Brain pace

October 10, 2012 § 8 Comments

I finished work in Santa Barbara today around 3:30 and figured that this would put me back in LA at just the wrong time, so rather than rush back to sit in traffic I tossed my briefcase in the car and took a walk.

Before I could toss the briefcase, though, I had to walk more than half a mile to where my car was parked. There was plenty of parking near Carrillo and Garden, but of late I’ve taken distance parking to a whole new level.

For example, rather than park near the courthouse in downtown LA, I’ll park a mile or so away and walk. It adds time, and it makes me all sweaty and greasy, but parking goes from $9 to free and you always get to see some interesting stuff and you get to run the gauntlet of street people. Plus, you get to learn a new set of city blocks every time you go downtown.

And it’s exercise, the old-fashioned way. On foot. The way nature meant for people to move.

Walk a mile in your own shoes

It’s funny how perfectly adapted our brains are to walking speed. You can see everything: The tiny edges of the grate holes in the street drains, the new plaster covering the old stone walls of the presidio, the steel interior of the crazy dude’s car that has anti-prison slogans painted on it, the details of the pine bark on the massive trees near the Santa Barbara Bowl, and of course the gruppo on the rusting MTB resting against an old barbecue grill on someone’s dilapidated porch.

Thoughts move more smoothly on foot, swirling over the knots and rocks and bumps that make up the problems in our lives, covering them up or dissolving them or wearing them down with the effortless force of the mind going at its most efficient speed, which is to say the contemplative one.

The eye and the mind coordinate naturally with your gait, which is the gait you were born with and will have all your life, the gait you acquired without a computerized fit or a coach or a hex wrench stuck in your back pocket for endless micro-adjustments on the fly. The motion? It’s yours. It’s perfect, and can’t be fixed.

Speed kills

Everything becomes a tunnel compared to walking. Whether you’re blasting on a motor, cruising at 65 in your car, pedaling at 20, or even running, your brain shifts from observation and reflection to data intake, predict the next point, react, and repeat. Ideas come briefly and are immediately swallowed up in the moment. If the speed is high enough, or the exertion intense enough, your brain switches to glide, a continual conveyor belt of motion and action almost wholly devoid of reflective thought.

It’s one reason that, after finishing a bike ride, we feel so clean and refreshed. Our brains have been put on pause.

While strolling, it occurred to me that…

  • It’s astonishing how many people use cycling to effectively cope with the strains, struggles, addictions, pain, loneliness, sickness, disappointment, and unhappiness in their lives. The act of riding a bike isn’t so much a gateway to happiness, it’s a gateway of happiness.
  • Who is Peter Gabriel? Should I Google him? He’s playing at the Santa Barbara Bowl tonight, so he’s either not very famous or past his prime. Or both.
  • Nothing is more fulfilling and happiness-inducing as the camaraderie on all of our rides, with people calling you by your name, and encouraging you, and even giving you a push when you need it.
  • Clodhopper may blab about every car he’s ever owned, may remind you in copious detail of every race he’s ever won, but if there’s a more generous friend in my life, I’m not sure who it is, because he gave me a half-gallon of his homemade spaghetti sauce last week. I’d give it its own blog, but how much more can you say about something than “foodgasm”? Oh, and that one other detail…he always, always, always goes to the front.
  • Newly-minted Cat 2 and Everest race winner Stathis the Wily Greek cadged 50,000 feet of total vertical last week. Radar Domes sit 1,500′ above sea level. Mt. Ventoux is 6,000′ above sea level. The Cornice at Mammoth is 11,000′ above sea level. Maybe you can comprehend Stathis’s feat. I can’t even wrap my head around it, much less my legs.
  • I’m now too injured to ride my bike thanks to the pulled muscle from last weekend’s ‘cross race. That’s only the fourth time in thirty years of cycling that a bike-related injury has kept me from riding. Obviously, I should do more ‘cross races to see if I can increase the number and severity of injuries.
  • Everyone says Santa Barbara is a really cool place. All I saw were restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and hippies in Range Rovers. It reminded me of downtown Austin with twice the class and three times the pretentiousness.

Boy, for a contemplative walk those are some pretty slim pickings. Can’t wait to go out and get on my bike again, and switch into glide.

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