Friday, 24 August 2012

Bend Over Bridges.

The athletes of the Paralympics have been warned not to do any boosting.  Have you heard of it?  I hadn't, till now. You injure or harm yourself in order to induce an adrenal reaction, and enhance your performance. Neat trick, I guess.  But if you break your bones (??!) in order to compete, aren't you actually shooting yourself in the foot, so to speak?  You want adrenaline? Why not try fear, instead?  You get everything you need to boost to your blood pressure and stimulate the fight or flight response without any splints, casts, or lasting damage.  And less pain, too, though if you're into boosting you might not be okay with that.

Boosting:  It's Fifty Shades of Performance Enhancement.

Pain?  Meh. I like to feel good. Life's all about the pursuit of happiness, joy, ecstasy even, from the beginning right through to the end.  Can you imagine what it would be like to be free from fear, anger and anxiety, so that every thought, every action, every word embodied peace and loving kindness?  They say that there are only two basic human, emotions, fear and love, and that you are always experiencing either one or the other.  I'm a happy person, but fear lurks in the shadows of my psyche, for sure.

What do you fear most?  Is it rejection, the dark, your dentist, flying, spiders, elevators, or even your mother in-law?  My biggest fear is dead simple, though sometimes it causes complications. A few months into the millennium, I fell ker-SPLAT-ski from waaaay up on high.  I did not land gracefully, and it took a fair whack of time to get my ass out of the wheelchair.  I was not afraid of heights the day I fell, just as in my somewhat simple mind I am not afraid of heights today, (I love to climb - you'll find me in trees and on mountains!) but sometimes my body has it's own opinion on the subject.  Sometimes it goes all


on me and things get messy.  It's mostly a physical thing, but there is a mental component to it and an emotional one, too.  You may know the feeling: hands hot and prickly, muscles tense, breathing ragged and uneven, heart pounding, stomach leaden, blood pressure rising.  If you've ever been in a truly life and death situation, then you know in a visceral sense how the body orchestrates a perfect storm of an electro-bio-chemical soup to empower you to superhuman strength and speed. It's true.

It's a smokin' hot day for Vancouver, which means we may approach a whopping 30c (86f), and I have the day off.  What to do, what to do...? On a hot day, there is nothing  like riding the trails down from the top the Seymour Demonstration Forest on the North Shore mountains.  It's car free zone where you ride a wide and winding paved trail through a gorgeous mature temperate rainforest, and then you turn around and FLY back down again. The abundance of negative ions in the cool forest air soaks the stress from even the worst state of mind like a sponge sucks up spilled milk.  Some people drive up to the foot of the trail and ride from the parking lot, but that's just no fun.  We rode there.  The best route from Kits to the Seymour trails involves the Second Narrows bridge, as seen in this video:

This link is misleading, because it doesn't show the whole span of the bridge.  That would make a great little clip.  If he had filmed the whole crossing, you might be able to appreciate the view, but you probably wouldn't be able to feel how big and bumpy those expansion joints are.  You wouldn't know how they rock your ride.  You might gain an understanding of just how much the bridge rattles and shakes when an 18 wheeler is approaching, and though you might have an inkling how close those thunderous machines are as they roar past, you probably won't be able to see how easily you could reach out and touch them if you tried.  Luckily for you, though, nothing in any video could inform you of the noxious, nasty, sick feeling you get as you mainline the exhaust from the tailpipes of those ginormous great beasts all up close and personal like that,  not unless you get on the bridge and taste it for yourself.

(The observant will have noticed that another of my fears is that I die of car exhaust before my scheduled appointment with the grim reaper.)

(Note to self:  Rob the sock monkey of  his gas mask...)

Speaking of the reaper, the second narrows bridge is also known as the Ironworker's Memorial Bridge, in memory of all of the ironworkers who died when the damned thing collapsed as they were building it in 1958:

That's ancient history, but that's not the end of our bridge woes.  Quite recently, A crane collapsed during construction of the new Port Mann bridge, sending a section of it into the drink.  Nothing they can do with the new bridge can make it any worse for cyclists than the existing bridge, though, so bring it on.  Then there's the Cambie St bridge.  It collapsed into False Creek in 1915 as a result of fire:

Today it has a great, wide pavement set aside for pedestrians and cyclists.  It's rather lovely to look at, and it's a great idea in theory, but there is no order to the chaos.  No one thought to stick a lick of  paint down the middle to indicate that perhaps pedestrians ought to stay to one side and bikes to the other. The fear factor never kicks in on the Cambie bridge, though perhaps it should, since the likelihood of a collision with a pedestrian runs high.

The Dunsmuir St Viaduct now has a separate bike lane:

Which is infinitely better than things used to be in days gone by, when you could either crowd in with the peds:

Or take your chances with the cars:

There was a sweet post on Lovely Bicycle last week about Cycling Without Fear.  In it, she mentions that fear can interfere with your ability to ride well, so as I rode the Second Narrows bridge, I took stock. My hands and arms are normally relaxed, but I was gripping the handlebars so tightly that I felt a wobble coming on when a big truck approached from behind (though goodness only knows how much of the wobble was the bridge.) My heart rate is usually a function of how fast I am travelling up what kind of incline, but as I crossed the Memorial bridge, there was no correlation to movement whatsoever. Even as I coasted down the far side, my heart was pounding so hard I could hear my pulse, and my hands were hot, prickly, sweaty and tense.   I got a total performance BOOST from the fear, for sure, for what it was worth, but it felt awful.  It didn't help that we were downwind from traffic. There wasn't much of a breeze, so the exhaust on the air was nauseating. It was a nasty crossing, through and through, but even so, it was well worth it in the end.

And that's the thing...

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."   (Nelson Mandela) I learned that there is no way to get to the North Shore, and some of Vancouver's best cycling, without crossing the Burrard Inlet. Until the day I learn to fly and land gracefully that's sure to involve a bridge, so I summon courage to conquer this fear every chance I get.

If you don't want to ride the Second Narrows' Dead Men Memorial, you can always try your hand at the Lion's Gate bridge.

Pretty, isn't it? This is a cyclist's approach to the bridge:

And this is how motorists do it.  Poor sods:

Once you're on, this bridge boasts a world class view as far as the eyes can see, which may distract you from the cold, Canadian waters clearly visible through the railings, reflecting the light hundreds of feet below. If you have any sort of reaction to heights, you may experience an adrenaline rush riding this baby. If you have any sort of sense of smell you may find the sewage plant underneath a little off-putting once in a while, though not often. After all, there's a lot of pacific air betwixt here and there.

Can you tell that this is taken from hundreds of feet in the air?  This isn't even the apex of the bridge.  In the olden days, bridges were covered to spare horses the panic and terror of knowing that they were way high up off of the ground, bless the poor dim creatures.

What does it say about me that I can relate?

Today's bridges have phones instead of covers, though I can't for the life of me figure out how a horse is supposed to open the box...

Dear Reader.  You have no idea how much I love you.  I rode this bridge of my own free will yesterday, not in pursuit of a great, endorphin-triggering ride, but rather to share it with you. It was an enlightening experience. I learned that a suspension bridge shakes and wobbles with traffic, and it does so much more in some places than in others.  Between girders along the very edges of the bridge, it bounces A LOT, which reminds me that I am in a place destined for the mother of all earthquakes.

Still, in the event of the Big One  I would much rather be on a suspension bridge like the Lion's Gate than on the Burrard St bridge. I ride the latter daily, and it never inspires my adrenal stress reaction the way the big bridges do, though perhaps it is the most dangerous of the lot.  No, this bridge has it's own set of issues...

This is what you'll find on the bike path underneath the Burrard St Bridge.  And if you look up, this is what you'll see:

Yes. It's a green net.  It catches the bits that keep crumbling off the bridge, like this:

The crumbling infrastructure curse of the developed world.  Not exactly confidence inspiring, is it?

"He who has overcome his fears is truly free."  (Aristotle) Fair enough. I am freed from fear every time I overcome and get off one of those big, scary, smelly bridges. Tolstoy said "happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them."  I do see those bridges as opportunities to ride the good ride, but that doesn't stop my heart from trying to pound its way out of my chest.  Is there a simple solution when it comes to overcoming fear?  Who knows...

Wayne Dyer teaches the orange analogy:  when you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out.  What happens when life squeezes you? When nasty man in an Escalade squeezed me in the intersection of Georgia and Hornby, the bird automatically popped out, and that's quite typical, really.  Acceptance is the first step to change, though, right? One day the world will squeeze me, only goodness and light will come shining out, because I am living in that exalted state of enlightenment where every thought, word and action is filled with loving kindness.

Till that day, thank Goodness my fingers still function.

Next time you're riding, and fear comes a'knocking on your heart's door, don't bend over. Just smile sweetly, go to your happy place, imagine your destination, and say "Kiss my sweet cheeks, Sucka!"

 "I ride on the wild side."

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