Archive for October 12th, 2009

The Delicate Sound of Gravel

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Let me get on my soapbox for a bit. Allow me this indulgence.  Every one has an issue that really gets up their nose, this is one of mine, wearing headphones while riding a bike.   Technically speaking it’s illegal to wear headphones while riding a bike The likelihood of you being pulled over and sighted for listening to your favorite tunes on your bike, however, isn’t very high.  Cops may just have better things to do than to chase down cyclist and hand out tickets for wearing an iPod, at least one would hope they would.

Personally, I’ve tried it and to me it was akin to putting on horse blinders.  Any one who has driven a panel truck over long distances understands the importance of using mirrors and since a lot of bicycles lack mirrors, your ears become, in effect, become your mirrors. Would you purposely yank all the mirrors off of your car? I didn’t think so.

Granted, I know how a really great tune can keep you going during a long day in the saddle.  Why else do you think combat troupes listen to a lot of Slayer and Eminem, because it get’s them pumped up, that’s why.  You don’t need a doctorate degree in psychology to understand that.

But now I see a lot of mountain bikers doing the same thing. If there’s an activity you need all your wits about you, it’s riding a bicycle off road.  Not only do you have to deal with varying soil conditions, each of which react differently under your tires but there’s a range of shifting options, braking systems to contend with, gravity, wildlife, roots, rocks, leaves, so having the ability to instantly respond to any of these variables may be the difference between riding another day or an ambulance ride.  Impairing one of your senses simply means you are not getting accurate information.

To me wearing headphones seems to be somewhat antithetical to the outdoor experience.  All ready a lot of people are alienated by their work a day jobs, and as a result are somewhat disassociated by their world around them. Plugging into a portable digital audio player, I’m afraid, further increases that sense of isolation.

Several years ago I went on an overnight mountain bike trip and as we were making our way up the trail I noticed that there was a small drive in camp and there a cluster of people who had pop up trailer tents, a couple of generators, TVs, and radios all going at the same time.  I wheeled up to one of the bike guides and asked him what he thought was up with that and it was his estimation that a lot of people bring crank up their radios outside simply because he thought they were scared, and in short, a manifestation of agoraphobia.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health acute agoraphobia involves intense fear and anxiety of any place or situation where escape might be difficult, leading to avoidance of situations such as being alone outside of the home; traveling in a car, bus, or airplane; or being in a crowded area.

  • Approximately 1.8 million American adults age 18 and over, or about 0.8 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have agoraphobia without a history of panic disorder.
  • The median age of onset of agoraphobia is 20 years of age.

While directly linking agoraphobia with the use of personal digital playback devices may be a bit of a leap it is something to think about.  Alternatively, however, in the Bay Area we do tend to live in close proximity to one another so for many of us using a personal digital playback device may be the close as we’re going to get to cranking up your music as loud as we want to without disturbing our neighbors.

I also understand the demands of domestic life and being a partner with some one who has different musical tastes than I do. Cheryl may like “T.V. Party” from Black Flag but she definitely is not a fan of CRASS. Conversely, I simply am not a Weird Al fan. So having the ability to listen to your own personal music selections can help prevent you driving your partner insane.

Also, getting back and forth to work on mass transit isn’t a joyous occasion either because no matter how you slice it, public transportation is a drag.  “Boy oh boy, that creepy weirdo is going to sit next to me. Man, I can really stand to listen to some Corrosion of Conformity right now”.   So, yeah, digital audio devices have their place in the world.

Work environments aren’t that much more conducive to peace of mind either. The stress of production quotas, the drudgery of cubical work, the casual humiliation of working retail, the constant threat of injury while working in the manufacturing sector, all beg for the of comfort or vicarious release that music can bring. But the outdoors also has its own restorative properties and many of those attributes are shut off when earphones are shoved deeply into your head.

Just try unplugging. It may be a bit disorientating at first but it just may bring you back to a world where the loudest thing you were likely to hear was the sound of thunder.

Adam H