, etc.? He said, I was the most interesting person around, pointing with his chin to the other campers in their cars or vans. /this was strictly a tent camping section. RV were up further on the hill.

I explained that this was a shakedown camping trip for a longer tour in 2022. He got called away, saying he would be right back. In his absence, the two women from the campsite across the road came over and started asking me the same questions, curious about what I was doing, going, coming from, etc. When I started telling them about the longer bicycle tour, the older lady, 63 she said, had always wanted to do a cross-continental tour on a bicycle. The previous gentleman returned saying he didn’t want to miss out on the conversation. The two ladies went back to their campsite after a while, and he and I continued talking. Turns out he was a bicycler too and knew about Adventure Cycling.org and even the Southern Tiers portion I would be on for much of my tour.

That night, after about 250 ml of wine, etc., I settled into my tent and sleeping bag, exhausted from the day’s activities. I knew I was in trouble for my return ride the next day. Sure enough, through the night, my left hamstring started cramping. Not bad, but still, not good. My right hamstring was giving me little notices that it was thinking about joining the party. I had hydrated up well before and after the ride, so I didn’t think it was a hydration issue. More like a potassium issue as I have chronic low electrolytes (potassium, sodium, and chloride) in my blood screens.

The next morning arrived. I had breakfast (coffee, oatmeal, and granola breakfast bar), packed up my camp, loaded up, and said goodbyes to my neighbors, giving the women one of my old business cards that I had found. Ten minutes down the road toward home on my second hill, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. My left hamstring started trying to cramp, and I just didn’t have it in me to get up the hill. Had to get off and walk up the hill. Next hill, same thing. At this point, I threw in my hat in, disappointmented and defeated, and called my daughter to come get me. We agreed to meet at the realtor’s office where the highway forked. I told her that, if I wasn’t there, to come down the road looking for me. As it turned out I was almost to our rendezvous point. I had made it four miles of the twenty back home. Sigh.

Now for some comments from my learnings for my fellow aspiring, older (read elderly) athlete want-to-be’s, thinking to do something crazy like this–you know, do a long bicycle tour, or other high physically demanding, distance thing…

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My Hózhó Bicycle Tour

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Climate Change—
It’s been a long time coming.
It’ll be a long time here.
If we don’t heed Mother Nature’s tears.

This morning the NY Times (9/29/21) was an article based on US officials reporting the extinction of 20 species and that, if Climate Change is not acted on soon, we are looking at losing another million in the near, on-rushing future!

Hózhó is a Diné (Navajo) concept/word often translated as “balance and beauty,” but it goes much deeper than that. Hózhó stands at the heart of the Navajo spiritual belief system and way of living, encompassing their cosmic view of life, Nature, and what is important in life. It also stands at the heart of my 2022 bicycle tour or, more humbly, what I am shooting for: beauty, balance, and harmony.

On a more complex, deeper level, Hózhó is a concept about harmony and wellness. Its “beauty” is not the surface stuff of our Western, W.E.I.R.D., culture. Its beauty encompasses all of life in its many dimensions as a way of living. Navajo art strives for hózhó: balance, harmony, beauty. It is a philosophy and way of living of wellness and wholeness.1 Among other things, Hózhó is about honoring Mother Nature’s tears, about Nature’s wellness.

My goal for my upcoming September 2022 tour, is for it to be a Hózhó journey: One of balance, harmony, beauty, and wellness. I will, I’m sure, have trouble remembering this as I bust my ass getting up the many mountains, through the strong headwinds, and bad weather. This tour for me is above all a spiritual adventure, and probably my last great adventure. This is especially true of the first third of the journey, some thousand miles, through sacred American Indian canyon country of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.

I plan on spending a couple of days at least at each of the canyons, which include, Zion, Bryce, Glen, Valley of the Gods, Canyons of the Ancients, Canyon de Chelly, and Chaco; and numerous National and State parks and monuments. This is pretty much unseen territory for me and would make the tour just to complete this portion down to Silver City, NM. This is the ancient (and current) country of the Anasazi, Navajo, and Pueblo.

Geographically, my tour can be divided into three major sections, each of about one-thousand miles. Whew, and on a bicycle too! The first third, as mentioned above, will be through Sacred Canyon country of Utah, the four corners part of CO, New Mexico; the second, through my great native state of Texas beginning in El Paso and through the desert mountain of the . Texas is a BIG state. I’ve crossed it many times during my lifetime but that was in car, plane, or on my Harley, not on a fucking bicycle! (I’ve got to be going crazy in my old age, no? Possibly.) The last third leg is through LA, MS, AL, and FL. Again, driven the SC through Dallas, TX, portion many times, but on a bicycle? Yikes! I’m scaring myself here. Let’s move on.

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Westerners are WEIRD

How our culture affects human neuroanatomy, neural circuitry, and evolution

This post is for my readers interested in the interaction between our genes, culture, brains, and evolution. My comments are based on the recently published book (above, 2020) by Joseph Henrich, PhD, Professor and Chair of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. His research focuses on evolutionary approaches to culture, psychology, social status, religion, cooperation, and decision-making. I was clued into his book by Lawson Sachter-Roshi at Windhorse Zen Center. Roshi Lawson has given several teishos (teachings) from it at our Sunday services and during sesshins. The book is a great read: clear, well written, and full of summary data (mainly charts) to bolster his hypotheses. As an evolutionary geneticist in my academic/college professor/researcher career, I am interested in many of these topics. The book really rings my bells on several different level. It is going to take me months to get through it though. It is a 680pp treatise, and I’m a relatively slow, plodding reader. It doesn’t help that you have to stop and think a lot about the things he is saying.

Roshi got into the books’ topics coming from the standpoint of how to to better transmit Zen concepts, truths, and teachings to our Western mind. You have a philosophy/religion, honed and perfected in the East, on the opposite end of the spectrum. The way Eastern and Western minds view, interpret, perceive, the world, How best to translate and transmit something honed and wielded in Eastern minds to Western minds? Still working on this one.

WEIRD is an acronym that stands for–Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. Henrich’s book is an impressive opus on how the West became so psychologically peculiar and particularly prosperous, the book’s subtitle. Westerners appear unique to humankind’s past and all other non-western cultures and civilizations current and past. It is not because we have different genes, but because our culture’s emphasized reading since the time of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation. It was Luther’s emphasis that each person find his/her own relationship with God/Jesus, and this was to be done by reading/studying Scripture, the Bible. This emphasis resulted in our schools, public education, universities, and a high rate of literacy–and rewired our brains in the process. These are epigenetic changes; ie. changes above the level of the gene that controls the expression of genes, resulting in neurogenesis (brain growth). Result: same genes, different brains. Before the Reformation, no more than 10% of the world’s populations could read it is estimated. And for many societies and populations, 10% is probably way high, probably more like 1%, I’m guessing. It was from these Reformation beginnings that Western culture has such high literacy rates. Tied into this later would come the Industrial Revolution.

Not to worry. The Catholic church got into the game-change plan too. It drove a package of social norms that dramatically altered marriage, families, inheritance, and ownership. Paving the way for cities, impersonal commerce, voluntary organizations, which laid the foundation for charter towns, universities, and transregional religious orders. These were increasingly governed by individualistic norms and laws based on principles and ideas instead of kin relationship. These changes and shifts ushered in the Industrial Revolution, which created a waves of globalization, the effects which still cascade around our world today. Staggering, no?

How did this literacy change with its emphasis of reading change our Western brains?

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My Last Great Adventure?!

I’m excited!! My old SEEKING emotional neural circuit is really humming. Pumping out that dopamine and adrenaline it is. What is it I am so excited, pumped about? Glad you asked. This is hot off the press, so to speak: My bucket-list desert Southwest bicycling tour is back on! It It has transmuted to a two-month, cross-country bicycle tour going from Tempe, AZ to St. Augustine, FL, some 2,168 miles, plus side trips. It crosses both the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts! Cool. (No, actually probably still pretty hot in September.) I’ve got it scheduled for starting September 17, 2022. More on this below.

I had the bike tour idea about two years ago, even got me a nice touring bike, an R.E.I. Adv 1.1. Covid-19 got in the way. I had been riding and training at first on my old road bike and then got the touring bike, even had a lower gear put on it for the hills around here. Lots of mountains (e.g. Rocky Mts) where I’ll be riding. COVID hit and I realized it would be very difficult for me to take an extended touring ride for a number of other reasons. There were a lot of things in the way back then. Even during this period I continued to train though. After over a year of self-training and in consultation with folks again at R.E.I., I decided to switch to an e-bike (e for electric), one that I could tour on, a Cannodale Synapse. It had an advertised range of 150 miles for the battery between charges. However, that depends on how much weight it is carrying and the terrain. Wind would also be a factor out where I am going. I figured though, I am only shooting to average 50 miles per day. So even fully loaded and going uphill, I should be good. Just have to make sure I have a place to recharge it when needed. Don’t want to get caught short of juice. I love the e-bike, but felt like a traitor or cheating for switching to an e-bike. I still have the Adv 1.1 at this point and am torn between taking it or the e-bike. The Adv 1.1. touring bike is a much more comfortable bike, but, oh those mountains!

Between COVID-19 and the other obstacles, it looked just too much. I got discouraged and gave up on my idea to do one final grand bicycle tour, cut back on my training regime. Besides the hills around here were tougher than I was. After a year of training, they had gotten easier but were still a challenge. Enters the e-bike. I had abandoned my tour idea. During the ensuing months, several things worked themselves out and I got the e-bike. But I still had abandoned the idea of the tour until a few days ago when a synchronistic (C.G.Jung) event occurred. I got an inquiry about the A1.1, “Was it still up for sale?” I said, “Yes,” with mixed emotions: I really liked that bike!

I really like riding the Adv 1.1. It is a well designed bike and rides smoother than the e-bike. The e-bike is classified as a road bike, and is just not as nice a ride. It also can’t carry the weight like the Adv 1.1 can. But, by gosh, it will do those hills/mountains! If the Adv 1.1 doesn’t sell, I may yet use it for the tour. But going up over the Rocky Mountains, that pedal assist would really be nice. As you can tell, I’m torn. As long as no one offers to by the Adv 1.1 for what I want to sell it, I have the option. Even if they offer to buy it, I still might turn them down.

The e-bike is what is called a “pedal assist”. I can determine how much “assist” I want. It has four levels. I mainly stay in the lowest “Eco” level around here. On hills, I’ll kick it up to the next level, “Tour.” Had it up to the third highest level for about five seconds once getting away from a dog. Never tried the highest level, but I understand it really scoots. Of course, the higher the pedal assist, the more power it draws from the battery, which means it is draining the battery faster, etc. I ride it around here a lot of time without the pedal assist even turned on, but on the hills around here, it is really nice. I have a nice Buel bicycle trailer for it. Right now, I mainly use the trailer for when I go grocery shopping. It can carry up to 100 lbs and a lot of camping gear for my tour. I already have the camping gear I need for the trip. So, I am good to go for touring.

How did I get back on track again for this great adventure? It is a combination as I said above of Jungian synchronicity colliding with recent and ongoing changes at this time in my life. Let’s talk about the synchronicity first. Then, I’ll get back to more about the tour.

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Stepping into the Stillness

Imagine, if you would, stepping into a room or a place where your thoughts are just not there. A place of peace and calm where those monkey-mind chatters that are usually bouncing around in your mind, just cease and are replaced with open awareness in each moment. No thoughts, no memories, no emotions, just peaceful open awareness where you are focused only on that awareness. Occasional thought might briefly wander through, but you don’t attach to them, you don’t get caught up in them, and they pass. A noise may get your momentary notice, but it too just passes on its way. So peaceful, so restful.

I am trying to describe what it is like for me when I step into my stillness. This is why I meditate. In Zen practice, the meditation form is called zazen, translated, sitting (za) Zen. This stillness is what happens that makes meditation so appealing to me; that keeps calling me back to it after some 35 years of practice. For me, where I am now, it is the “stillness.” Zazen is also the road to better attention and enlightenment, called kensho and ultimately, satori in Zen-speak. This post seeks to explore this stillness for you the reader. The desert highway image above has something to do with this effort. We will come back to it below.

Zazen is a form of mindfulness meditation. Vipassana Buddhism has a similar form. They are particularly powerful for moving you into this stillness. These practices move you out of dualistic thinking toward experiencing the world and yourself non-dualistically, as one with the universe. This is the enlightenment experiences mentioned above, kensho and satori. Kensho is just a brief glimpse. Satori is the real deal. Where you are able to stay in that exaulted place all of the time. It requires major brain rewiring (neuroplasticity). Other forms of meditation also move one in that direction, including yoga, transcendental meditation, etc. I do know from personal experience that Zen’s zazen meditation does.

To find and be able to hold this place of stillness usually takes years of practice for most of us, however. If I am in a hectic or stressful time in my life, as I have been lately, it is more difficult to stay in that stillness. I can get there because of all the practice I’ve had, but holding it, staying in it, becomes more of a challenge during these periods. I can touch it, but get caught up in a thoughts, and have to pick my mind up like training a little puppy, bring it back, and tell it to “sit.”

When I am in an intense spiritual retreat, a sesshin as it is called in Zen, I have been able to reach a deep level of this stillness for periods of 15 or more minutes and merge into it. With practice, I’m getting better at being there in my regular daily sittings, and even at times more and more, to be able to slip into it as I go through my day doing my various activities when I don’t have to be using discriminating thinking and when I just sitting being mindful. The secret is to keep practicing. That is why it is called “spiritual practice.”

Of course, there are many mental and physical health benefits of meditation that have been studied and published (see references at end of post from a workshop I attended a couple or years ago. A great workshop on meditation given by Dennis A. Marikis, PhD). There are also social benefits: meditation increases compassion. This is because meditation moves you from our cultures highly egocentric ways of looking at the world to a more allocentric worldview. Allo– means other. To look further into this aspect of meditation, see references at end.

I’ve been thinking for some time how to describe this “stillness”. The opening paragraph is where I have gotten so far. To “paint” a picture of it in words, it is very much like the metaphor of my last drive back from the Chihuahuan Desert of Big Bend National Park that I describe in some detail in my Guru book, hence the desert image above. To suciently describe it. I was driving heading north up Tx highway 118 going to Alpine. It is a pleasant drive through the desert flatlands mainly, dotted with occasional solitary desert mountains. As I drove the 90 or so miles up that road, it was like meditation, only in this I was moving steadily up the highway. I was “sitting” as in driving the truck. It struck me the mountains were like passing thoughts during meditation. They appear on the horizon, then you are passing them, and keep on truckin’ down the road/sitting, leaving them behind. The flatland is that still place in meditation. An occasional car or truck would pass, coming from the other direction, maybe another passing thought, memory, or feeling. It passes by. You are alone again driving down the road. A little later, a train passes, also going in the opposite direction. Ahh, a longer series of thoughts maybe. You pass it and are once again alone in your stillness as you drive.

Let’s talk about where most of our minds are are most of the time, at least where my mind used to be most of the time. Afterall, I don’t know what is really going on in most people’s minds. I am just summarizing; taking an educated guess. For most of us most of the time, especially in our culture, we have an endless dialogue going on in our heads most, if not all, of the time, except when we are asleep or unconscious. Even asleep, chatter goes on in our brains when we dream. This is monkey mind: chatter, chatter, chatter. And it is very egocentric chatter usually: me, me, me; mine, mine, mine; I, I, I. I know this is how my mind use to mostly work at any rate, and still does quite a bit if I don’t catch it and take it out of gear, back to being mindful in whatever I am doing. Our resting mind, is not “resting” at all. It is like a little hamster on a hamster wheel: round and round he goes, getting nowhere. How tiring! How much energy it sucks!

Imagine now, stepping into a place of no thought. Where that mind is still–and quiet. No chatter, no thoughts, just open awareness. The poor little hamster gets to get off of his wheel. It is incredibly peaceful. It’s Heaven, Nirvana! And it is always right here with us. Ours free for the taking. But the way is narrow–and for most of us it takes a lot of practice to access it. Our culture teaches us to bury it pretty much from our birth: consumerism, never-satisfiedism; more is always better, and never enough. More, more, more! Or, we get bored, sad, lonely, fearful, angry, etc., Things are only right, okay, for a little while. Sigh. Our little hamster-minds just running her little legs off on that wheel.

This stillness builds equanimity, another important concept. Defined by Webster as calmness, self-control, even-temperedness, tranquility, etc. I define equanimity in terms of no suffering, another important Buddhist concept, which ranges from the extreme to dissatisfaction and boredom in terms of psychic and emotional discomfort mainly. It takes practice and stillness to be able to have equanimity and to be able to quickly return to it when life knocks you out of it. I, again, talk a lot about this in Guru.

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