Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Pleasures of the Mountain Bike

Time was, when running was my exercise, the daily bread of my cardiovascular system. But then the injuries came: chondromalacia patellae in both knees, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, you name it. So I took up the bike, and eventually the mountain bike. Now I run just once a week, on Sunday mornings, for about 75 minutes. The other days I either hike or ride the mountain bike, mostly the latter. I like to be on the road before sunrise, and catch the sun as she rises over the magnificent and mysterious Superstition Mountains. There is nothing like greeting the sun as she greets the mountains, bathing them in the serene light of daybreak. It is an appropriate moment for gratitude, gratitude for another day on which to bang my head against the riddle of existence. Riding into the rising sun, I often recall Nietzsche’s words from Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “O you overrich star, what would you be except for those for whom you shine?”

The beauty of the mountain bike is that you can get off the roads, away from cars and people, and onto trails and jeep tracks. I’d rather dodge rattlesnakes than cars any day. I have even been known to strike out cross-country across open desert. I’ve got kevlar-reinforced tires, with thick tubes, and a strip of plastic betwixt tube and tire as prophylaxis against cactus spines and other impregnators. No need for slime, and no flats for going on two years. My bike is an old Trek 930, a modest mid-range hard-tail – having been called a hard-ass, I suppose this is appropriate –
with front-end suspension. As every Thoreauvian knows, one doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun and live well.

Still, nothing in my experience beats running for the endorphin kick. ‘Endorphin’ is a contraction of ‘endogenous morphine.’ The adjective means originating from within, in this case, from within the brain. You know what morphine is. The brain of a body under athletic stress seems to produce these endorphins the existence of which, I understand, is more scientific postulation than verified fact. Endorphins manifest themselves at the level of consciousness in rather delightful sensations. When conditions are auspicious, and I am about 45-50 minutes into a run, I enter a phase wherein I apperceive myself as merely riding in my body as a pure spectator of a pure spectacle. I become a transcendental onlooker, and the world becomes George Santayana’s realm of essence. “I become a transparent eyeball: I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature.”)