Friday, May 22, 2009

Jungle Musings

A few days ago I tagged along on another ride that Gravity Bolivia offers, called the Ghost Ride. While the riding was fun, with some steep single-track in the beginning, the real gem of the day was a thought and realization I had when we stopped at a “haunted castle” to eat and relax.

Sitting there, in the old castle/mansion, having recently finished a late lunch of ice cold Bolivian beer, fresh trout, salad, and for dessert the best pear I’ve ever tasted, I had one of those moments where I ask myself, “what more do I need?” And, more importantly, what don’t I need? I’m sure part of it was that I am clearly affected by food, ask my girlfriend how important good food is to me, or ANY food if I’m cranky; definitely in the top 3 things in the world for me. Yet, as I was sitting there in the castle, in the Bolivian jungle, satiated and happy from food and physical exertion, I began to think about all the things we don’t need, and how hard it was to focus on what I find the greatest enjoyment in when I was constantly distracted back in the states.

When I’m riding (aka “working”) I’m not thinking about what the Dow is doing, or what new emails I have, or what’s new on Facebook. I don’t have a car, a TV, or a video, book, and CD collection. I make enough money to eat and pay my bills, I’m not really saving any money, but what would I save it for? An SUV? A big-screen television? A house that is worth less than I bought it for? Is what we’ve been taught about happiness getting through to anyone?

It is maximally cliché to say, “money doesn’t buy happiness”, or “things don’t buy happiness”, yet it seems as if few people are putting these overused sound bites into action. In my perception most people pay them lip service; and instead sacrifice, usually with minimal cognition, their own personal values, goals, and dreams.

Today I read an article by Matthew B. Crawford in the New York Times discussing the differences he personally experienced in work, from the coveted office job with a Phd. to starting his own motorcycle repair shop. Maybe I just like to read articles that reinforce my decisions and make me feel as if I’m not squandering my Ivy League education. However, he makes a fairly convincing argument for the value of tangible and physical work. Briefly, in the last twenty years the educational system of the U.S. and to a large extent the world has been focused on cultivating “knowledge workers”. The more formal and academic education you have the better; the more specialized and removed from the end result the worker is, so be it. Sitting in a cubicle, and then the boardroom, and then the large office is the goal, the objective. Blue-collar work is to be avoided, or least is reserved for those not quite as talented. As Matthew puts it, “A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.”"

I’ve experienced both of the aforementioned, first with “What are you going to do with a degree in Philosophy”, and, “Why the hell do you want to move to a third world country, make no money, and risk your life careening 12,000 ft. down a mountain every other day”. Prior to Bolivia I observed the effects of the pervasive application of concentration drugs such as Focalin and Adderal on the lives of young teenagers, especially boys. I won’t digress into medication philosophy, but if you think anyone can spend 8 hours a day “learning” in a detached and intangible setting without any sort of negative side effect, you are delusional. Couple that with the “relaxation” of hours and hours of TV and video games… that’s one unhappy person.

Everything we do affects our psyche. I remember someone told me once, and I wish I remember who, that what we do, especially occupationally, will quite literally change who we are. Do I have a double-blind, peer reviewed test to prove that statement. No, but I do have plenty of anecdotal and observational evidence for it. And quite honestly, that is all I need.

A few days ago I spent upwards of 4 hours working on my bike (or rather, asking questions and helping Carlos,Gus, and Jubi work on my bike!) and at one point I paused for a second and thought to myself, “This is great, I’m learning all sorts of new stuff, and seeing something tangible and pragmatic happen, and I get to enjoy it all when I go tearing down the mountain on my properly working bike.” Well, it probably wasn’t so linear a thought, but it WAS a thought AND a feeling that I had. I haven’t worked in an office in a long time, but I don’t remember being excited about work in the same way, much less excited about work I wasn’t getting paid to do.

In conclusion, I offer more pictures of another “day at the office”. And, what do I need to be happy? I already have it.

Nearly 5,000 meters above sea level. Yes, I'm above the clouds and on top of the world!

The Battle Cruiser, featured in multiple bike magazines and legendary in every way. Mike, a fellow guide, is in the picture, he went back home to Sweden today. Take care my friend!

In the distance you can see Huayani Potosi, often claimed to be the easiest 6,000 m. peak to climb.

Steeper than it looks. Three of the four guys on this trip were absolute beginners. Funny and scary to watch people fall so many times.

I replaced the bushing and pivot bolt in my shock mount recently. The bolt was visibly bent in a slight "U" shape, probably due to urban 5 ft. drops to flat concrete. Two days later... I'm trying to bend the new one.

The castle. It was built in the 30's by Paraguayan prisoners.

It's a pretty good life when part of your job description is drinking a beer and relaxing with your clients.

The dining room where deep thinking happened.

And last but not least. Llamas. Yup, those are llamas.

1 comment:

  1. Yet another reason that you continually amaze me.

    ReplyDelete