Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Other Lessons from the divide

I've got another thing to add to the list of lessons from the divide. Appreciation.

Even in the comfort of the company of your friends, there are challenging moments on the Divide. There is no way around that. Whether you are like Leon from Missoula and you're breaking your knees hauling lazy-boy comfort on your bob-trailer or Benjamin Syress and leaving the dead weight of a second wheel and drive train to do the journey by unicycle, the Divide is just hard and that's all there is to it.

Most of the time, it feels as though the reward from the hardness comes after the riding is over. But, sometimes, the amazingness is right there in front of you; little pieces of joy in things that you never would have imagined. If you can look past the distractions, like the uncomfortable sunburn on the back of your hands or the deep longing for a good cup of coffee…you will discover joy in the most menial or unextraordinary parts of the journey. And that's what brings the adventure to life. Reflecting on my notes from the last week on the trail, here are a few examples:

1. The tap water from the bathroom of a shitty small-town-hotel. It has been swishing around in a water bottle that has a thin film of slim from some energy drink that I put in it a few days ago. I don't normally drink water, let alone manky water from a dirty water bottle. But, on a hot day, when the heat has sucked every remaining bit of moisture from my body and my tongue is sticking to the inside of my cheeks, that tap water is better than a glass of Veuve Cliquoe on the Champs Elysees. Thank you, tap water from the bathroom of a shitty small-town-hotel.

2. The subway sandwich that has been squished in my backpack for 8 hours. It has become almost unrecognizable in the heat of the sun. Despite being toasted and having no sauce, the sandwich has somehow merged together into a single, moist sausage-like entity. The sight of it should repulse me, but I can't wait to sink my teeth into that mushy goodness. I savour the slight crunch (I'm using my imagination today) of the not-quite-completely-wilted cucumbers inside. One of the jalepenos inside still has a stem on it…I don't mind; I could use the fibre. Thank you, subway pseudo-sausage.

3. The sweat that has drenched my jersey and shorts. It's probably doing some nasty things in my chamois but, right now, I'm focused on the magic of evaporative cooling that is happening up front. I unzip my jersey to let the breeze rush through my undershirt. Such relief. It's like jumping into a fresh lake and laying in the hot sun at the same moment. The sun is kissing my face and arms while the breeze keeps my core fresh and cool. It's an amazing combination of contrasts and I can regulate the intensity by going faster or slower. I'm a self-powered climate control system. Thank you, sweat.

Most of us are lucky to live in a time and place in which we can binge on all of the luxuries of life. We can control the temperature of our living spaces such that we are never too hot/cold. We can access almost any food that we desire at almost any time of year (no matter how absurd it is to eat dragon fruit in Calgary in the middle of winter). We can go to sleep every night feeling relatively safe, enjoying a peaceful, worry-free slumber. What is there to complain about? Nothing, really. Yet it seems that we all find a lot to complain about. We are so comfortable that is uncomfortable. All of this bingeing has made us nauseous. But if bingeing begets nausea, I guess that hunger begets appreciation. In fact, I would argue that hunger is a necessary condition of appreciation. Since, by and large, we don't need to experience hunger unless we choose to do so, that would imply that we need to seek it out in order to experience appreciation. I guess that there different ways to make this happen…but bikepacking must be one of the most enjoyable.


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