Between Two Worlds

Between Two Worlds

I’m in Costa Rica, on a mountain bike tour that I committed to in August. Meanwhile, my ex and my boys are in Santa Rosa, which has the worst air on the planet. They and a great many people I care for are living under the threat of the Kincade Fire, which has been burning for four days and has grown, like an adolescent boy, to a 74,000 acre conflagration that threatens two communities and caused the evacuation of most of Sonoma County, the largest evacuation in the county’s history.

Right now, having fun feels like a sin against something, much the way I felt in church as a kid when I’d catch myself fantasizing about skateboarding, rather than thinking about what Christ suffered for my sins. I mean, I ought to at least be plugged into someone else’s suffering, right?

The contrast between these two worlds—the fire in Sonoma County pushed by winds that have topped 100 mph and with a humidity level hovering somewhere near Mojave Desert, and Costa Rica where it rains every other hour and the humidity level approaches monsoon—confuses me in a way that is so fresh as to keep me from being fully present.

The unknown of this place and the unknown of the fire has untethered my sense of the future. Sure, I’ll return home and get back to work, same as usual, I think, but the distance between points A and B is unknown, and the line joining those two locations is no more straight than a child’s scribble.

The reluctant lesson I’m conceding on day two of this tour is that we need to get out and see the world. Within one circle of my friends there was some discussion recently about air travel and the need to eliminate that from our lives out of our regard for the planet’s future. But when I think about what constitutes most air travel—people going places for business—I think we, as a society, would do well to look first at how we could reduce business travel. You can do an awful lot with Skype, not to mention how much corporations would save each year by not flying employees all over the globe. Most of us will fly maybe once each year purely for pleasure. Ending all travel for vacations will only make our world smaller, us less sensitive to other people, other cultures.

The subtext to this lesson is that there are other places to live in this world, and while I don’t want to leave Sonoma County, my need to provide a safe environment for my boys won’t allow me to dismiss that thought out of hand.

Life in Sonoma County is on hold. Bike Monkey’s race, Sonomas, was to happen this coming weekend, but was canceled because, well, I’m sure you all get it. So, no mas for Sonomas. Similarly, while I’d been considering a one-day ride this year for the Red Kite Ronde et Vous, I’m shelving that until sometime next year. Bringing people into our county for tourism in the next month feels disrespectful to all the disruption and displacement my community has suffered.

Rain batters the roof, a white noise machine that will lull me to sleep even as I worry about where my boys are sleeping.

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7 comments

  1. Nathan

    Thinking of you and yours at this time Patrick. Hope you can still glean something rich and beautiful from Costa Rica, even if your mind is at least partially elsewhere.

  2. TomInAlbany

    I’ve thought about the flying/pollution thing. I do travel for work sometimes and for fun as well. I can tell you that I travel far less than I used to. I’ve lost a thread with my off-shore colleagues though, that only breaking bread and sharing the sweat-equity of labor can build. Our company always becomes a little less when we travel less. It’s all about relationships in business as well as lift. I’ll add in that business travel subsidizes fun travel in many cases helping base load the flights we all want to take to have our fun without breaking the bank.

    I just grabbed this from a basic google search: Business travelers account for 12% percent of airlines’ passengers, but they are typically twice as lucrative – accounting for as much as 75% of profits. Businesses are willing to pay more to book last-minute flights, non-stops or premium-section seats.

    I feel for your plight. Off in an exotic, far-away land to have fun while many ofl those you know and care for are in an unpredictable, unpleasant situation. There’s not much to say but to offer some solace as much as I’m able.

  3. Michael

    I know the feeling you are having. It is more personal when we feel it because something climate-related is happening in our town, but these events are happening in someone’s town every day. Airplanes are probably the most difficult transportation problem to solve – batteries are heavy, perhaps too heavy to hope we can run commercial planes off them (never say never). However, they have demonstrated recently that biofuels work fine in current commercial jet engines, so perhaps if we can make biofuels carbon-neutral, this will work. But the kernel of your argument rings true – the benefits of travel in promoting understanding and relationships are too important to completely forego. How do we do it sustainably? I think about this a lot myself because I travel a lot – many geologists end up going where the rocks are, and can’t do their jobs without the field work part.

    1. Shawn

      I think biofuels are by definition carbon neutral, give or take. But there aren’t enough dirty fry baskets in the world to fuel commercial flight for more than a day or so.

      These are serious problems. If you could choose when in the history of the universe to be a human, you would choose now. And you can thank fossil fuels for that. We should make every effort to replace fossil fuel with renewables, but we are not there yet. Shutting off what has enabled the best life in the history of human life has to be a thoughtful exercise rather than a political slogan.

  4. Steve

    Thanks for the update Phil. As a person of faith, I’m praying for CA. And now I’m happy to add your Ex and your boys to those thoughts and prayers as well. Try to enjoy your time away!

  5. Steve J

    A good example of the logic that some other group should sacrifice to combat global warming. Padrig isn’t particularly the bad guy here, you can find these examples of groupthink wherever you look. The Kincaid Fire should be galvanizing us all (or at least the majority of us) into reflections of guilt for our large carbon footprints, not observations about how others may have an even larger impact on our planet.

  6. Alanm

    Padraig, when I heard Santa Rosa was threatened I immediately thought of you and your family. There’s a message there but I’m not equipped to decipher it. Hope all turns out well for you and your loved ones.

    I dont own a car, i bike to work, recycle, buy local, and wear the same clothes for years (decades?). But, I fly about 10 times a year for work and love long car/bike/hike trips with my wife on weekends. What’s my footprint? No idea, but i do what i can and enjoy what i want and make voting decisions that thoughtfully balance the two.

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