Friday, December 05, 2008

A Reason Not to Bike Tour (or Travel)

The idea of a bike touring is great. You are in touch with your surroundings and perhaps pursuing a life dream. If I do it here in New Zealand, there will be a catch. I'll be doing the whole thing solo. That will open up a wave of random encounters on the road, but may also leave part of me unfulfilled. A part of me that I've felt only an old friend can fill. This same but was what almost kept me from traveling at all. I miss my people back home. I'm not nearly as homesick for the place as I am for the people. Fifteen months of e-mails just doesn't have the same quality as one laugh or one hug.

"Lonely people back in town. I saw it in the supermarket and at the Laundromat and when we checked out from the motel. These pickup campers through the redwoods, full of lonely retired people looking at trees on their way to look at the ocean. You catch it in the first fraction of a glance from a new face - that searching look - and then it's gone.

We see much more of this loneliness now. It's paradoxical that where people are the most closely crowded in the big coastal cities in the East and West, the loneliness is the greatest. Back where people were so spread out in western Oregon and Idaho and Montana and the Dakotas you'd think the loneliness would have been greater, but we didn't see it so much.

The explanation, I suppose, is that the physical distance between people has nothing to do with the loneliness. It's psychic distance, and in Montana and Idaho the physical distances are big but the psychic distances between people are small, and here it's reversed.

It's the primary America we're in. It hit the night before last in Prineville Junction and it's been with us ever since. There's this primary America of freeways and jet flights and TV and movie spectaculars. And people caught up in this primary America seem to go through huge portions of their lives without much consciousness of what's immediately around them. The media have convinced them that what's right about them is unimportant. And that's why their lonely. You see it in their faces. First the little flicker of searching, and then when they look at you, you're just a kind of object. You don't count. You're not what they're looking for. You're not on TV.

But in the secondary America we've been through of back roads and Chinaman's ditches, and Appaloosa horses, and sweeping mountain ranges, and meditative thoughts, and kids with pinecones and bumblebees and open sky above us mile after mile after mile, all through that, what was real, what was around us dominated. And so there wasn't much feeling of loneliness. That's the way it must have been a hundred or two hundred years ago. Hardly any people and hardly any loneliness. I'm undoubtedly overgeneralizing, but if the proper qualifications were introduced it would be true.

Technology is blamed for a lot of this loneliness, since the loneliness is certainly associated with the newer technological devices - TV, jets, freeways, and so on - but I hope it's been made plain that the real even isn't the objects of technology but the tendency of technology to isolate people into lonely attitudes of objectivity." -
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

As I walked around Queenstown last week, this passage evoked loneliness in me. I don't think of the loneliness while doing solo trips in the wilderness or on the road. I think of it when I settle into town for a couple days. I see friends laughing with each other and realize what I am missing. In a Queenstown internet cafe, we were packed in so close together that corporate America's cubicle farms were put to shame. We were all calling or e-mailing friends in far off places when all the people we need to stave off loneliness were right there around us. Sometimes we reach across the divide. Sometimes we don't. I know that I'm a little shy to initiate since leaving the Ice. That tendency is slowly fading, but not quick enough. All of my social needs should probably be able to be met by what is around me if I just take the time to look for it here and choose to make it happen. It is time to shed the last of my Ice baggage.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sending the quotes. It's convincingly true. Sometimes we forget that we isolate ourselves.

    Make the decision that is right for you, whether it be bike tour or returning home.

    Sending you a VIRTUAL HUG! hehe