Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Auld and the Virtual

It was a horrible day for motoring, let alone cycling. But having wandered around the sheltered side of the mountain till the wind grew too strong to stay upright, I returned home sufficiently spent to  dedicate the day's remainder to sipping hot port by the fire, pen in hand. I was poised to write a letter - an actual letter - to a friend I hadn't seen in two years. And as the nib began its familiar trek across paper, it nearly felt as if the physicality of this act could compensate for how abstracted relations become after such prolonged absences.

It occurred to me then that most of the people I consider friends, I have not physically met with in quite a long time now. And yet, when I think back to each of our partings, I am struck by the marked absence of regret - as if at the time we failed to grasp the permanence of these separations. Raised in the age of technology, perhaps we all cheerfully believed that email, phone and text would shorten distance; that there would be no real absence as such. And what do we believe now? That is a question from which I would rather distract myself.

Later that night I slept deeply and dreamt of a winter's evening in a city covered in snow. In the dream I was cycling along a mostly cleared bicycle path with two friends - Dave and Patrina. All three of us rode heavy Dutch bicycles, and I remember quite vividly every little detail about their company - their voices, their movements, the clothing they wore, even the silhouettes of their bodies in the streetlamp-lit night. It was all very familiar, like the feeling you get around friends  whose presence has long been a given. Only the interesting thing is, I have never met either Dave or Patrina in my life. I know of them only through their former bicycling blog, Portlandize. Over the years, we have admired each other's photography, have gotten involved in discussions, have exchange messages and corresponded privately about personal topics. But even by the online definition thereof, I don't think we can be considered friends exactly. And yet, in my dream there we were - out on the town together as the snowflakes fell on us picturesquely. And it felt so very real.

In the dream, the three of us ventured off the urban plowed track and cycled through a series of fields, which we thought to be a shortcut to whatever place we were heading to. "Hang on," said Dave at one point and stopped his bicycle, "let me just test this next part before we cross it. The snow looks deep; we might need to walk the bikes." Dismounting his bicycle he took a step forward, then promptly sunk knee-deep into what looked like slush with a snowy top layer. We realised then than we had come to a stream. With another step forward, Dave was in past his thighs, confirming this.

In a way that made logical sense as it only can in a dream, we all three decided to cross the slushy, snowy water. Dave went first, gradually submerging chest-deep while dragging his bicycle over his shoulders. Then Patrina and I crossed together, struggling somewhat with the weight as our bikes were tugged sideways by currents - yet giggling at the challenge of battling the water's pull. The stream was more the size of a small river and crossing it took some time. But there was no sense of danger. Or of cold for that matter. And when eventually we emerged from the opposite bank, we simply flicked the wet snow off our overcoats and continued to pedal into the night. At the end we made it just on time to the theater, I think - but the rest of the dream is vague.

There are multiple ways to interpret a dream like this, if one is so inclined. But my view is that most of these things are collages our mind puts together, of images and events recently experienced and read about. The flooding that's all over the news now, with images of people dragging their belongings through water. That scene out of Full Tilt, where Dervla Murphy crosses a stream with her bike in Afghanistan by hitching a lift on the back of a small friendly cow. The glimpses caught of Dave and Patrina's instagram feeds not long before going to bed. The forecast of possible snow for the following morning. There does not need to be a deeper explanation then a simple mix and mash of these fragments.

At the same time, one could also say that my dream mind "used" the personas of Dave and Patrina to express a longing for friends in a way that was emotionally safer than had I conjured up the actual, real-life people I missed.

Then again, there is the rather obvious explanation that in a sense I miss Dave and Patrina themselves - or, more accurately, the era of the Portlandize blog and other utility cycling sites than are no longer active - such as EcoVelo and Let's Go Ride a Bike. The online cycling community - if it can be called that - is different now than it was, say, 5 years ago. It is larger and teeming with more information than ever. But it is also less intimate, less close-knit. And the very fact that such a thing can be said of an entirely virtual entity is telling. Perhaps the real vs virtual distinction is a false dichotomy.

We can write a letter to a friend or we can send them a text. We can talk on the phone or across the room by the glow of the fire. We can share ride reports on bicycle forums or pedal side by side along a winding road. It need not be about which is the "better," the more "real" form of interaction. It is all, in one way or another, a form of human contact. And no matter how independent we think we are, we  need it, crave it, long for it.

So here is to new acquaintances and "auld," to the real and the virtual. Thank you for the human contact, dear readers. And Happy New Year!

26 comments:

  1. A Very Happy New Year to you! Thanks for a great year of reading. I am looking forward to yet another :-)

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  2. It is interesting how in today's world close friends and family can sit in the same room together and not even talk to one another; verbally and yet be intent upon their mobile devices. The irony is that they may even be communicating with each other electronically while in the same room. (one of my wife's pet peeves I should add)

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    1. it is one of my pet peeves that I can sit and read a newspaper or a printed book and ignore family around me, but as soon as I do the same using an electronic device, it becomes unacceptable and indicative of some form of moral decline. I quite happily ignored my parents in-law this morning reading their print copy of the Times without reprimand, but was apparently being rude reading the online copy of the Guardian on my Tab the day before!

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    2. Good point Tim. My guess is, this is because these devices are (at least in theory) more interactive, and so when we are using one this is interpreted as "interaction with someone else" as opposed to as "reading" by those present.

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    3. I think either is rude, depending on the situation - if one was in a social setting, at a restaurant for example, reading a book or an on-line device whilst in the company of others. At home it may also be rude - surely it depends on what is going on rather than the device in question.

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    4. lol - Well that's it - where do you draw the line? Many people cannot sit still (I'm one of them) and have to be 'busy' - which is why social settings can be so dreary - having a meal out with others and thinking 'I'd rather be riding my bike'.

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  3. It is interesting how close friends and family can sit in the same room together and not communicate verbally with one another while all the while being intent upon their mobile devices. The irony is that they are talking to each other electronically but probably not emotionally.

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  4. That port wrapped you in nod and bittersweet so timely for year's end and beginning again. You and your readers have shared so generously an inviting and amiable trove of cycling tales and frolics, of the road both up and down, and of your hearts and love of cycling and life. You have inspired and enriched our cycling adventures and our lives with a winsome, warm light that will stay with us for a very long time. Thank you! Jim Duncan

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  5. Happy new year to you too! I hope you get a "happy and healty" new year. Looking forwards to reading your blog in the new year!

    badmother

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  6. Happy New Year and thank you for your stories, information sharing and wonderful photography.

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  7. And thank you for taking the time to write and share photographs as you do. We all feel connected to you just the same.

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  8. Happy new year! I'm a long time reader of your blog and it's been a great inspiration to me, since 2010. I read every post and most of the comments and also comment from time to time. While the bike blogosphere has changed a lot, yours has stayed a constant even though it has evolved. Nothing stays the same and you have brought cycling into many lives. Thank you. Vicki

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  9. Happy new year! I have to say, after moving many hundreds of miles away from some very dear friends, having social media and being able to peek into the lives of my real life friends as well as my internet friends makes the world seem much smaller. And that's comforting.

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  10. Can anyone keep something as ephemeral as a blog going without the conviction that one is connecting with friends? I think it would end up cynical and mercenary, something I don't ever smell here.

    I still think digital media usually feels sort of artificial and contrived, but then so do first days at new jobs, seating arrangements at dinner parties and blind dates, and yet sometimes they turn into real connections that change our lives for a little or longer. A lot of your readers probably carry images of rides with Velouria in their minds which is a reality of sorts, isn't it?

    In mine you're always doing wheelies and stair-jumping your Brompton. You're pretty Bad-ass actually...

    Cheers Velouria.

    Dinspizzy

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  11. In your drawing you sort of look like a (slightly)happier Kathe Kollwitz... Which is cool.

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  12. Happy New Year, V. and to all you fellow readers.

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  13. Thank you for Lovely Bicycle posts. It's always the first one I go to and you are so right. Some nice blogs are no longer here for us to enjoy. But what ever stays the same? I just appreciate that yours is still here. Happy new year!

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    1. Thank you. I think it's largely through allowing myself to morph that I have managed to remain. Nothing stays the same. And who knows, 2016 could bring some new exciting blogs to follow.

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  14. This is your second holiday post expressing (if I may be permitted to interpret) a feeling of loneliness. Hope you're doing okay.

    Walter

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    1. I don't know. I am actually more social these days than I've been in a long time. I think it's more that, after 2.5 years, the radically of my move to this place is finally hitting me. A delayed reaction.

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    2. That can happen - I have often thought that people who have lived in only one place their entire lives are actually quite lucky; no matter how much we may love an 'adopted' country, there is always something missing, not in that country but in our connection to it - we do not have the 'roots', that easy relationship.

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  15. Hello bicycles' angel,

    I wish you a happy new year.

    L.

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  16. Replies
    1. Alas I'm on antibiotics this year, so the New Year cocktail was a half glass of Bucks Fizz!

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