Today in Lake Tahoe, I felt like a lazy ass because my relatives were up at 5:30 am, clanking around in their bike shoes in the early morning, getting ready to head out to ride 70 miles around the lake, while I lay in the comfy bed…. Finally, the feeling that I needed to do something set in, and I roused myself at around 6:50. I donned my biking gear, filled the pack with cool water, and hopped on my bike to go exploring.

It is a mountain bike meant for exploring – for crossing nearly any kind of terrain you can throw at it. I’ve had it on mountain peaks and desert valleys, along with many roadways chock full of exhaust-spewing traffic. I got that bike for free. I was visiting a friend who’d bought it on a whim. He’s a surfer and Internet Marketer (with initials FK for those of you in the know…). He’d bought this $4,000 bike, taken it out once or twice, and proceeded to have some kind of wreck which he described as “totally embarrassing” near a busy intersection.

The wreck didn’t damage the bike or its rider – except for his ego. That was enough to relegate the bike into disuse, out-favored by the 60-some-odd surfboards in his arsenal. Nothing like being in 61st place for favor. For some reason, this conjures the image of a polygamist with 61 wives, who never has time to get to them all… I don’t know where that came from. Can I put that image back into the bottle now, please? No… too late.

So anyway, there the bike sat, stashed behind the quiver of surfboards and a beautifully restored VW bus, until I came along. It’s the kind of thing that happens in movies. I was in Frank’s place, and saw a water bottle on the counter. Knowing not of the bike, I asked innocently enough: “do you ride much?”

His answer: “oh, I got a bike and rode it a few times, then totally embarassed myself. Do you want it?”

I stammered a bit… “what kind of bike is it?” I managed to get out before the silence became embarrassing. As I’d processed the offer, images of old Schwinn cruiser bikes were flashing through my mind, as I calculated whether it would be rude to turn down the offer of a bike – even if a junky, rusted out one. I should have known better. Frank only does things with style. He said: “It’s a pretty good one, I think, I bought it new and just haven’t used it. We can go check it out! I’ll bet it’s about your size.”

“Okay,” I responded, as I followed him into the surfboard-stuffed garage overlooking the beach in La Jolla. As he dug his way through the piles upon piles of surfboards, I wondered what was going to emerge. The bike finally revealed itself amongst the surfboards, and I beheld a full-suspension 29er Titus mountain bike. If you’re not a mountain biker, here’s the translation: this was a damn fine bike, far better than what I owned at that time. He said: “here you go, want to take it for a ride and see if it will work?”

“Sure…” I was still doing mental math. “Does he expect me to pay him for it?” I was thinking? Nobody had ever given me anything worth that much before (or since)… After riding it for 30 seconds, I knew that this bike didn’t suck. Those are code-words for: “awesome!”

I rode back to the place, and asked him “what do you want me to pay you for it?” I still couldn’t wrap my head around getting something like this for free. His answer: “Nothing. take it – it’s yours. Otherwise I’d have to deal with putting it on Craigslist and all the weirdos coming by and looking at it.”

A price I can’t refuse

Okay, we can accept that price. And so I became the proud new owner of a fantastic bike at the best price I’ve ever paid. That bike has been all over the Western USA with me, and I’ve ridden it 1,000’s of miles. Occasionally I send Frank pictures of me and the bike – but I think he’s getting tired of random pictures of the bike that he never really grew fond of in the first place.

Flash forward to now, like one of those 70’s television shows where someone has a reminiscence then returns to the present via a cheesy shimmering effect… and here I am riding my bike around South Tahoe, exploring the trails and roads near the lake to see what’s around and enjoy the morning views.

Beautiful morning, perfect temperatures. My map of the trails was sketchy, so a couple of times I followed trails through the woods that tapered out into swampland, and I had to turn back before the buzzing mosquitos got to me. Exploration at it’s finest, as I burnt hundreds of calories climbing and descending Tahoe’s hills.

The pattern interrupt: a gym chock full of people

At one point, right after I was treated to some incredible lake views, with geese in the foreground and shimmering mountains in the background, I came across a sight that was a total pattern interrupt: a gym whose parking lot was nearly full, boasting “great views” on its sign.

On my ride, I’d seen, at most, three other cyclists and maybe a handful of runners out enjoying this gorgeous morning. And there at the gym were at least 30 people, packed into a small space with other sweating people, breathing in the sweaty smell as they clanked their weights and pounded the rubber of the treadmills – probably consuming the latest news about the war in the Middle East on the built-in TV screens.

Wow… really? How could anyone want to be in a gym right now, rather than out enjoying this awesome morning? I was flummoxed.

Then a thought came to mind. You know how sometimes your mind just speaks a judgement before you can get hold of it and tell it to shut up? (okay, I admit, I like the voice in my head, most of the time).

Well, in this case it spoke one word to me: fear. Followed by: Fear breeds fear. That’s the only explanation I could come up with for why someone would be in a gym on a day like this.

Non-judgement is hard

I try not to judge. I do my darnedest. So instead of deciding that they’re all crazy and weird and screwed up, I went into reflective mode. “They’re not bad people,” I tell myself, “they’re just confused by fear.”

Fear of the unknown of the outside world. You might get rained on (I did). You might get lost. (I did). God forbid, you might even have a mechanical problem (I didn’t, fortunately!). Worse still: you might be embarrassed by having a wreck or something. You could even get bitten by a mosquito carrying the dreaded West Nile virus, then it’s all over in a blur of fevers and coughs.

I get it. It’s safer and more controlled to go to a gym. You can get the same workout, every time. In it’s perfect, climate-controlled environment, not much can go wrong. There is almost no risk of any kind of failure.

And yet… there’s no risk of coming across stunning mountain landscapes… a flock of geese and their goslings, walking the bike across a sandy beach, feeling the morning dew and a few raindrops on your face, smelling the fresh new mountain air. There is no risk of hopping the bike across a fallen log and maybe screwing it up… or maybe not – and feeling the exhilaration, either way. There is no risk.

You get a certain, prescribed amount of exercise and it’s almost guaranteed. Yet – where’s the joy? Where’s the adventure? Where’s the excitement? Where’s the newness?

The robotic nation takes over

I find it bizarre that we humans used our creativity to create great empires and great machines to help us keep those empires running – and then we decided to fall in love with those machines by becoming more like them.

We plan out every moment of every day to assure climate-controlled comfort at all times.

God forbid if a new idea should strike us – that’s just “crazy talk” to be dismissed by the more sane and robotic part of us.

Worse still if we happen to go on an adventure like a mountain bike ride… and run into some kind of challenge. We might not be able to handle it – and our ego would be in shreds.

Besides, machines are just machines – no different than any of the other machines – and don’t have any special privileges, nor do they deserve a “great life!” – because they’re just machines. So, since we’re trying to be like machines, why should we feel “deserving” of anything great? We shouldn’t: that’s just selfish for a machine to want. Stop it now.

This gym phenomenon is just a tip of the iceberg in machine-dom. Machines aren’t flexible, creative, and adaptable like humans*. Hell, the other day I saw an article about bacteria that evolved to eat electricity for their energy. Now that’s flexible and creative. Life is spontaneous, creative, adventuresome. Robots are not.

So why do we pack ourselves into places like the gym, going there for a precisely defined workout, followed by a precisely-defined diet to assure the precisely healthy body fat percentage as specified by the precisely measured statistics coming from the latest studies?

I have no damn clue, really, except to say that it’s dismaying that many of our lives have come to this. We are not machines!

We are creative, beautiful, loving beings, meant for more than just living a daily life of machine-dom. We are not here to avoid any variation in circumstance – we are here to adapt to the variations, to roll with the punches, to seek and have adventure and fun.

We are creators, not robots. Let’s stop trying to live like robots, and start reclaiming our creative, spontaneous humanity.


* – this is referring to humans who haven’t already become too robotic….

** – Sorry to gym owners and friends of mine who go to the gym. Like I said above, I do not judge you. However, I cannot follow your path, I must create my own, and it doesn’t involve a gym.