Friday, January 10, 2014

Project: Disconnect

I joined Facebook in 2009. Wow, what a rush to reconnect with people I had not seen (or admittedly, even THOUGHT about) for years! I saw pictures of my friends' kids, laughed at all the "really cool" people in high school that were now obese and balding (oops, did I really just type that?) and "met" a huge amount of people through the tangled, immense web of networking. Some I now know personally, some I have met here and there on rides, some I have no idea what the tone of their voice sounds like as they exist only in emails and messages, but, undeniably, my life is different (better??) due to the ability to connect and share.

Somewhere, however, between now and then, the internet became a daily thing due to the social nature of my usage. It was no longer a tool to sumbit my homework, get leture notes, bank online and the million other uses to make life easier and more convenient, it was becoming a daily habit because it was fun to see what everyone was doing, great to share stories, pictures and begin to connect and meet with people of like minds through forums, Facebook, etc. I started a blog to share my writing and my new love of mountain biking. I remember shyly reaching out to Ergon's Jeff Kerkove asking him to be my "Facebook Friend" (knowing him only from race results and news articles) so I could bomb him with questions about racing. This whole social media thing was still new and exciting, but I remember in the back of my mind, I felt a lingering uneasiness for how much of my time it was sucking away and the fact that it was not "real." It was, still, the internet. A computer screen. A picture, not a face. Typed words, not articulated words. Emoticons and exclamation points, not human emotion--the most beautiful thing about us.

And that was just the beginning. Today, absolutely everything is on Facebook. When I honestly think of the time I have spent (actually, wasted) online, looking at the same people posting 43 pictures each time they ride their bike, eat a meal, walk in the snow or run up a hill, well, I truthfully just shake my head. Why? How? When did being online become a way of life, instead of a tool? Am I really that bored? Is it just a habit? Do I need to be constantly stimulated, informed and connected? Why do I find myself thinking about posts, discussions and pictures way too much when I am not logged in? Has this substitute for vocal conversation and human interaction changed the way I think and interact socially in a positive or negative way?

This struggle for me is not something new or recent. As a very sensitive (yes, sometimes overly) soul, I have given a huge amount of thought to this subject, written previous blogs, spent hours observing the change in social relations (my own and others) and honestly, just never felt totally at ease with the increasing amount of time I spent in a "world" that has never seemed real to me. Maybe its my personality, my sensitivity or my social needs, but I found myself WANTING to wonder what my friends were doing, WISHING I could hear the story of the weekend, adventure, ride or run with my ears, not through a text or the Facebook photo album.

Then, about a year ago, I read this:

and this:

I do suggest that you come back with some time and focus and give them some thought. From a scientific perspective as well as an emotional and observational standpoint, they both have a lot to say. And I must admit, they were a refreshing read, helping me validate (for lack of a better term) and better clarify my thoughts and feelings.

So what did I do? When I moved into a new, basement apartment, I chose to leave the internet connection behind. Ironically, my cell phone (the old school flip phone) gets zero service beyond the ability to receive texts when I walk down the stairs to the front door, so I lovingly dubbed it "The Dungeon of Disconnectivity."

I needed a respite from feeling constantly "on call." I seriously desired being disconnected in a place other than the mountains. I needed a sanctuary where I could focus and not be distracted by a message notification or this annoying urge to look and see if anyone had called or texted in case something was wrong or I was needed somewhere. I could feel myself creating this false sense of worry if I was not connected.....Uhhhhh, WTF (not "what" but "where") did this come from? I needed to stop losing my precious evening hours staring at a screen doing nothing (and, ironically, being totally bored with it). I needed to do the damn dishes, attack the pile of laundry, unpack my books and do the rest of the chores that were always neglected in favor of finding new music, lurking around on or, watching stupid youtube videos or scrolling mindlessly through the facebook world.

Enough was enough. Time for some time away to let my brain learn to live in the physical world---wow, like it should!

The first few days were (credit to my roommate) "maddening." When a nightly habit is suddenly gone, I found myself pacing around a bit, wondering what to do with my nervous energy. I started with the dishes. Then my laundry. Then my to-do list that I never actually did.


I liked the way it felt to go to bed with things being done instead of thinking about how they needed to get done when I woke up. Ridiculously simple, yes, but it only hammered home the reality of how much time the internet sucked away from my life. And how much of a distraction it had become.

A little over two months later, there is still no connection. Yes, it is annoying in that I can't google a quick recipe or look at routes to run or ride. No, the instant convenience is not present anymore, but I will gladly sacrifice it for all the positive benefits I am experiencing. Chores are getting done, productivity, and efficiency are back. I am less distracted, perfectly ok with a healthy boredom and I don't feel the need to be connected all the time.

And, I am not alone. A growing awareness is out there represented in these reads: (read them! really!)

So my goal (which I don't always meet, but have vastly improved) of structured, planned usage has hugely helped me to begin using the internet again for what it is in my life--a valuable tool.

Yes, merely a tool.

A method for making things better and easier and to connect and share to enhance relationships in real life--NOT an attempt to stave off boredom, a constant distraction/obligation or a substitute for human interaction.

Welcome, life. Welcome back. You are too precious, amazing and beautiful to be lived online. You don't need to be enhanced through image editing or embellished with witty selfies and posts that cry for attention. I am sad that I kind of lost sight of the real you when I was handed this really cool tool, but I am so thankful that you are laid out before me again, in all your tangible splendor....

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How Low Can I Go?

I must admit I have been keeping a very keen eye on the weather in International Falls, MN. "The Icebox of the Nation" is the starting line for this year's Arrowhead 135 and as we have all been well (over)-informed there is a massive cold blast invading the midwest. The temperatures are rising a bit now, and if the race were this week, I could not ask for better conditions. Between 0 and 10F is my wish and I have to admit, that although rooms are reserved and my support people are ready to help drive and pick me up from Fortune Bay, I found myself setting -15F as my lower limit to race. I am confident at temps above that, but seeing the windchill last week made me just laugh. My gear needs a serious upgrade to keep me alive at -44F (windchill factored in). And we all know that is not financially possible in less than three weeks....

So, I pound away in the gym, on trails and on the trainer, silently hoping the forecast warms just a bit, posing to myself the question I would rather pedal away than answer: If I see -20F's forecast for Jan 27-28, what is Plan B?

How low can you go?

*A bit of a different style in my blog will probably stick around for a bit. Time constraints and my self-imposed Project: Disconnect (no internet in my house since November 1, only scheduled, productive coffee shop wifi-pirating) have dictated a temporary change to shorter, and a hopefully more frequent series of posts. Look for the PD blog. Good things since disconnecting a bit!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Helluva Life

To wrap up 2013, I had a long, introspective, analytical post working in my head for two weeks. I had a good summary of the ups, downs, twists, turns and changes of the past twelve months, a very heartfelt thesis tying them altogether and an ending to express gratitude for all the blessings in my life and spark inspiration for the huge 2014 that lies ahead.

But one moment (ok, two moments) in the last five days of 2013, spent in the San Juan mountains undoubedtly trumped any blog analysis I could ever hope to muster:

1) Racing down the middle of Durango,Colorado on the handlebars of my Surly Pugsley...

2) Greeting 2014 almost exactly 24 hours later by dancing down the middle of Silverton, Colorado, snow lightly falling and "Amarillo By Morning" playing in the frigid mountain air...

Both have a back story that would fill a book, both exemplify my personality, my passions, my heart. Both contain an underlying summary of the past year I was plannig to dumb-down with the English language in this post.

Instead, however, I choose to keep that inside for now and end with this:

They both included what I prayed would return to my life again, and for this my gratitude knows no limits.