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Can Old People Still Learn?

It is funny how a somewhat vague idea can grab you sometimes. But you suspect that there is something valuable hiding in that vagueness, so you wrestle with it on a blog. It might be one of the better reasons for blogging.

Currently I'm on a 'learning counter-intuitive habits' kick. I am beginning to see the development of new habits and capabilities as an example of learning at its best. Think how far it is above the learning of a mere factoid.

But this is not a sermon for developing sheer willpower, like some crazed Puritan, and forcing yourself to develop a new habit which actually repels you, but which you have come to believe is 'good for you.'

Rather, it is about the exquisite tipping point, half-way from habit A to habit B, as if you were trapped in a Escher print.  


Wasn't it Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" that described the transition of Arches National Park into an over-improved tourist trap, replete with a paved auto-loop, visitor's center, and entrance fees? You could probably walk into a bookshop, head to the "Travel" section, and find a book with a title like, "Top Ten Auto Loops in America's National Parks."

Indeed, the human mind has a predisposition to loop-routes, rather than out-and-backs. I did too of course, at the beginning of my RV career. I wondered if I would ever find enough loops to make bicycling (or hiking) a big part of the Good Life.

My inclinations were just the opposite of geographical reality: most dirt roads started at the side of a secondary road; then they headed up into the mountains, getting steeper and rockier as they climbed. Finally they just crapped off altogether, perhaps at an old mine, abandoned ranch, or water tank, or at an impossibly vertical side of a mountain. You could only turn around and come back down.

This seemed so disappointing and frustrating. After all, wouldn't I see the same thing again? How would that be any fun?

But reality eventually won. Instead of a 'grin and bear it' attitude towards geographical reality, I came to think of it as 'my idea.' Over time I became addicted to the rhythm of the out-and-back. The scenery didn't look the same on the way down, because I seldom looked backwards on the way up. The relationship between the dog and the mountain bike reversed itself on the way down. Instead of getting an aerobic blowout, I got lazy, thought about safety, and enjoyed the scenery on the coast back down. It seemed like eating dessert.

Thus a "problem" turned into a new habit, Counter-intuitive Habit #3, Enjoying out-and-back trips. It might have been the first success in my new lifestyle.


Ed said…
I have yet to thoroughly embrace your Counter-intuitive Habit #3 but I am getting better. You are correct when you say "But reality eventually won". I have not gone past the 'grin and bear it' attitude towards geographical reality nor come to think of it as 'my idea.' The strange thing is I can do a loop route and then the following day do the loop in reverse and that seems like 'my idea' whereas the out and back does not.
Well, at least you are half-way there. Keep trying, Grasshopper.
John V said…
Some people never learn. Age usually has very little to do with it. :-)
Ted said…
Hm, come to think of it every single wonderful hike I did last year in the eastern Sierras was an out-and-back. I wasn't disappointed at all.

That said, if given a choice I'd prefer a loop. Because a loop can be done clockwise, then counterclockwise, then as an out-and-back on the left half, and again as an out-and-back on the right half. Four options instead of just the one I get with a simple out-and-back trail.

There is no downside to more options, is there?