Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Biking Lessons

Rational Technology for April 16, 2006

So there I was: pushing my mountain bike up the steep road to Basak, which lies midway between the municipalities of Maria and Larena. It was past midday, and the sun shone mercilessly through the blue cloudless sky. Too steep to ride up, even on the lowest gear, step by ever shortening step attempted to cover what seemed to be endless road snaking up the desolate hillside.

One question only: what was I doing here?

Ever since I bought my mountain bike last year, I had always looked to Siquijor Island as a cycling challenge. For the better part of a year now, I was biking up to the Valencia town proper every other day. Slower as compared with my biking companions, but no longer as winded as I was before.

Was I ready for Siquijor? Experience tells me that we never really know if we are ready for something. Not until we go ahead and do it, anyway.

It all started pleasantly enough. I arrived at the municipality of Siquijor by fastcraft before 7:00am and headed in counterclockwise loop. I made good time, reaching San Juan in a little over an hour. Then, onwards to Lazi, which was a little more arduous, and by the time I hit Maria, I knew I had better hurry lest I miss the boat back to Dumaguete.

One of the people I met on this trip, a schoolteacher named Othello, asked me why I was travelling alone. I suppose he was looking for a profound answer, like finding comfort in solitude or seeking out a purpose on the journey. And as honestly as I could tell him, I said that it was simply a matter of logistics, that I was too lazy to organize a biking group. And besides, I really preferred travelling at my own pace, not trailing behind anyone nor waiting for anyone.

Still, it was a fairly stupid thing to be doing, biking all by myself in unfamiliar and sparsely populated territory. There are all sorts of grim possibilities: I might fall and break something! I might get robbed! I might be bewitched by sorcerers! Or more realistically, I might collapse from heatstroke and exhaustion.

But what the heck, eh? I had done the exact same thing just the week before in Valencia, covering Casaroro Falls and the Japanese Shrine in a little over six hours, and falling over twice in the process. Which really just makes me some kind of stupid two weeks in a row. Fortunately, none of the scenarios I envisioned happened to me: Siquijodnons are really very nice and friendly people.

Would you believe that I was actually thinking about this column as I was riding down the highway. All sorts of cliched platitudes crossed my mind: about how an uphill climb is usually followed by a downhill cruise, about how much closer you feel to the land when you travel under your own power, and about how you have to set your mind to actually doing something. Generally, about how riding is a metaphor for life.

All of which is crap when you're struggling to put one foot in front of the other and hoping that somehow the road is going to slope down pretty soon.

Yet out of all this, I did discover an ugly truth about myself, and along with that one important lesson, one which my newfound friend Othello might like to read about.

You see, in the middle of that climb, when the road ahead seemed endless, my baser human instincts kicked in like reflex. Whose fault is this? I demanded to know. Yes, in that moment of misery, I was lashing out and seeking someone to blame.

And in that moment, the answer came crystal clear: no one to blame but myself; and no one to get myself out of it but myself.

All my life I've carried that psychological reflex, a defense mechanism for my ego that refuses to take full responsibility for my actions (and inactions) and their consequences. But here, standing stark naked in my purpose, reality was holding a mirror to my face and I could see myself for what I was.

And at that moment, it felt so...liberating. The truth, indeed, shall set you free.

So there you go, my friends. Biking is a metaphor for life. Et cetera, et cetera.