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Mountain Biking with Johannes Brahms

A few miles south of Tucson. A friend had camped here recently and warned me how rough the Madera mountain bike trail is. How typical! I've yet to enjoy any "official" mountain bike trail. If there's a sign calling it an official trail, or if it's listed in some book ("Top Ten Mountain Bike Trails in the XYZ Mountains"), you are almost guaranteed to find a rocky single track that will make you worry about falling, instead of enjoying the ride. But you are guaranteed a nice hiking trail as long as mountain bikers aren't using it at the same time.

The "too rough to ride" syndrome is almost universal. So why doesn't the world catch on? Do people believe every brown sign or everything in print? Of course if you had world-class technical riding skills, you might feel differently. But most people don't have such skills.

Why not just ride dirt roads? There are many thousands of miles of such roads on public lands. Occasionally there might be too much motor vehicle traffic. But that's usually limited to weekends or national holidays. It isn't such a bad thing that an occasional pickup or ATV goes by. You might need to use them as a tow truck or ambulance someday.

The only real value added by mountain bike trails that I can think of is the social scene. Young people like to have other birds-of-a-feather congregating at the hotspots for any sport. But mountain biking is dominated by men, as is true of most arduous outdoor sports that involve dirt, blood, and gears, so I suspect that the lads are going to be disappointed socially. Of course racers enjoy having some competition on the same trail.

Since I expected a terrible trail I wasn't disappointed. The question became: how do I salvage the day? On another day I could come back and hike the mountain bike trail. But today pushing the bike for long distances would be no fun. Next idea, please.

I started backtracking, while pushing the bike, and got busy improving the trail by kicking rocks out of the way. I did this over a hundred times. It was surprising how satisfying this was. It was tangible, semi-permanent, and quite noticeable. Compare that to the average work done in a cubicle in a large organization.

From one point of view this was humble, pathetic, solitary, and almost forlorn.  But I was improving the world one rock at a time. Each rock was a humble nugget of hope; they assuaged the anger I felt about the mindless momentum of the world.

Leaving youngsters and racers out of it, why do other mountain bikers get sucked into trying to ride on these dreadful rough trails? Gee, I'll bet it has something to do with media and money. Think of the front cover of a glossy industry magazine. A famously rugged trail justifies spending $4000 on a bike: one with a radical design, and titanium "this" and carbon fiber "that". "I waste more money than you do  -- naa-naa-nuh-NAA-nuh."

The American bicycle design shops are located in places like Boulder, Durango, and Marin County CA. These are not low-cost places to live. They can not compete against East Asia on price. So they sell toys and status symbols to the aspirational consumer -- the standard chump who thinks he can raise his self-esteem by letting others be smarter than he is. Why doesn't it ever occur to these losers that consuming (shopping) is a pretty big part of their lives, and therefore it behooves them to be good at it, and maybe that is the way to raise their self-esteem. That's how housewives of our grandmother's and mother's generation thought.

This is all well and good, you say, but what does it have to do with Johannes Brahms? I was surprised by how moving a certain work of his is. Brahms isn't flashy and noisy enough for some classical music lovers; nor did he write program music. You might even consider him a bit of a downer, moodwise. But what if you've already discounted his austerity and melancholy? Any surprise will then be to the upside, like a momentary break in the clouds on a day socked in with clouds. 

Sometimes it would be useful to know more about music. I don't mean dry technicalities, just more basic vocabulary and categories. The second movement of Brahms's Piano Quintet is slow, quiet, and unflashy, almost to the point of being a bit melancholy. It has that quiet yearning so typical of Brahms (with most of it probably aimed at Clara Schumann).

The second movement then surprises the listener with gentle ascending scales and crescendos, played by the piano soloist. They remind me of walking and breathing; or rather, of sighing over stubbornly-held hopes. That is just what I had experienced, walking back up that dreadful trail while kicking rocks out of the way.


XXXXX said…
Ah Clara, Johannes' inspiration, his anima, his soul. A very powerful component, perhaps a necessity, for a man to channel his creative energy.... to allow it to take form, to soften the edges and give it flow.....higher, always higher.....
History does not record if their love was ever consummated. I guess it was not, for I do wonder very seriously sometimes if the act of consummation is the very thing which takes the power out of the inspiration for an anima is more than any human being could ever be, each of us with our many faults and shortcomings.
How lucky any one of us is to find such an anima in our lives. Many go through life without ever experiencing this gift. For to find such a thing, one then walks with a lighter step and there is an abundance of hope flooding the soul. Every sunrise is a treasure and the world is a beautiful place. To lose such an anima brings as much loss to the soul as having that anima brought beauty.
Bobbie and I tackled the Madera trail a couple years ago and found it extremely rocky and narrow and... challenging. We had to push through a few spots, but we don't mind that as we are out "there" for some exercise anyway and pushing a bike up hill is all that, plus it gives us a chance to take our eyes off the trail and enjoy the scenery. If you recall, I broke my frame on that trail, and bobbie crashed a couple times but... pardon my insolence... what is a life without physical challenges? If one keeps pulling back out of fear of "falling" pretty soon they will find their "world" has shrink wrapped them into a pretty small place. Their will come a time for smooth roads with gentle hills... I enjoy pushing the envelope occasionally. Playing Brahms in my earbuds makes me want to take a nap... maybe you should consider different music :))
BCB, of course Brahms puts you to sleep. His Lullaby is famous!
BCB, I would agree with your mountain bike comments if I saw it as an adrenalin sport; but I don't. It's an endorphin sport to me. The endorphin buzz on dirt roads, where you're not focussing on falling, is more intense than on technical single tracks.

Someday I hope you guys follow up your Madera adventures in, say, mid-March with a trip to the higher pastures of Patagonia and Sonoita, in April.
TomInBellaVista said…
George's comment reminds me of the famous transcription of the Bach Chaconne made by Brahms for Clara. I believe she had a problem with carpal tunnel in her right hand, so Brahms transcribed this famous work for the left hand. She was in desperate need of material so she could continue playing concerts. Her desperation and Brahm's dedication resulted in a gift for the ages. One of my absolute favorite pieces of music. Scroll down for the utube performance.
George and Tom (and Clara), you guys rock! I went to that website and watched the left hand piano performance. Normally there isn't much to look at when you WATCH musicians, but this was interesting.

Great music. There goes another 99 cents...
bicycle parts said…
Your descriptions of Brahms' music is wonderful; very nice writing! And may you continue enjoying the joys of your biking, and your music choices of course.