Riding to Stanford

Today, I rode my bike to Palo Alto.

I thought it’d be pretty cool to ride across a bridge, but the majority of the way there was hell. I had to ride through a wildlife refuge center place first, which was fine, but between there and the actual bridge was this long section where the road was not fully paved. It wasn’t dirt+rock road or full asphalt, it was some kind of… really rocky asphalt. Which is perfectly fine if you have some kind of mountain bike. But I was riding my carbon road at 140 psi.

It’s not comfortable.

You’d think that with higher pressure tires it’d be a more comfortable ride, but it doesn’t work that way. The more you pressurize something, the more rigid it becomes – the range in which road tires give nice cushioning is long before it counts as inflated. Stack that on top of the fact that my bike is made out of stiff composite carbon fiber and not a metal aluminum or steel and the rubber of the tires isn’t anywhere near as thick as a mountain bike’s tires… I’m not doing that again.

On that not-exactly-paved section there was a little granite line. I’m assuming it was a leftover from the past when it served as a divider or something; it had the same width as normal painted lines. That little line, somewhere between 4 and 5 tire widths wide, was my savior. I had set a goal that morning to get across the fucking bridge, and if I had to do it at fucking 3 mph and take 3 hours to do it, I would complete my task. Obviously, it’s not a very bright idea to ride at 3mph on such a shitty road. Riding slower doesn’t help you that much in easing the shocks. That granite line did. I started riding on it and following it, and it felt great.

But even riding on a line isn’t easy.

Some things are not scalable. If you had a circle painted on the wall with a diameter 4 to 5 times your hand width,  you can punch bulls-eye 10 out of 10 times.  Riding a bike at 10 or 15 miles an hour with your only means of direction control being the handlebars, trying to stay on a line 4-5 times your tire width, is a different story. The smallest movement moves the tire many degrees, and with the speed multiplier you are off the safe area in one moment. Even with a 300-400% margin of error, I was not able to stay on that line for more than 70% of the time, for to move the bicycle forward I needed the cranks to spin, and for the cranks to spin my center of gravity was constantly shifted by the movement of my legs and the shifting of tension between different abdominal muscles to keep myself balanced. Surrounding that line was constant pain just waiting for me to come on over, and on both sides of the gravel line grew moss and small weeds – and on a road bike, even the smallest elevation changes are noticeable.

While going up the bridge was pretty uneventful, the downgrade portions took a lot out of me. It was a bike path that was – praise the goddesses – paved and smooth. On both sides were 4 foot or so tall concrete barriers, and the path itself was about 2.2 bike widths wide. I rested and did some easy spinning on the apex, but going down made me realize how cramped that was. Again, to re-iterate, I had a 120% margin of error.  But I had gotten into the downhill aero position, my head only inches above the bars, elbows fully bent, one leg extended and the other tugged close to my body. 20 mph forward with 10 mph crosswind. All steering would be done with movement from either my wrists or my shoulders.

Naturally, I had to do all of the above twice.

Well, no, not exactly. The granite line only existed on one side of the road.

The more I experience reality, the more I see that people really don’t live in reality. We think we can just judge things because we read about it online (read: because we saw somebody else write about it), when that has already been distilled to what they believe are its most fundamental and core elements. With the world of Google and Ctrl+F, organization seems overrated. Yes, if my ride across Dumbarton was put in a video game, it would be “hold W” or “hold the up arrow”. Even with the oh-so-complex controller with its little stick things, it inevitably still uses buttons. While quantum mechanics does state that reality at the smallest level is discrete and not continuous (think black block and white block like pixels, rather than grayscale gradient), the human scale in relation to reality is for all intents and purposes a continuity. You want black? How black do you want it? Which black? How are you going to get that dark when none of your materials can create such a thing?

Humans now are able to live with minimal dealings to reality. The vast majority of activities are either computerized and thus made discrete to a ridiculously easy degree, or are entirely social – again, discrete to a ridiculous degree. Fill out these papers and you’re done, or pay some money and that’s it. The perhaps most difficult thing an average person needs to do today is drive a car, because you have to actively react to things in a split second decision. But even then you’re still sitting in a chair with only a wheel, two pedals, and a stick. Most driving is not really that taxing – compared to, say, Formula 1 driving.

No one needs to deal with or has skill and effort and consistency anymore, because those are assumed.

I had a metal fabrication class last term, and it was amazing. While some parts were computer controlled, the vast majority of it was manual. You could, say, indicate in your drawing that you want the diameter of your thing to be 1.1 inches. But what is 1.1? 1.11? 1.09? 1.10? If it’s 1.10, is that 1.101, 1.099, or 1.100? You may call this semantics, but this is simply the reality of engineering. If you make a 1.10 part that juts out and I make a 1.10 hole, 99% of the time it’s not going to fit. Why? Because machines aren’t infinitely accurate. You always need to specify how far exactly you’re going, because at some point, machines can’t measure it anymore.

Your mouse doesn’t sense continuous motion. It has a rate, and you can look this up if you have a decent mouse, at which it takes measurements. It’s called a polling rate, and it’s measured in Hertz, which is times per second. Usually these rates are so high we just assume it’s perfect. But it isn’t. Nothing is perfect. We assume it is because it simply works. As do we of any part we obtain by simply driving a car into a spot somewhere, walking into a building, handing over cash or sliding a card, and done deal. And all the stuff that it takes to do that – the car, the building, the money, the card, and the card machine – it’s assumed that these work. They don’t. They simply happen to work well enough.

A society does not simply progress the same way at the same speed throughout all of time for this reason. Just as it is not easy to ride a bicycle well but easy to do the equivalent in a video game, fact slowly becomes fiction within civilization. Fiat, to declare “Let X be so!”, is no longer difficult to achieve, but instantaneous and without thought. 1.1 is assumed to be 1.1000 with 0’s going to infinity.

But the world is not built on fundamentals. Humans create fundamentals to make order (“sense”) of the world. The world does not just make sense on its own.

We have things backwards. It is not magical when things fail on us; they are not accidents, it’s not “it depends”. It is magical when things go perfectly.

Generic is not easy. A man does not simply ace university, find his love, make a family, provide for them, and start a dynasty. One does not simply do everything properly.

One does not simply ride on a line.


One thought on “Riding to Stanford

  1. Pingback: To The Beginning « All Else Is Halation

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