The Essential Tension

Wow, it’s been a long time since I last updated this blog and I’m quite surprised to see that people are still reading it and checking out the photos.  It’s nice to see that I’m spreading a little motivation to get out and see and do some things, bike related or not!  I know that through the years I’ve found inspiration in various blogs and writings (in fact I still do) so this blog has become a place I pass on some inspiration of my own. That’s how it works for me, hopefully it does the same for you.

Of course searching for inspiration is like hunting for salamanders: you can turn over a lot of rocks while looking for it but you never know under which one you’ll find it, and more often than not even when you do find one it runs away before you can grab it.  Though I tend to find inspiration while riding my bike in open landscapes and staring at mountains, recently I found some while on vacation in Europe admiring some other types of rocks… well I’ll assume these were just “rocks” before they were touched by the hand of man.  The collection of stones I’m referring to is found in the Cathedrale Notre Dame in Paris.

I’ve been fortunate to cower like a salamander beneath the stones of a few great cathedrals a handful of times in the past years.  I really enjoy walking around them.  During the course of this past trip we visited three different ones in three different countries but Notre Dame was the one I most wanted to see again.  Last time I was in Notre Dame it was during Sunday mass and the crowds were such that we had to circle within the confines of the church without stopping for fear of being trampled by the masses, just a quick spin around the terrarium.  It was a unique experience having the ritual of the mass timed to the shuffling of our steps, but I didn’t get the close look at the stones that I had sought.

I’ve read enough about the construction of these engineering masterpieces to realize that their design intent was to instill in us a sense of awe, to relay the power of the divine.  True to form, my first reaction when walking through any cathedral’s doors is to crane my neck skyward like a child standing beneath a massive oak tree on a glorious Fall day when the leaves are in full bloom and the air is crisp.  It never fails to take my breath away.  However, this time the crowds were not quite so bad and it gave me a chance to do my favorite thing: stare in awe at the ceilings.  The relative lack of crowds also provided a welcome opportunity to stop and take in the details.  In case you’re wondering, yes my neck still hurts.

Which finally brings me to the source of my inspiration: I have a tendency to fight the awe-provoking glamor of the arches themselves and begin to concentrate on the stones of which they are comprised – a “seeing the forest for the trees” sort of thing but with a negative connotation where I allow the stones to be the impediment instead of the bridge.  I sometimes shoot down ideas before they have a chance to take root. 

Standing there in Notre Dame, the essential tension between reality and aspirations that we all struggle with reached up and smacked me in the face with the force of a ton of bricks (not a happy thought when you’re standing beneath tons of ancient stoneworks, I might add).  It became perfectly clear that there is a distinct choice between taking that voyage into the unknown and just staring at ceilings.  The completed arch is merely the path.  Hmm… maybe I should’ve used a gecko as a metaphor instead so I could’ve crawled along that arch right now instead of cowering like a salamander in the dark?

Anyway, so what the hell am I babbling about and why am I describing a structure that is primarily in compression in terms of tension?  I guess I’m recognizing that it’s nice to have dreams but at some point putting some stones together to build those arches is what needs to be done.  If the plans don’t work out at first and you need a flying buttress or two later on to help figure things out, so be it.  That cathedral aint gonna be built without first taking a leap of faith. 

Personally, I’ve got places I want to go to and bikes to ride to them.  If bikes won’t get me there I’ll walk… if the snow’s too deep I’ll ski to wherever I want to go.  Only thing I won’t do is swim since I’ll more than likely drown, though (never did like water).  There’s a big ol’ world out there with a multitude of experiences to enjoy and I’m not getting any younger.  It’s time to put the tension in my wheels to good use and take on some bold challenges, yet again.

Aha! Looks like I’ve finally come full circle with the tension angle promised in the title!  Soon I hope to get around to sharing the rest of what I learned in Europe as I had my bike with me, of course! 

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4 Responses to The Essential Tension

  1. Thom, did I see you on Turtle Ridge yesterday? I was climbing up the west end of the trail when you and your group were going down.

  2. Yeah the guy I saw was on a Pugsley bike with the big tires. I didn’t figure there are many riders in this area on Pugsleys. I really enjoy your writing and have been following your adventures for awhile on STR. Keep up the good work!

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