Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lighthouses and Fire Lookouts: A Post on Perspective

Disclaimer: This post is slightly off-topic, though not really since the group ride I joined today was the basis by which the thinking which follows took place. 

Pidgeon Point Lighthouse, which we found at about mile 34.

We began our 60-something mile (or 100-something for those that did the bonus ride) from a town called Woodside, which is located in the South Bay.  Woodside is South (if my sense of direction isn't completely f***ed) of San Mateo. It's across the San Mateo bridge is all I know: that long stretch of highway that seems to sit on the briny water of the Bay with Oakland in my rearview mirror on the way there and its dry hills calling me home on the way back.

The ride itself is best described as undulating with a big effort at the end with one of the most severe (or, noticeable) temperature differences I've yet encountered on a bike. We started in the warmth of a July morning sun only to turn a corner (after a bit of a climb) to see the ocean and its bitter wind that blasted us with a wind that gave me goosebumps. It was a chill which would more or less remain until mile 50 or so and I was once again climbing away from the sea through a grove of redwoods and ferns en route to the car, back in heat that felt like an oven set on broil.

I've always had a "thing" for lighthouses and fire lookouts. Though one is to guard seafarers from rocks and the other to prevent earth from being consumed by fire I've nonetheless seen these structures-- and the way of life they house-- as analogues for one another... and a way of life that athletics has casted me into the large production known as society (or at least my understanding of it.) 

Athletes, lighthouse watchers and fire lookouts all share solitude in common.

There are three fire lookout outposts where I am from, in the Tahoe Basin. They are nothing more than a square room with windows that offer view of every view there is to see-- just as the glass-light room of a lighthouse is windowed-round, to ward off incoming ships from the rocks. Those that people these types of outposts live lives that are mostly solitary; or so it seems from what I've read. They watch the forest; they watch the sea. A peopleless landscape, mostly. 

Sometimes I think I might understand that life when I think of the hours I spend alone in the water, on the bike and even those times I do run (or, will run once my injury has healed.) Then, I am a watcher of the landscape, observing the sorts of details you can't see from a boat or car: the way a group of ants carry leaves over their heads like surfboards or the flicker of minnows in the grainy light of knee-deep water. 

Or, I wonder if athletics might give me another lens with which to understand existence. Granted, it's a limited one, focusing on movement rather than on still life. But then, I guess we must all choose our lenses, eventually: the way we understand and interpret the world. 

I didn't do the full 97 mile ride. I stopped early; feeling hot and slightly out of shape since my two-week sojourn from my regular training schedule. Plus I've been running again which means I'm sore in places I haven't been-- yeah, yeah, I know-- I'm weak. Perhaps. But those lighthouses and fire lookouts remain with me as ways to see the world-- to understand it-- by their insistence on the self-enclosing solitude of the whipping winds that act like the water in my ears. Though peopled, my athletic world is a quiet one.

Yet, those lighthouse watchers and fire lookout-teers saw sunrises and sunsets and storms. They felt winds and sun and cloud unlike the populations in cities ever did. And perhaps athletes share this exclusive knowledge of the physical world simply due to our necessity to train in it. 

On the ride home despite my limited miles, I couldn't feel anything but gratitude that I'd been able to see so much beauty. I hope in the months to come with a few lost pounds, more cycling/swimming/running miles and an increased endurance that my horizons will expand. What will be my limit? 200 miles? 500? 1,000?  

Me, cycling, around mile 50 or so? I think... hard to tell. But I'm still smiling.

The world is a large place, admittedly. Anyone with the money for a ticket and a bag can board a plane or bus or rail car. Yet, I want to see this place with only the power in my body; to see it all like those who gazed from lighthouses, warding sailors from the shore and the dangers that rested there, as though to say: keep moving, life is out there if only you can reach it.

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