Sunday, November 30, 2008

violence's faces

So much violence.

Last Sunday, a group of Alto Velo riders descended Skyline toward the intersection of Highway 84, near the Woodside-Skylonda border. A driver made an illegal left turn, colliding with Ileana Parker. She was badly injured, with multiple fractures, and a nearly severed finger. It's going to be a long, hard recovery. A moment's carelessness by the driver, months of pain and tens of thousands of dollars of expense for Ileana. Violence? Well, to me the question is: if the result of a car-bike collision was generally death for the driver, then would drivers be more alert for cyclists before making turns? And if the answer is yes, then isn't the careless driver trading cyclist risk for personal convenience? And over a population, since the possibility of injury becomes a near-certainty of injury, doesn't this mean careless drivers are trading cycling injury and death for expedience and laziness? And isn't this violence?

It was a clearer case on Monday. At around 5:20pm, Mark Pendleton was climbing McEwen Road south of Port Costa. A vehicle, likely a Chevrolet Silverado pickup, went across the center line as it descended, hitting Mark head-on. The truck fled, leaving behind debris and paint chips. Mark's body was found later. There's no question here: violence as naked as violence can be.

Wednesday, I'm working out in the gym. On the television overhead, terrorists have attacked civilians in Bombay. I'm sure everyone knows the story. The numbers become meaningless: 1 dead, 2 dead, 174 dead. One way or another, it's all the same. Violence.

Thanksgiving. Bob Mionske posts his legal column in He discusses Ed Farrar, father of Garmin-Chipotle pro racer Tyler Ferrar, who is recovering from injuries he received from a careless driver. And Chris Kasztelewicz, whose leg was severed by a driver in a "road-rage" incident. Road or not, it's naked violence, all the same.

Friday. I join Cara and members of her extended family to see Milk at its opening on the 30th anniversary of Harvey Milk's murder. Multiple layers of violence. Sure, the shooting at close range of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Mascone is violence by any definition. But so is the persistent anti-gay discrimination against which Milk was so very dedicated. How can it be anything but violence to intentionally harm a segment of the population? And to deprive that segment of the population of basic rights is to harm them. No question.

This morning, 8:28 am. I line up for the Run Wild for a Child 10 km running race. The water station has been moved, we are told, due to a homicide on the course. It's been cleaned up in time for the run, but not in time to have set up the water there.

Humans are a violant species. Our capacity for violence is seemingly endless. This is reality. So are we condemned to kill, to maim, to harm?

Garmin-Chipotle rider Tom Danielson was interviewed in VeloNews this week. I normally don't read pro rider interviews; same-old, same-old. But for some reason I checked out this one. I found his quote striking:

All the time in cycling, I think. Your brain can be your best friend or your enemy. If you can break it down to, ‘I must kill everyone,’ or ‘I must destroy,’ then you’re fine. But if you start thinking, ‘Do I really need to be doing this? It’s raining out. The road is slippery. People are crashing everywhere. It’s cold. My whole body hurts.’ That’s when it’s negative, and the desk job seems quite good. But if you can use your mind to make your body like a motorcycle — you just turn the throttle and go — if you can make it like that, you’re fine. That’s normally how it is in training, you take out the elements of stress and performance, and you enjoy it. That’s the key to racing.

So tapping into that innate violence, Tom says, is the key to racing well. When faced with violence, when anticipating violence, the body changes. Normal thresholds of inhibition and fatigue are relaxed. We push ourselves harder, longer, and faster than we otherwise would.

Compare and contrast with Chi Running. Chi Running is all about relaxing into an effort. About feeling the body flow as it runs. Setting up the structural integrity to efficiently produce forward motion, and letting the body produce that motion. Motion through a quiet mind, motion through peace.

I was contemplating this duality as I rode the Low-Key Hillclimb of Mount Hamilton Road on Thanksgiving morning. Retreat into the self, calmness of mind and body, through most of the climb. But approaching the end, embrace the violence within, break out of the shell of the self, and attack. Tapping into different parts of ourselves, or different paths into the same self?

Again, today, in my second 10 km race of the year. For most of the race, calmness, relax, focus on the breath. Running is so inherently peaceful in its pain. Three slow breaths out, two breaths in. A bit of pain appears: relax it away. Apex a corner, line up for the next. Immersed in the now. But approaching the finish, the peace is broken. That runner ahead: I MUST...CATCH,.... MUST.... DESTROY.

Through cycling, through running, peace and violence merge. If more of us rode, if more of us ran, would violence's damaging faces become less common? I think so.