Against the Slippery Slope of Injustice: Amanda Palmer Reads Wendell Berry’s Stunningly Prescient Poem “Questionnaire” – Brain Pickings

“The road to moral hell is paved with gradual self-permission.”  …Maria Popova

via Against the Slippery Slope of Injustice: Amanda Palmer Reads Wendell Berry’s Stunningly Prescient Poem “Questionnaire” – Brain Pickings

I have maintained for a little while now that we will look back at some of the things that we ourselves did as a part of civilization today, things that we take for granted, and wonder how we ever thought that it was the right thing to do.  And sometimes we will even swallow our nagging sense of injustice so that it will not be disruptive to our own sense of well being. It is true that we can learn through history, but there is never an end to this process. When will true justice be really served?

Backlit Pictures After The Rain

I have not taken any formal classes in photography yet.  Most of what I have learnt comes from trying different techniques over and over again. I also read articles on the Internet whenever I have questions.  The digital medium has made it easier to experiment.  I can react quickly to whatever seems interesting to me using a relatively inexpensive resource (digital bits rather than film), and then I can delete pictures that I am unhappy with with ease.

I know from experience that some unique conditions arise in the woods the morning after it rains.  The moisture rising into the warming air, combined with the early morning sunlight cutting through the gaps in the trees at a narrow angle, creates a neat visual effect that lasts only for a short period of time.

Most conventional photography is done with the light falling directly on the object that one wishes to capture in picture form.  You cannot see the object clearly if it is backlit, when the features that you are interested in are in the shadows.

But backlighting does create other opportunities, opportunities that I have learnt to appreciate from past outings.  So I was prepared for further experiments with backlighting when I went out for a ride on Wednesday morning, the day after some heavy thunderstorms had passed through the area.  Here are some of the results.  As you can imagine, these pictures would look very different if they had been taken from a different angle with respect to the sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Universal Law That Aims Time’s Arrow | Quanta Magazine

Even if these are just theories at this point, these are fascinating concepts.  Imagine the possibility that all of the natural processes, of different kinds, of different orders of scale and magnitude, can be defined by similar sets of simple rules at a macro level.   Consider the concept of “The Arrow of Time”, and how it fits in with the fundamental structure of our universe.

via The Universal Law That Aims Time’s Arrow | Quanta Magazine

Easy On The Handlebars

It happened during the bike ride in the Canadian Rockies in 2017.  It was the third day of the ride, and we had left the area of the Columbia Icefield that morning. We were descending Parker Ridge on the Icefields Parkway on our bikes. The road was somewhat steep.  The pavement was in bad shape, and the narrow shoulder of the road that we  were riding on looked like it was falling apart. There were cracks everywhere, and the outside edge of the shoulder was very uneven.

We were coming down the side of the mountain rather fast, and then we were negotiating the curve around the mountainside at a point where there was a lookout point into the valley on the other side of the road.  Some folks in the group tried to stop at the curve. Our radio started squawking.  It was Ben, our tour organizer, telling us that this was not a good place to stop (it was busy with traffic), and that we needed to get to a safer point closer the bottom of the hill to pull off the road.

I was doing my damnedest to try to keep the tires steady going downhill.  There was a lot of bouncing around involved.  When we finally got to a place where we could stop and gather ourselves, Ben asked me how it had felt coming down.  It seemed to him that I had looked wobbly on the bike.  He advised me to not hold on to the handlebars very hard.  He said that I should actually relax my arms a little more to allow a little bit of bounce.  That would make the ride easier.

This advice made a big difference the rest of the way down the mountain. It turns out that letting the bicycle react to the roughness of the roadway and going with the flow, and making fewer and more subtle adjustments, made for a smoother, and actually more controlled, ride.  I did not need to react hard to every bump on the road.  I did not need to fear the feeling of not being completely in control all the time.

I was thinking about this incident a couple of days ago during a more recent bike ride. The thought occurred to me that I have always had this tendency since childhood to try to force things to happen in exactly a certain way, striving for the perfect approach in some situations, when, in certain circumstances, the best thing to do might have been to relax a little.

I learnt a similar lesson about control more recently when I was taking classes to learn how to sing properly.  I was learning to use the body properly to create a consistent and strong musical sound.  But, as it turned out, I ended up also trying too hard to manage the vocal system as a part of this process.  You cannot make a good sound when the muscles are tense.   I had to learn to relax.  I managed to get my head around this fact only later.   Trying very hard for perfection may not necessarily be the best approach in all situations.

While this kind of general attitude towards getting things done right might have made me a better engineer, and even a good solver of logical problems, it may not have been a good lesson to help me deal with life in general.   Just as I was made to realize with the bicycle that a 100% control of the handlebars was not the best approach, the 100% solution is probably not the best approach to life as a whole.  As I have noted before, the world is not digital!  I tried too hard in situations where it did not make sense.  I missed the big picture.  Setting rules does not absolve you from thinking, learning as you go, and adjusting as needed.  You cannot be stuck on making sure everything is done exactly as you want it. And people do matter!

I am sorry to admit that I began to learn this lesson properly only later in life.  It turns out that it is not easy to get away from the foundation that you grew up with.  I would like to believe that I am now learning to take it easy on the handlebars, to let go of some of the control, and to not force matters.   Unfortunately, the impact of my failure to learn this lesson earlier in life has been not just on myself, but also on other people. Hopefully, the impact of the damage has been limited.

We should all be taking it easy on the proverbial handlebars, or, if you prefer, the steering wheel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Closed Section of the Towpath

I saw this at the website of the National Park Service for the C&O Canal Park after I got home from my bike ride.Screenshot_2019-07-26 Current Park Conditions - Chesapeake Ohio Canal National Historical Park (U S National Park Service)I might have been the only person to ride the section after it was closed.

In fact I had to cross this barrier at Pennyfield Lock to exit the closed section after I was done with my ride.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier on, I had encountered a young girl working for the NPS who belonged to the Student Conservation Association who was taking a count of the number of fallen trees in the closed section.  She said that she had counted 20, and that she had stopped because she had come to an impassable section.  I was able to cross this section by carrying my bike off the trail and back on to it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe section of the trail in the picture below looked beaten up from water flowing over the trail.P7260040.jpgA park ranger had stopped me earlier.  He looked a little upset when he saw me.  He got up from the stump he had been sitting on.  “Did you not see the sign that the trail was closed?”, he asked.  I had been prepared for the encounter.  “I have to get back to my car which is parked at Pennyfield Lock,” I said.  He immediately relented.  He actually smiled.

I had actually encountered an NPS pickup truck with a couple of kids earlier on in the closed section of the trail.  They were backing away from the site of the destruction on the trail, all the way back to Swain’s Lock it seemed. Because of the width of the towpath, there was no place to turn the pickup truck around.  They had told me to be careful, but had made no attempt to stop me.  The kid mentioned that they were not responsible if I hurt myself.

Back at Swain’s lock, as I approached the sign for the blocked trail, I had a decision to make.  I could stay on the trail, or I could try to get to the main road and ride along the road.  Riding along the road would have added a couple of miles to the ride, and it would have also involved riding up and down decent slopes on the side roads to get to the main road.   It would have also been more dangerous because of the traffic on the road.   Besides, I was tired after having ridden more than 30 miles at that point.  It did not take too long for me to decide to stay on the trail and face the consequences of my action if I encountered somebody who objected.

At that point I was returning from a ride all the way out to Fletchers Cove.  The highlight of this ride was the stop to see the swallowtail butterflies feasting in the morning sun on the milkweed growing beside the waters of the canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrossing the damaged section of the trail earlier in the morning on my way out had been an adventure in itself.  I could ride my bike for only short sections at a time.  I had to carry my bike over tree limbs laying across the trail, and walk under fallen branches balanced over me.  I even had to carry my bike off the trail through the woods to get past one section.  Fortunately folks had created a path off the trail in this section.  (The trail must have been blocked for at least a little while at this point in time for this to happen!)  I carried my bike past the park ranger who was sitting in his front-end loader on the trail.  He did not stop me.  Perhaps he remembered me later in the day when I encountered him again, which was why he let me get by that time.

The destruction was extensive.  Trees were fallen all over the place.  The trail had also been washed away in a few sections, as if the canal had overflowed.  I kept going.

When I started the ride earlier that morning, I had met a person who had just finished his bike ride.  He had warned me about the fallen trees, but had apparently gotten through to the other side, where the trail was completely clear.  He did not say anything to discourage me from my plan to ride towards the city.

The strange thing about what I saw on the trail was the localized nature of the damage.  I have a hunch that some kind of twister must have touched down during a storm that had taken place a few days earlier.  The funny thing is that I was not aware of the extent of the storm when it happened even though the trail is not too far from home.  I wondered how things might have looked on the trail when the storm was actually happening.  The power of nature is awesome.

And that is the end of this little tale told backwards!

Hah!

 

Riding The GAP in 2019

This bike ride came together in a hurry.  A group of us, friends from high school, had ridden the  Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the C&O Canal together in 2016.   It was a 300 mile bike ride from Pittsburgh to the Washington, DC, area over six days.  Earlier this year, there was a documentary about this trail produced by a PBS station in Pittsburgh.  It was called  The Great Ride.  It was quite inspiring, and reminded us of the wonderful time we had had in 2016.  I said that I was prepared to do this ride with the same group once again.  Koushik immediately took me up on the the offer, and proposed that we ride this year, without waiting too long.  The others agreed almost immediately after that.

It took just a few weeks for the plans to come together.  We decided that we were going to do the ride at a more relaxed pace this time.  Instead of covering 300 miles, we would just do the 150 miles of the GAP.  We would spend a day exploring Pittsburgh, and 5 days doing the GAP itself.  This is how it came together.

Arrival in Pittsburgh for Bike Ride
Seeing Pittsburgh by Bicycle and Boat

Riding to Smithton, PA
On to Ohiopyle. PA
A “Rest” Day in Ohiopyle, and then on to Confluence, PA
In the Rain to Meyersdale, PA
Destination Cumberland, MD

This was a special ride. The more relaxed pace of this ride allowed us to enjoy each other’s company much more.  We were not rushed in any way.  And as we rode, I could feel a deeper and simpler level of connection emerge.  Another layer of my inhibitions in the company of friends slipped away.  This ride was especially good for the spirit.

Just as for the previous ride in 2016, not all details of the ride where completely figured out ahead of time.  We did know where we were staying – the towns and the establishments in those towns, but the particulars of the places we would stop at during the day, and what we were going to do at any particular place, or where we were going to get food and water during the day, were fluid.  We were flexible.  It worked out well.  We saw some great things, and ate some great food (there was the one clunker for me, but that’s all I am going to say about that!).  The boat tour of Pittsburgh turned out to be unexpectedly special.

All the establishments we stayed at along the way this time were different from those we stayed at in 2016.  We also stayed at more Bed and Breakfast establishments, and only one motel.  The owners of all of these places were great in their own ways.  They all made us comfortable, and also spent some time with us.  We got to know more about each other.  One of the owners was the mayor of the town!  All of these places had a character of their own.  The experience was not about staying the night at the most luxurious place available, but was about something deeper than that.  We were staying at places that represented the local town in some way, and we were getting to know some of these places better.  We lived in some of the really old buildings that had been renovated.  We met the locals and talked to them. We were getting a flavor of the real America.

One would think that rain would ruin a bike ride.  Not for me!  Even though the rain did change the nature of the experience on the one day that it poured, it brought out a different kind of joyousness.  I became a child once again, riding in the rain.  I could hear the sound of the rain through the trees, and on my poncho.  There was the dirt thrown up by the wet tires.  My glasses were getting wet and my shoes and socks soaked.  But, somehow, all of that did not matter that much as I was riding.  We just rode on through the rain to the next stopping point while others stopped for shelter.  We were able to dry out and warm up nicely finally, at the end of the ride.  The rain gear did help!

Something different this time was that towards the later half of the ride we encountered some people over and over again in different places along the trail.  And we met all of them again at the end of the ride.  We were all people on the same mission.  I do not remember anything like this from 2016.

The nature of the end of our ride in Cumberland was simply awesome.   It could have been anticlimactic – a slow ride to the end line in a plaza in Cumberland in the middle of a hot day.  But, no!  We had a cheering squad awaiting us.  Our families, and even classmate who was visiting from India.   The garlands and the awards were a bonus, but I would have been happy enough simply seeing their smiling faces at the finish line.  That was special, and unique to this particular bike ride.

A few days have passed since the end of the ride, and I have had time to ponder the richness of the experience of the week that we rode our bikes.  It is going to be a hard act to follow.

Destination Cumberland, MD

This particular blog in the series about the bike ride is coming out a little later than usual.  First of all, I want to assure all of you that we completed the ride without any accidents.  In light of what happened to me in 2017 on the last day of that ride, I was especially relieved and happy that I made it without causing any damage to myself.

The blog is late because I am now in the relaxed atmosphere of home,  in a more relaxed state of of mind, not having to worry about the next day’s ride.  Perhaps this blog will also be more coherent as a result.  Perhaps, unfortunately, it will also tend to go on a little longer than usual.  Let me begin to the talk about the events of yesterday without further delay.

To remind readers who are following the blog, we were starting the ride this day at Meyersdale, PA, where we had spent the night at Yoders B&B.

Breakfast at this particular B&B was continental style, the first time it was happening at a B&B during this ride.  I did tuck in more food than I expected despite this fact.  Bike rides tend to make you hungry!

As was my habit during the ride, I did take some pictures outside the house before departure.  The two pictures below are repetitive, but what the heck!  The first picture is of the diner and the small old motel, still in use, in front of the B&B.  The second picture is of the B&B itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKoushik had bought everybody new riding jerseys with the GAP logo on them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ride started with a somewhat steep climb through the town itself to get back to the trail.  Back on the trail, it was back to the regular uphill climb, but with a much reduced angle of attack than what we had experienced in town.

The first landmark we passed was the Bollman truss bridge.  It gets its name because of the design of the truss. This particular bridge was transported from another location in another state to the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next stop was the Keystone Viaduct bridge.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe crossed the CSX railroad tracks below us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Flaugherty Creek flowed below us next to a roadway.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were windmills on the ridge in front of us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ride took us up the side of the ridge and on to a flatter and more open area behind it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe crossed the Flaugherty Creek a few times during this section of the ride.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made a pit-stop at a place called Deal to use the restroom.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail was surrounded by meadows and wildflowers of different colors.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next milestone was the Eastern Continental divide.  This was the highest point of the bike ride.  It was going to be a downhill ride the rest of the way!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKoushik photo-bombed the picture I was taking of the elevation range of the GAP.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe always gets great elevation on his jumps.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next stop was at the 3000 foot long Big Savage tunnel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI would not recommend the activity shown in the picture below to anybody!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt almost looked like there was a car approaching us through the tunnel. It was actually the light from two bicycles next to each other.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken at the exit of the tunnel.  It is at a slight angle to the rest of the tunnel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is what it looked like from a viewpoint just outside the tunnel.  We could see the entire valley in front of us (click on the picture!).  The Cumberland Narrows that we are heading for can barely be seen in the distance, and is better visible in the picture below this one.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was always the photo opportunity to be taken advantage of.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was at this point that Shankar realized that he had left his riding gloves behind at Deal. Two of us decided to ride back to look for it, while the others pedaled on.  They would wait for us further along the trail.

Shankar and I zipped back to Deal on our bikes to find that the gloves were not there.  As we were returning, we passed a tour group that was traveling in the same direction as we were.  Hoping that the person supporting the tour whom we had talked to at Deal (he was carrying snacks for the group in a van and met up with the group at certain points) had picked up the gloves and taken it on to Cumberland, Shankar talked to person who was actually riding with group.  She confirmed that the gloves had been picked up and taken to Cumberland!  Shankar could pick them up there!

We ended up riding 5 to 6 miles more than the others, and we also experienced the Continental Divide and the Big Savage tunnel thrice in a single day!

Koushik and Ram were waiting for us at the Mason Dixon line.  This forms the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail was taking us steadily down the side of the ridge.  We picked up a lot of steam going downhill.   We passed the side trail for the town of Frostburg next.  We decided not to take this trail because it required a stiff climb up a hill, and also because we were running late.

The railroad tracks that are used by the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad excursion train going between Cumberland and Frostburg appeared soon after.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail and the tracks would run next to each other the rest of the way into Cumberland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom this overlook above the town of Mt. Savage, one could see the ridge that we had just ridden down.  We had some difficulty sighting the entrance to the Big Savage tunnel from this distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail crossed the railroad tracks in many places, from one side of the track to the other.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had been told about a big raspberry patch next to the trail.  We stopped there to pick and eat fruit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fruit was quite tasty.  I was picking it off the plant and popping it into my mouth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARam was collecting the fruit to share with the folks meeting us at Cumberland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed through a tunnel that was shared between the trail and the rail line.  There is a little fence running in-between the two through the tunnel.  As with the Big Savage Tunnel, it felt much cooler riding inside the tunnel than outside it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, we were in the Cumberland Narrows, getting very close to our destination!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe rode slowly into town.  As we crossed the finish line, we were greeted by family and friends.  Ganga, our classmate from high school who was visiting from India, garlanded us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur spouses were there to meet us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe received awardsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand posed in front of the statue that marks the beginning of the C&O canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt felt great to have made it, and to have been greeted by our close friend and family at the end.  We had covered 150 miles of trail safely.

It was amazing that we also met many of the people we had encountered in previous days along the trail, starting all the way back in Confluence, at Cumberland.  The little boy, Henry, had also arrived with his dad.  I still cannot get over the fact that a 7 year old rode the 150 miles of trail.

We picked up our luggage after returning our bikes to the place we had rented them from and went to a local restaurant for lunch.  Some of us celebrated with a beer or two even though it was early in the day.

Ram returned home to Pittsburgh soon after, while the other riders came home with us to Gaithersburg.  Exhaustion hit during the drive home and folks took naps in the car. Koushik and Shankar departed town today.

All is quiet at home.  The adventure has ended.