categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour
Today’s bad advice is simple: bike more, write better!
I now have a daily loop at school, through the woods, out on the road, back through the woods. Nothing particularly strenuous, but by adding another ten minutes I’ve pushed the total time up over an hour. And I find this makes the rest of my day, and my writing, both easier and, I think, better.
I still miss hills of course. It’s funny: I’ve really grown to love a lot about Wilmington, but the flatness is tough.
Here are a couple of paragraphs from Under the Devil’s Thumb, my 1999 book about Colorado, paragraphs that I hope are applicable to both writing and riding, while also getting at what I miss about the mountains:
Even as I gripe I know the hardest rides are the best. Most sure to flush out worry, mind clutter, and dread. With time my rides have gotten more routine, less novel and exciting, but if they are not my daily slice of religion then they are least my daily slice of clam. The body lives habit. My legs and arms pull me up the hill, and my mind comes along for the ride, grumbling, questioning, kvetching all the way. Sometimes it even seems as if I’d even get up the hill if lobotomized. Or maybe climbing the hill is a positive sort of lobotomy. there’s a hamster wheel quality to it, but I know the real hamster wheel is in my head–those habitual patterns of worry that run on when I’m not occupied. Exertion keeps the wheel from squeaking.
In some ways getting up the hill is the most laborious of recreations. If I’m honest I must admit that the exalted moments are few and far between. Biking is an everyday thing and the glorious lifts come once every ten rides, if you’re lucky. In the end biking is about work, not transcendence. While the occasional spasms of mysticism are okay, it also holds the less exalted virtue of keeping me sane. When my brain starts overheating, when panic grips me, then I hop on my bike. I can say of my rides what Bernard DeVoto said of cocktail hour: “The rat stops gnawing in the wood, the dungeon walls withdraw, the weight is lifted.”
Wallace Stegner wrote of DeVoto’s heroic “striving to discipline a primitive inheritance.” That inheritance was the abyss of depression and hypochondria and rage. He relied on his “stays against chaos, loneliness, and fear.” His martini at cocktail hour was one of those stays, but the strongest stay was work. Work has paid off for me, too, even if the pay hasn’t been monetary. My father didn’t live to see me have any success with writing, never sanctioned the activity, but I can’t help feel he was with me in spirit. I think of that other literary advocate of work and common sense, Samuel Johnson. He would become so depressed he could barely get out of bed, but he pushed himself up anyway and tried to reclaim himself with epic walks–twenty-six miles from London to Litchfield and back. “Activity contains within itself the seeds of its own reformation,” he wrote.
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Or, put more simply, get on your bike.