When is Good…Good?

Because I’ve been pondering while pedaling lately…and because Lewis provided some encouragement in the comments section of my last post…and because I’m a sucker for encouragement, here is a confession of sorts. I’m more tangled up in the weeds of this world and our American consumer culture than I’d like. Embracing the concept of simple living, but struggling with its application, these words spilled, like an unorganized, passionate rant, onto the keyboard…

Last week I thought that what I had was good. But now, I’m being told that what I need is something better. The message is that something smaller, lighter, faster, or something with more features, options, and enhancements is better than good. It is better…and the only way to really achieve good…is better…until tomorrow, at least.

Let’s look at it another way. I really enjoy ice cream. It is probably my favorite dessert. So what could be better than a scoop of delicious ice cream after dinner? It doesn’t take a nanosecond for me to cry with enthusiasm, “Two scoops!” Two scoops of ice cream after dinner would be better because…well, more of a good thing is better, right? I’m glad you agree, because that’s why I (being the ponderer that I am) have decided to skip dinner and have three scoops of ice cream. Because ice cream is good and more ice cream is better. Which is why, after having my three scoops for dinner, I’m having ice cream for dessert. But what I’d really like to have is an extreme ice cream experience, so I’m planning to have ice cream for breakfast too. After all, I’m told there are no limits…I deserve it…why wait…or some other such nonsense.

After about 45 years of mass media poisoning, I’ve reached a saturation point. We all tell ourselves that the advertising industry affects others, but not us. Fortunately, I finally faced reality and conceded that I have been living life under the influence of continuous injections of discontentment. Since then I’ve been trying to minimize this influence, but I’ve still got work to do.

Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”

Because of the cycling content of this blog, I’ll let this example serve to illustrate similar struggles in my life. I enjoy cycling and currently have three bicycles. I’m like an older child who understands, on one level, that his parents set boundaries for his good, but in any given moment might desire something so fiercely that he would reject one of them. I believed that one more bicycle would be better. I had something good, but wanted something better. I wasn’t satisfied with good. Good wasn’t good enough. I wanted better.

Continuing the cycling analogy, I’ve learned that multiple bicycles can actually restrict freedom. Bicycles require maintenance. One needs to keep bicycles and their components clean, adjusted, and lubricated so that they function properly. We need a place to store them. We need a way to secure them from theft. To make our bicycling experience better, we need to accessorize. I’ve learned that perusing the internet can educate me on how to do all of these things. It can help me enhance my cycling experience. So I spend a great deal of time reading discussion forums, researching websites for new cycling-related companies, and often, determine that some new gadget is what I need to make my experience reach a whole new plateau. Unfortunately, any new gadget purchased for one bicycle, and found to be useful, tends to be viewed as necessary for all. This whole activity can become a money and time consumer that sucks more resources from me than originally intended. To that degree, my hobby becomes my master and I serve as its slave. The example here is cycling, but I’ve experienced similar situations in other areas of life (clothing, entertainment, food, recreation, career, etc.). How is freedom restored?

It is interesting to see many examples in the internet cycling community who appear to have chosen a simpler lifestyle. There are families who have chosen to be car free. There are individuals that have purposefully determined to rid themselves of some item every time they bring a new item into the household. There are many individuals who have made conscious decisions to reuse, repair, or restore rather than buy or consume something new. It fascinates me that there are people who have chosen to live deliberately (as Thoreau suggested) in this way. They seem to understand some of what I’ve been working on, even if from a different motivation. It appears, in many cases, they might be motivated by a concern for the environment. However, as a christian, it seems like a reduction in consumerism and living a voluntary simple life, is a spiritually authentic thing to do. I’ve grown weary of my christian brothers and sisters (me included) defending our pursuit of possessions by offering, “Abraham was rich.”

When Jesus encountered a rich man who asked him what he should do, Jesus said, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Please understand the purpose of this page of pondering is not to convince all readers to go sell all your possessions. Instead, it appears that the challenge of spiritual authenticity involves, at least, reducing the time, money, and attention given to things that are not needful so that we are free to do what is good and enjoy what is good.

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.” – Ecclesiastes 2:24

Because good is good enough.

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Valley View Loop

Didn’t want to miss an opportunity for a holiday ride.  On the road by 7:00 and within minutes, I had dropped down into a valley and was admiring a shady creek.  This is a favorite watering hole for the local cows.  No wonder. 
A little while later, I had climbed up and over another ridge and in a perfect position to survey the morning countryside.  Just north of the Denton/Cook County line and looking east.  Valley View, Texas is straight ahead, then turn left just past the horizon.
No problem.

Water Tank Loop

I have spoke often of my short rides around the block, of noodling around the 3-mile loop.  When time is short, I grab brief opportunities to sneak in a ride like I reach into the pantry for a handful of Fritos…only better.  I’ve often said that even the shortest of rides can provide valuable refreshment for the mind.

With that sentiment in mind, I’d like to introduce you to what I will call the “Water Tank Loop”.  It’s another short route, but significantly longer than the 3-mile loop.  It measures out to be a whopping 5.3 miles.  Yeah, big deal, huh?  Well, for me it’s huge.  Now I have options.  I have two short loops that I can use to refresh my mind.  Like Fritos or M&M’s…only better.
Similar to the 3-mile loop, this one has a blend of shady, tree-covered roads and wide open pastures.  It has some high-dollar, well maintained ranches, and some more humble homes out on the prairie like mine.  There are old tractors, old barns, and fancy new gates.  There is also the elevated water tank sitting on top of the highest point.
Along part of the route, the road traces a ridge.  Looking west, it’s like the whole Clear Creek valley opens up for inspection.
So it’s a place to ride often and notice the seasonal changes.  But it’s also somewhere the folks who live here in north Denton County can pursue a quieter place and a slightly slower pace.
Perfect for the bicycle, isn’t it?

The Forlorn Fisherman

In a dream, I saw a man fishing.  He was standing in a field and casting his line into wind blown waves of grass.  Standing in brownish-green hip waders, wearing a khaki vest, his beaver felt fedora shaded his eyes from the low morning sun.  I thought this was rather odd.

I stood upon a high place.  Looking down from a steep, rocky hillside, I could see the man fishing in the a broad valley meadow.  I could see a river also, just over the ridge from where he fished.  He walked easily from place to place to change the target of his casts, but there were no fish swimming in the meadow.  What he sought there, he would never find.
I could see his truck also, in the distance.  It was parked at the side of a gravel road.  He had opened the fence gate and walked a considerable distance down into the valley, but stopped short of the river.  It was as if he didn’t know the river was near.  Surely, the man would not have impatiently ended his hike to begin the fishing early!
The perversity of circumstances burned within me.  I thought to myself, “This absurdity must be set aright!”  I determined to let this man know that what he was seeking was not there, but further along.  I shouted at him to take up his hike and continue; to walk with endurance all the way to the goal.
“It’s just over one more climb, my good man!”
But he didn’t hear me, and I saw the man continue fishing in the valley meadow grass.  

Gainesville Rough Stuff Route

It looks more peaceful than rough, doesn’t it?

Wanting to explore some new routes today, I headed north to Gainesville, Texas via Hwy 51 (a familiar route) and looped back on some Cooke County roads I found on a map, but had never traveled. 
Heading out at 6:30 am, the sun was just coming over the ridge east of my house.  It was a cool start rolling into the slight NE breeze.  Within moments, I settled into a groove and rode the rollers within a nice, smooth, and wide shoulder.  At the turnaround point, I stopped at the also peaceful Leonard Park on the banks of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River.
Gainesville has a zoo next to the park and, for a small town, it appears fairly impressive.  I made a mental note to come back and visit the zoo one day in the future.  If you know what you are looking for, you can see the levee constructed along the river, just beyond the road in the background.

I’m guessing that about 12 of my 47 miles today were on gravel county roads.  Yes, there were a few rough spots with slow going, but most of those miles zipped by easily under my puffy 650B tires.  Frankly, the dust settling on my freshly washed bike was the most troubling thing about it.
But after all, cruising the rolling north Texas hills, through the quiet countryside, is what country bikes are for.

What’s New?

“What’s new?”, I guess, is what neighbors sometimes say when they are ready to take a couple of minutes to catch up.  Assuming that you and I met briefly at the fence for a chat, I’d probably catch you up by saying…

Contrary to what I suggested a few days ago, I haven’t yet launched into any desparation rides.  So, sorry, no particularly entertaining stories of me suffering.  There was, however, the faster-than-normal commute home on Tuesday, which was primarily due to me trying (and finally succeeding) in catching two riders spotted up the road.  That little spike in competitive spirit made me pay, I’ll tell you.  But that’s another story.
I will say that I met a new friend today out on the 3-mile loop.  I’ve seen this excellent specimen a few times before, but never so close to the fence.  Since the sun was nearing the horizon, and I like that late afternoon glow, it seemed like a photo opportunity.  This is a beautiful animal, and a little fearful, but curiosity ultimately drew that nose close enough to sniff Homer’s bar tape.
What else is new?  Well…I’m considering a project.  I’m not prepared to commit, but I’m considering a “Country Bike Shootout” between my Kogswell P/R and the Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen. A comparison review of sorts, similar to the product “shootouts” you’ve seen before.  I’ve been riding these two very different bikes alternately for weeks now.  Every time I switch bikes, I come back from the ride saying, “No, I like THIS bike best”.  I thought it might be an interesting exercise to compare/contrast the two bikes.  Maybe it would provide useful information for someone.  Or maybe it would just make you appreciate your Bicycle Quarterly subscription more than ever.

Three False Starts

Zero for three is not a great beginning, but that is where I am this morning.  I like to document my successes, but I fail plenty.  This morning’s example might just be a lesson for many of us.  So without further introduction, I present, “How to Not Go for a Bicycle Ride”…

False Start One
The alarm chimed at 5:00 am.  I was to dress, eat, and be rolling by 5:30…figuring a couple of hours early on a Sunday morning would be even greater than last week.  Unfortunately, I turned the alarm off and hesitated just slightly before crawling out of bed.  Slightly, but long enough to drop back into slumberland.
False Start Two
I woke up later, dressed in haste, and had a small breakfast.  I rolled out at 6:45.  Pedaling into the north wind, I realized I didn’t have a planned route.  The size of my time opportunity window was significantly smaller.  A little irritated with myself for my prior failure, I pedaled and conjured a plan.  Turn around, go home, leave a little later, and pedal to church instead.
False Start Three
I packed clothes and other incidentals needed for a gathering to worship.  Going through a mental checklist of items, including a thermos of hot coffee, it seemed I was organized and had a plan.   I rolled out at 8:00.  Pedaling into the north wind (I have to start north to access a low-traffic county road before turning south towards Denton), I obsessed through my checklist again.   Realizing I wasn’t totally secure about where/how to store my bike once I arrived (lost the key to my U lock), I turned around and gave up all attempts to ride until later in the day.
Lessons Learned
1. Only turn off an alarm in a standing position.
2. Don’t worry about having a detailed route plan.  Make it up as you go.  The important thing is  to GO.
3. Beg to store the bike indoors after you arrive.  Sometimes you just have to work out the details in route.  
Conclusion
As you might guess, three consecutive failures could lead to a sort of determined go-at-any-cost kind of ride in the near future.  That’s probably good for readers of this blog, because that’s the kind of situation that leads to amusing stories of the author’s suffering.  Wish me luck, I’ll need it.