7.18.2014

Vacation Brain - RAGBRAI

I have vacation brain, and I am pretty sure there are at least eight to ten thousand other people who have it today as well, because that is about how many people will be participating in RAGBRAI next week, the massive seven day bicycling event across the state of Iowa, where you become a different person for a week and live a completely different nomadic life.

For anyone who has not experienced vacation brain, it is when your brain becomes fixated on an impending vacation and you cannot focus on your present circumstances very well, such as your job. I have to use all my might to focus my brain on the handful of loose ends I need to tie up at work today before my alter ego as ”Yard Bird” of TEAM CRAZY BIRD takes over my persona completely.

I think I have participated in RAGBRAI either fully or partially at least 12 times since I first experienced it in about 1993, a year into my graduate school tenure at Iowa State. RAGBRAI has definitely changed and benefitted me. A few of the ways that come to mind are as follows:

Teamwork. Riding with a team of great fun people and sharing in the obstacles and thrills of a 450 mile bike ride builds team like you cannot believe. This has benefitted me in my personal life throughout the year.

Media fasting. When you are riding a bike through remote cornfields in Iowa, and camping in tents at night, there is very little access to the demoralizing and depressing mainstream American media. It’s refreshing and the elimination of all that negativity only amplifies the positivity of the summer fun of RAGBRAI. Let me tell you, examining the wet t-shirt clad bodies of nubile bicycling fanatics at a farm party in the middle of nowhere or throwing yourself down a 100 foot beer slide totally trumps examining the geopolitics of…well, just about anything. You really get some perspective on the fact that life is too short for not having as much fun as humanly possible, and this philosophy usually carries me forward in a haze of positivity for a few weeks or months after RAGBRAI, until the brutality of Wisconsin’s winter forces me to indoor misery. Over the past few years I have tried to maximally eliminate the mainstream media from my life and to be very selective about my consumption of pop culture. This is largely due to the lessons of RAGBRAI. I have no TV. I have cable only for Internet and I choose what media to expose myself to via the Internet. I have a radio, and I do listen to NPR most days to keep abreast of any existential crises facing the human race. But let’s face it, short of an actual existential crisis like a massive asteroid hitting the earth, or nuclear war, or drastic climate change, there is really not a lot of news that you can’t live without (except the Tour de France, which usually coincides with all or part of RAGBRAI most years). If anything bad happens to you, you are going to know it before the media does, most likely. Everything else just does not need to be taking up anxiety real estate in your brain, to be frank. Plane crashes and mass shootings are tragic and sad. But you know what else they are? Rare. The media makes us feel like we have an epidemic of shite storms in the world. The truth is (and you can verify this on Google), statistically, you are safer on an airplane than in your own house, and you are more likely to be shot by a police officer than a mass shooter or a terrorist. You are also safer riding a bicycle…when you are riding it with 10,000 other bicyclists who have completely taken over a small Iowa county highway, greatly reducing the risk of encountering automobiles (devices also far more dangerous than airplanes, statistically).

Living in the moment. RAGBRAI is a very zen experience. The only knowns are the suggested RAGBRAI bicycle route, and even that is negotiable most of the time. You don't know who or what you will see. Every moment is an adventure. On more than one occasion, my bike team has simply forged a new path, taking a different route to get from point A to point B. Sometimes we stay in one place longer than we are supposed to. Because of the lack of media, weather can be a surprise, a threat, or a blessing. You need to be able to accept change and adapt minute to minute. This is valuable in life. You can't be too obsessive or controlling in life. Most of the time you can't change the world and worrying about it is just wasting brain power. So, be like water...flowing, surrounding, adapting. Do not be like ice, rigid and unfriendly. Do not be like steam, fizzling away too quickly and missing all the fun. Be like water.

So, people, I’m checking out here pretty soon, for a week. “Yard Bird” will be taking the helm of this fairly robust shell of flesh, bone, and sea water (essentially) for about a week. He’s a lot more adept at melding with the shell of metal, plastic, and digital music that is his “riding machine” for RAGBRAI. I, Joe, will sit back and observe his fully indulgent shenanigans.

Ciao!

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