I don’t know why I read books, paper and ink bound together rather than agglomerations of dots on glowing rectangles. My mother made me love them as objects, and set the example of reading hard books, so that I became one of those overly serious young men who plodded through Hesse and Dostoyevsky and thought it made me smarter.
Yeah. No such luck.
Still, I love books the way I love bikes. I love them as the things they are, as well as for what they give me. Like reading a difficult book, finishing a difficult ride can push at your understanding of the world. It can change you.
I finished a novel a few weeks ago, Return from the Stars by Stanislaw Lem. The book is about an astronaut who returns to Earth after a ten year mission to the far reaches of the galaxy. In those ten years of space travel more than a hundred have passed at home. All the main character’s family and friends have died, and the society that welcomes him back views him as a savage. The planet he returns to has overcome violence. Murder and war are things of the past, but so too is curiosity for its own sake, so too is love. The whole idea of exploration has become passé.
What then, he wonders, was the point of his trip?
And yes, what is the point? Why do we leave home, travel along a circular path, or worse yet a straight line, only to return to where we started? Lem’s astronaut struggles with this problem before finally realizing that going is the whole point of going. We go because we go. It’s what we do. You can conjure reasons, for exercise, for adventure, for the environment, but are those real reasons or just excuses?
There is a great line in the book, the astronaut, conceding that he won’t reconcile his drives with the comfort of his fellows, says, “I have probably experienced too little, and thought too much of it.”
And maybe I have that problem, too. I have ridden too little, and thought too much of it. But, this week’s Group Ride asks, what is the point of cycling? Why do we care? Why is it good for us, but not for everyone? Are we in some ways comical, working hard at riding in circles? In the end, Lem’s adventurer signs on for a new space mission, a secret project, contrived by some like-minded souls, not yet ready to give up on going, despite its apparent futility. I’m not ready either, but I don’t know why.
Image: Matt O’Keefe