And I think it's because I'm finally doing something to assuage my innate wanderlust; a natural consequence, I believe, of our overwhelmingly nomadic ancestry. I've mentioned before how the homo genus has only been static for the last 0.4% of our time on Earth: 99.6% of our 2.5 million years or so were spent as hunter-gatherers, so I think it's fairly logical to assume we're driven by our genes to ford the river and climb the mountain. Ignoring this deeply ingrained predisposition is one of the main causes of our everyday stress, I believe, and a supreme cosmic irresponsibility, if one ponders the pot brownie idea that consciousness could well be the universe's attempt to understand itself. I think the recreation we feel when we hit the beach, the woods, or the slopes is precisely that mechanism kicking into gear, emerging like a sharp sword from a timeworn scabbard, tattered by a decamillennium of neglect. Movement is truly what we're born to do; material acquisition is a recent invention, because stuff just weighs us down.
In the modern world, all this changes when you involve someone else, of course. Success attracts mates, and finery is the easiest way to show it off, so it becomes expected, and an end in itself. But finery is an empty goal. Life is about experience, because that's all we take with us. After all, what do we reminisce about? Jewelry? Cars? Big screen TVs? Of course not. It's the howls of laughter, the tender amity, and the shared adventure. Our real goal, once we learn to transcend the cultural bullshit, is to fill our lives with unique and meaningful moments, because these are the only things that really matter.
At least, that's the theory. When it comes to happiness in relationships, I've had girlfriends ask me to change many seemingly innocuous behaviours in order to facilitate theirs. Aside from the usual toothpaste and toilet seat battles, one particularly memorable one was to make sure all the light switches on the main multi-switch panel in our open plan apartment were always facing the same direction by daily traipsing around 1,400 square feet coordinating their ancillaries. I flatly refused, which, curiously and gratefully, catalyzed our breakup. I've been asked to change more overt behaviours, too, such as playing sports or socializing with friends. Now, perhaps they didn't realize these things make me happy, or simply didn't care? Or maybe I was being too selfish?
Either way, if one's partner's happiness correlates with the other's wretchedness, as it certainly seems to have with a significant number of my relationships, I think it may be prudent to ditch the partner rather than adopt their light switch neuroses. This lack of compromise may strike some people as petty, but I've always preferred my own company over the abject misery of throw pillows and ironed underwear.
Whenever I get into a relationship, the first three months are fantastic, but then I seem to gradually lose interest. I don't become bored, per se, but lacklustre, ready to move on, only sticking around because I'm expected to. Because of this, I've never had a relationship last beyond a couple of years, and they all typically followed the same pattern of three months of joy followed by twenty-odd months of loyalty (well, I am stubborn). I thought I was broken, so I looked for solutions to this anti-monogamy trend. It turns out I'm no more broken than anyone else; they're just willing to put up with it. (I've heard it theorized that men are naturally tuned to stray after about three to four months, because that's when a pregnancy begins to show - job done - but I've never seen, or even looked for, any empirical evidence to support the idea. This doesn't mean it might not be true, however.)
It took me a couple of decades bouncing from one girl to another to realize this: all compromise every got me was mediocrity; a halfway house of temporarily acceptable agreeableness in which neither party is truly happy, and, with my rapidly justifying fickleness firing on all cylinders, ultimately dooming the relationship. Most married couples (or 50-60% of them, anyway, depending on which divorce statistic you read) seem willing to struggle on through a lifetime, evinced by the bitter squabbles of the long-married, soured by missed opportunities and enlivened by the chance to twist the knife over a past transgression, simply to perpetuate, it seems to me, the convenience of a regular shag. Have you ever met an old married couple who didn't constantly run each other down? In my experience, they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.
I suggest we shouldn't compromise. We should do what we like, and if a partnership evolves from connections made organically, great. If it doesn't, great too: because one is still doing exactly what one wants to do. A relationship shouldn't take work, I now believe, despite the popular rhetoric to the contrary. Do you have to work at your relationship with your best friends? (I hope you said 'no', because if you all do, I'm either supremely easy to get along with or a complete sociopath).
This all stems, of course, from that monumental bugbear of modern humanity: monogamy. We're not naturally monogamous, as any objective anthropologist or psychologist will tell you (a good primer on this is Dr. Christopher Ryan's book Sex at Dawn). Monogamy came about (as far as I can tell, after sifting through the absolute mountains of evidence pointing to polyamory as our true nature) with the Neolithic concept of property and advent of organized religion, no doubt adopted to systemize human breeding for maximum yield to fill the fields, armies, and factories on which the hierarchy of this abrupt cultural aberration so vitally depends. Monogamy means food for the machine: drones, if you will, and plenty of them.
So we're naturally, happily, polyamorous, because we've spent almost our entire history being so. Our psychological architecture evolved this way, but we're now stuck in this mad monogamous game of sexual exclusivity because it serves the state. And somehow we've managed to convince ourselves, through subservience to puritanical religions, that there's morality involved; a lingering deception of such magnitude and pervasiveness one can but both marvel and despair.
To quote neuroscientist and author Sam Harris, who puts this far more competently than I:
The God that our neighbors [sic] believe in is essentially an invisible person. He’s a creator deity, who created the universe to have a relationship with one species of primates – lucky us. And he’s got galaxy upon galaxy to attend to, but he’s especially concerned with what we do, and he’s especially concerned with what we do while naked. He almost certainly disapproves of homosexuality. And he’s created this cosmos as a vast laboratory in which to test our powers of credulity, and the test is this: can you believe in this God on bad evidence, which is to say, on faith? And if you can, you will win an eternity of happiness after you die.Men have told me at dinner parties, typically in front of a hawkish wife herself similarly sold on the social propaganda, about how rapturous they are in this exclusive monogamy; usually men who feel the need to champion the fairer gender so long held to be property by agrarian civilizations. I like to answer by asking the men if the only porn they watch when they masturbate is of their wife, and similarly, do their wives only read romance novels and watch soap operas (obstinately perpetuating these particularly entrenched stereotypes) about their relationship with their husband? This sometimes produces an uneasy silence, depending on how stuck up the company is, not just because it's an awkward situation to consider (masturbation is rarely a topic addressed in polite society, which is one of the many reasons polite society is so suicidally fucking tedious) but also because they're stumped, if you'll pardon the expression.
The response I enjoy the most, however, is the haughty 'we don't need to masturbate' routine, because everybody listening knows this to be the kind of colossal whopper usually reserved, for and by, priests, politicians and toddlers. The typical layperson doesn't know, of course, comparatively little research has been done on masturbation, simply because finding subjects who refrain from fiddling with themselves to fill control groups is so goddamned difficult. People wank. Those who say they don't are lying. And, as a hedono-anarcho-primito-apocaloptimist, I think denying oneself harmless, private, nurturant pleasure is child molester weird; the 'moral' objection to it is simply another social remnant of the state optimizing breeding turnover by doctrinal manipulation. If people think eternal damnation awaits those who masturbate, they're going to try harder to get laid. And I don't think I'm alone.
Well, I am, but you know what I mean.
Yeah, last night sucked. I managed to get a little sleep despite the cold, and woke to a sunny but frigid mountain world.
I quickly fixed the flat on my trailer, but noticed the tyre itself was blown through, a hole about an inch across as if made by a sharp rock, probably from riding the rubble road yesterday. I patched it with a piece of old inner tube specifically reserved for this purpose, and hoped it would hold me the hundred miles home.
A welcome tailwind powered me along: I was easily going to make Carlisle today, until I got another puncture on my front tyre, which turned out to be two thorns, each of them having made two holes, which took me all morning and about half a mile to figure out (this is when I suddenly remembered the importance of checking the tyre before reinserting the inner tube). With sunlight only available between about 9 am and 3.30 pm this far north so late in the autumn, I only had around four hours of riding a day, bookended by camp prep and break. So I only actually made around 25 miles when I was shooting for 40, and ended up camping at Lockerbie.
I got a curious email from my mother asking if I want to be rescued from the rapidly approaching winter. Bless her cotton socks. I don't know if such naivete springs from my reluctance to share the particulars of my life with my parents (in order to avoid their unrelenting disapproval), or from her stunning lack of faith in her son's ability to deal with, what she seems to perceive as, hardship.
In this latter perception she's not alone. The sheer number of people who've expressed awe in what I'm doing is quite overwhelming, as if it's some great physical and spiritual trial. Let me tell you right now: it isn't. Every day on tour is an adventure, sure, packed with novelty, but in no way is it 'hard'. Hardship is monotonously doing the same thing every day, commuting from a cookie cutter house to a cookie cutter cubicle, or fighting in a war, or summer roofing in Texas, or concreting anytime anywhere, in order to chip away at some tectonic debt. It certainly isn't cycling from pub to pub looking at cool shit along the way. This is easy. The problem isn't physicality or loneliness; it's maintaining enough of a positive revenue stream to continue with equipment upkeep and food. Because shit breaks, a lot. When you consider the planned obsolescences of most camping and cycling products are for a few weekends a year, I'm asking rather more of my gear. So it's no wonder everything is fraying, creaking and snapping. I am noticing the most expensive stuff is more hardwearing, which sucks, because I don't particularly want to spend more money than I have to. However, it looks like I may have to plonk down some serious coin over the next few months for equipment I consider unnecessarily dear. I tend to be of the mindset of not carrying anything I'm not prepared to lose, and the more I spend, the more this mood diminishes.
A slow flat got worse on my front tyre and required pumping up three or four times today, as slow punctures are difficult to find without immersing the inner in water, and messing about with a collapsible bucket of water in freezing temperatures is firmly in 'fuck that' territory. I noticed my trailer tyre was slowly deflating too, but it got me to Carlisle where a slippery data connection meant I asked directions to the library, and was sent down the wrong street. Luckily, it was a crowded pedestrian precinct so I dismounted and pushed, allowing the rather overweight fellow who'd misdirected me to catch up once he'd realized the error, at a full, red-faced, lung-bursting sprint.
These altruistic demonstrations help confirm my suspicions that the majority of us are inherently nice. On bicycle tours we get exposed to so many people without the physical barriers of road traffic, or the psychological ones we erect on public transport or in travel hubs, so one experiences a much broader yet concentrated form of human interaction. Plus, the bike seems to strip the pretense from social conditioning: there's no way to judge the rider's affluence, so people are forced to dig for further cues, and most of us, I think, with the internet sounding the death knell of the class system, can no longer be bothered with such juvenile juxtapositioning.
The WiFi in the library wasn't working, so the librarian generously allowed me an hour on one of the public computers which normally require some kind of fee, and made it clear she didn't do this for just anyone, y'know. This simultaneously separated me from the imaginary hordes of riff raff who roam from library to library to con local councils out of free online time, and established her position as a middle class chauvinist, no doubt trusting that my cycling jersey, by now specifically worn to elicit this very response, superceded every other indicator of grubby proletarianism. Yeah, so I'm a social climber.
I worked until the library closed at 5.30 pm, and I made my way through the unfamiliar city in the dark, to Rickerby Park to camp, and pitched by head torch next to a footbridge over the River Eden, desperately hoping this wasn't where the drug addict, axe murderer, and cottaging communities held their weekly knees up.
This was the best 'make camp in the dark' result yet. I woke sober, alive and unbuggered, and waited for the sky to grey before rising to a pretty parkland scene by the river.
It was -2 degrees Celsius, so I packed up quickly and hit the road to warm up. I headed east, riding mostly uphill into the Pennines, arriving in Brampton before lunch.
Brampton is a fetching little village with a tiny library and an accommodating librarian, who signed me into a computer on her account when we similarly couldn't get the WiFi to work. It was a Saturday, so when it closed at 1 pm I headed higher into the mountains, following the course of Hadrian's Wall, and spent the night in its shadow at Walltown Quarry picnic site, contemplating the brutal life of a Roman soldier at the edge of the ancient world.
(Overnighting here is probably especially illegal, but by this point I was so past caring about arbitrary camping laws invented by people who don't camp I was quite prepared to bury the violently strangled agent of any objectionable officialdom with my toilet trowel.)
To entertain myself over the usual episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I came up with the concept of the Limited Nutritional Value Pig Out Night. On the menu were two packets of Rich Tea biscuits, two packets of Digestives, a jar of smooth peanut butter, a jar of jam, a tub of cream cheese and unlimited cups of tea.
Which, let's be honest here, is what this bicycle touring malarkey is really all about.