Uphill work and downhill thrill


While Googling for a Robert Hall reference I found this insight, in the epilogue of an account of a cross-country bicycle trip taken by Illinois schoolteacher Robert Graham in the summer of 1999:

Without having exact measurements, I'm pretty sure that every foot of slope I coasted or screamed down was met with a corresponding slope I had to climb back up. When people take pictures of bicycle tourers they are always either running down a hill or pedaling easily across the flat. It looks like SUCH fun. But in terms of real time, that picture is way out of whack. Three days up the Sierras, twenty minutes down. Three days up the Rockies, three hours down. And innumerable mountains and hills in between. One hour up at 5 mph, two minutes down at 40 mph. And I don't even want to TALK about the Appalachians!

I'm working on a life analogy here. There is no way I would have enjoyed the thrill of the downhills without the pain of the uphills. Yes, I could have gotten a ride to the top of every hill and just ridden down. What a rush. But the pleasure wouldn't, couldn't have been the same.

American culture has been inundated with advertising that, no matter what the product, has told us over and over for years and years now that we DON'T have to climb the hill in order to enjoy the thrill of the drop. We've heard it so many times it has become a part of our cultural fabric. (And we're spreading it so successfully to the rest of the world!)

Problem: you can TRY to hide from truth, but you can't succeed. So we have a nation full of people who think they're happy. They MUST be happy. Why? Because the TV tells them 10,000 times a day that they ARE happy. Get your pleasure with no pain attached!! And get it NOW! No waiting!!! Who even hears anymore the few true preachers of the Word who are saying the opposite? It's a million against one. No contest. Game over.

But the gut doesn't lie: we feel crappy. We keep buying, using, consuming; keep finding steeper and steeper hills to go down, using stronger and stronger drugs...and it's all so temporary. Nothing makes the ache go away. And we have no idea why. (We used to vaguely remember, but we're in the 2nd television generation now. And the preachers have joined the circus.)

We wonder why our suicide rate is skyrocketing, why our mental health industry is exploding, why our pharmaceutical industries are on top of the stock market (are YOU making money off the nation's death throes?), why illicit drug use continues to plague us, why extreme sports are getting more extreme, why we have that dull blankness in the pit of our stomachs.

There's only one solution. You've got to climb the mountain in order to experience the full joy of zooming down the other side. The climb takes way longer than the zoom. And that's just how it is. People I know who are happiest understand this formula. It gets harder and harder to teach.

And there's more, about America, about fatherhood. Interesting stuff.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 29, 2004 11:31 PM.

Iraq reality and lunacy, side by side was the previous entry in this blog.

Doing Tulsa time is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]