I met my host from Warmshowers.com, Ray, in the late afternoon yesterday after climbing a one-mile-long hill. The humidity was so high I couldn’t tell if the liquid squishing in my gloves during our handshake was sweat or water I picked up from the air. Either way, I was embarrassingly hot and soaking wet when we first met. Ray didn’t mind and was as gracious as ever.
Above: Ray Eckenrode, age unknown
“I’m just on my way out,” he said as I pulled my bike into his cavernous garage. “I have to pick my daughter up from school. Shower’s at the top of the stairs, clean towels are in the closet. Make yourself at home! Please! Relax! I’ll be back in 30 minutes or so! Alright, see you!” And he was off.
I feel like commenting on how hospitable people have been is getting a bit redundant for this website. So I’ll stop. I won’t talk about it anymore.
But you get the idea.
I took a shower that was so spectacular, so life-changing, so eyes-rolling-back-in-my-head-and-lips-quivering earth shattering, I nearly passed out. Attempting to describe it any further using mere words would be an insult to its magnificence.
When Ray returned after I had floated back down to earth, he asked me if I’d like to attend a PTA meeting later that night at his daughter’s middle school because his daughter would be playing bass in a short strings concert that would close the meeting. I told him I’d love to go as I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone: I’d hear his daughter play and I would have the chance to possibly arrange a school visit for the following day.
Ray and his family prepared a wonderful home cooked feast of pasta, salad, and ice cream. I tried to control myself and avoid jumping on top of the table to dump trays of pasta and salad directly into my mouth, but it was difficult. And the ice cream! I’m convinced I have never had ice cream so good in all my life. Definitely.
Above: PTA meeting / strings concert in local middle school cafeteria
After the PTA meeting and a rushed conversation with the principal in which he seemed skeptical about the possibility of having me speak at his school (not sure why, I think there wasn’t enough notice. Maybe I didn’t quite scrub all of the stink off me from the day’s ride?), we went back to the house and talked bikes.
Ray is an avid cyclist and used to ride 150–200 miles a week. He has a variety of bikes in his garage including a custom built three-seater bike shipped out east from Oregon, a tandem, a few road bikes, and a unicycle. He said he and his family put 2,500 miles on the three-seater. Having never ridden a tandem or a triple before, I asked Ray a bunch of questions about the logistics involved when riding such monsters.
Above: Ray with his custom three-seater
“Well, there are a few things you have to consider. The most important is that no one does anything unless the captain [the person at the front of the bike] says so. When you come to a stop, the captain puts his feet down first to stabilize the bike and then tells the stokers [people behind the captain] to do the same. That way the whole thing won’t tip over with people trying to get off at different times and off different sides. At red lights, only the captain really needs to unclip his pedals. Everyone else can stay clipped in. Hmmmm, what else.” Pause. “Oh yeah, it also really helps if the riders are of equal strength.”
I asked why that was so.
Above: One of the many tandems Ray’s purchased over the years.
“If the riders are of equal strength, no one rider is working to pull the other or keep up with the other. With tandems, you lose out if you’re stronger than your partner because you end up pullin’ him. If you’re weaker, you end up pedaling like crazy trying to keep up.” Pause. “You have to find a balance, a point where you can work as a single unit, a true team. And if you’re the captain, you have to learn to lose your ego.”
For some reason, I found all of these little details incredibly fascinating and asked Ray to explain more about the losing the ego part.
“Well, you have to think about why you cycle, you know? Why are we out here? Are we here to train and fly, or do we want to cruise and take in the scenery? When you know that, then you need to pick a pace that suits why your out there, but also one that helps you best function as one entity, one team. You can’t try to pedal your heart out and hope you can make your partner faster. It just won’t work, I don’t care how strong you are. You can’t think like you’re an individual. You need to figure out your sweet spot, the place where you, your stoker, and the bike all mesh into this one efficient thing.”
All of this seemed very Buddhist to me and brought to mind a bunch of lectures I downloaded by the philosopher Alan Watts. In them, he describes how imperative it is for humans to escape the shackles of ego if they ever hope to raise their level of consciousness.
Concentrating and aiming for efficiency while on the bike, especially when riding with someone else, seems like the perfect way to chase the state of non-thinking, the point of meshing, of becoming saturated, that both Ray and Buddhist thinkers speak about. You have lots of time to think on the bike. That time can be spent, traded for brain zaps of fresh thought, and spread thick over your day like a two inch layer of peanut butter, or it can be ignored and wasted on a bucket of fleeting thoughts.
I’m guilty of occasionally wasting time on the bike by purposely trying to zone out with the help of music to make it over big hills or through blustery pastures. But still, I feel like in the past few weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to experience a few of those rare moments of meshing, of fusion–moments in which the wind, the sun, the pavement, the fields, the passing cars, and the rhythm of my pedaling all conspire to create a single, palpable wave of experience that courses through me and swells in intensity like the slow bloom of a rising atomic cloud.
Ray had to wake up early and I was getting tired. We said goodnight and I retreated to my basement lair.
Above: My palatial digs for two nights. Thank you Eckenrodes!
A strange dreamscape and its motley crew welcomed me in the night with a pair of red sunglasses that I thought were too flashy but wore anyway and a tandem bike that was old yet had a fresh paint job.
The morning brought in showers that fell so thoroughly one could only deduce they were allergic to the clouds that birthed them.
All day it rained, so all day I wrote.