Sunday, September 28, 2014

I Went In Seeking Clarity

2 1/2 miles out from home, flat

The title of this post is a line from a song by the Indigo Girls called "Closer to Fine." When it first came out, a long time ago, its college-age message of resolving to not look for clarity or truth from authoritative sources, along with the folly of trying to find solace from lack of answers in a bottle or a one night stand, but rather to learn that you might approach something like calmness or "fine" by not seeking definitive answers, appealed to me.

That song, and the lyric from it, was in my head during some of my commutes this past week. I mulled over clarity, its methods and sources, and related topics of fearlessness and calmness of mind as opposed to anger. I had some threads that I wanted to bring together in a blog post here, but perhaps because of the intensity of work stresses this week, along with other distractions, the threads wouldn't come together like I wanted them to. With storms forecast for Friday night and Saturday but also cooler temperatures, I thought that perhaps a long meditative weekend ride would clear things up.

The gauge seems accurate enough for field use, and the pump with its little foot peg is very easy to use.

But Friday's work lasted into the evening, and Saturday's storms were far more intense and damaging than expected. In our neighborhood, we had 50mph winds, street flooding, and trees knocked down along with power lines, causing lengthy outages. One of our trees that has withstood a couple decades of storms went down in this one, so that mess had to be dealt with after the storm passed. However, I noticed storm number two gathering in the wake of storm one, so rather than get caught out there in the second one, I waited till Sunday to clean up the downed tree. Which left, after everything else, late Sunday afternoon for the Clarity Ride.

All set, I headed out. Made it about two miles, then got a psssshhhhhtttt! type flat from what seems to have been a roofing staple. There is stuff washed all over the streets from the storms, so it's hard to tell for certain what may have done in the tire. There was enough damage to the sidewall right at the stem (particularly on the inside which was basically cut through and shredded) that I decided to replace the tube and head home to avoid having to try to deal with another flat later on.

Cutting short the ride was kind of a bummer. The weather was cool as it has been in months, and the air was clean as only after a storm in Phoenix. Instead of perhaps 20 miles, I end at less than five.

Probably something more like this is what I had in mind. Group I saw earlier this week.

I had written some notes earlier in the little notebook (freebie Moleskine from Lufthansa) about how the opposites of clarity, fearlessness, and calmness of mind--confusion, fear, and anger--are often used by those who want to manipulate or control us for some specific end often not of our own benefit. How confusion, in particular, seems rampant, induced by everything from swearing to aggression to non-sequiturs, and how I view as suspect any argument or position which relies on confusing its hearers rather than facts, logic, or data. Also, how rare clarity, fearlessness, and calmness of mind seem to be sometimes. How riding the bicycle seems to benefit from them, and in turn sometimes seems to nurture them. Lastly, how unsatisfactory the conclusions of "Closer to Fine" seem to me now, even though I still love the tune along with the ways it made me feel while hearing it, even while singing along when I've seen Indigo Girls in concert.

Those seemed like strong threads for mulling over on a long, fine ride, to tie into something coherent and whole, perhaps. But this post-storm flat ride, where I went in seeking clarity on a long joyride, but ended up instead sitting on the storm-muddied pavement changing a flat tube in a ruined tire, seemed to mock my plans while reinforcing the message of the song. I even contemplated not fixing the flat and just doing my own walk of shame home the couple of miles, but decided it was farther than I wanted to walk. Thinking these things, I noticed the mosquitoes that had been raised by the torrential rains starting to swarm around me, attracted to my sweat and exertions, I suppose. Great.

Then, when I was nearly finished, a woman in a black SUV stopped on the other side of the road and asked me if I was OK, if there was anything wrong. "No, just changing a flat tire. I'm pretty close to fine," I called back. Or would have, if I could think of clever things like that in real time instead of when I'm writing about them later on my blog.

It is possible, I reckoned on that short ride home late on a fine afternoon on my spare tube, that those threads are as tied up as they're going to be, or possibly as they need to be. Be fearless. Endeavor to maintain calmness of mind. Seek clarity. Take notice of, question, and doubt their opposites. I do look for, and sometimes find, definitive answers, unlike that old song. For example, carrying a spare tube, a good pump, and a wrench (or 2) for axle nuts when riding a single speed, along with nice strong plastic tire levers, is clearly good and effective. It sounds minor, and in the grand scheme, probably is. But I see it as a pattern, or habit, of clarity. Don't get angry at flat tires.

Calm, fearless clarity is powerful, even on a shortened bike ride late in the afternoon. Maybe that's as close as I need to be to understanding them. It sounds like a good-enough sentiment to send out: may your rides be calm, fearless, and filled with clarity, and may you be enabled  to detect and repel anger, fear, and confusion, whether in the arguments and positions of others, or inside yourself. I hope my next ride is flat-free, and yours too, but having the right tools and supplies will always be a good, clear idea.

PDW 3wrencho (black, coated), a good tool for axle nuts, and a tire lever in a pinch


  1. Great post, JRA! That song has long been a favourite of mine too.

    1. They are still good in concert, too. We saw them in Scottsdale recently. I sang along loudly to the Michael Stipe part of "Kid Fears".

  2. I love that tool. Hmm, have to look for one of those. I also like your message. Flat tires never come at opportune moments - like within a block of home - so best just remain calm and deal with the situation. My normal practice is to call whomever I need to (if I will be late) and methodically go through the steps.

    1. Do that always: communicate with those who need to know, remain calm, methodically go through the steps. In every situation. Fearlessly. Confidently. Everyone.

  3. That PDW looks a lot like TA wrenches.

    1. Steve I usually carry this along with my Campy peanut butter wrench (belts and suspenders). The flat side turned 90 degrees does assist with palm torque.


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