Monday, February 5, 2024

For Old Times Sake...

 Demonitized, de-incentivized and irrelevant as time has moved on...

...But I'm still here.

    I remember a time when Google would send me a $100 check in the mail every year for my blog contributions on Blogger. It was always a treat to see proof that people were engaging with my written content and it made me feel good as an amateur columnist of the internet. Those were the days when people read instead of scrolled. The modern day chat forums were in their infancy and if most people were interested in researching a topic they would turn to blog posts instead of going on YouTube. 

A lot of good ideas and good intentions have now gone by the wayside. Technology has left them behind as well as the fickle nature of people's constant wandering interests. Every once in a while, something is picked up from the rubbish heap and trended for a few days on social media. A good idea can be acknowledged with a fleeting curiosity, given a self righteous lip service then tossed back in the heap for a few more years. The truth is, all good ideas are filtered through the sea of bad ones, making it impossible for them to prevail. They are constantly tumbling in an ever changing media spin of trends and content that is making the world's head spin. Society is primed and ready for a Fahrenheit 451 scenario, all too ready to stop reading, critically thinking, creating and imagining all together. Here's the thing, if good ideas were allowed to flourish, progress would be made and our society as a whole would be improved. However, only be bad ones prevail because they promote inequality and division instead of collaboration, inclusion and a societal baseline safety net. Bad ideas only benefit a small group of people who hold the most power, instead of giving more power to the people. Social media has become the coping mechanism for the masses, a means of consuming the fantasies of wealth and status (whether real or imaginary) that the privileged few occasionally decide to share with us. Meanwhile, the infrastructure projects that would improve people's lives are quietly shelved or hollowed out of funds on a local, state and federal level so that a bigger football stadium can be built in one town or more parking space for giant SUVs and trucks can be added in another.

Reading the list of transportation initiatives that have failed to thrive in the past ten years would easily read like a eulogy.  Mixed use zoning was a way of property developers to make overpriced, luxury apartments that gentrified long standing neighborhoods. Bicycle transportation networks have resulted in many trails that lead to nowhere. Sharrows no longer get repainted by city maintenance. Rental bikes were often vandalized, stolen or tossed around towns and college campuses as road debris. Whatever happened to that bullet train that was supposed to go from Dallas to Houston? Whatever happened to that trail that was supposed to connect Dallas to Fort Worth? What ever happened to many cities 2030 walkability plans? Was that bond money re-allocated to say, having the nation's largest High School football stadium only to be outdone by another town the following year? How about the policing and fare enforcement of DART rail? How did DART go from being one of the largest rail networks in the country to one of the most poorly maintained, and dangerous to ride on? Why does most new city planning in new areas not include sidewalks or bicycle infrastructure? Why are SUVs and trucks 3 times the size that they were 10 years ago as well as 3 times as fatal? Why do public works projects like installing a traffic light now take a year or more to complete?

The changing landscape that has resulted as bad ideas have taken over have left us in the DFW cycling community with little recourse as our roads have slowly become unrideable over the past few years. The post pandemic population explosion has also added more vehicles to an already strained, unkept road infrastructure. All of these new vehicles have grills and headlights taller than a child's head in the front, resulting in poor visibility to the driver and over reliance on lane and other object sensors. Now, already distracted drivers on their phones are behind the steering wheels of much more fatal weapons. What is a road cyclist to do these days?

The truth is, it is expensive to live near any cycling infrastructure as properties that are built or around existing trails are fetching a premium. In addition to these locations having always been expensive and cost prohibitive, the current mortgage interest rates and property values have deemed areas that once could be aspired to as un-obtainium. For long time locals in the area, moving to another part of the state is simply not doable. The result of all of this is that we now face a grim choice as cyclists if we are to continue doing the sport we love; cycle indoors or quit cycling. In recent years, indoor cycling has enjoyed a resurgence as more technology has been thrown into smart trainers and virtual reality cycling software. I guess when reality sucks the only way to keep fitness gains and be a part of the community is through virtual workouts. As a user of indoor trainers there is nothing I hate more than burning the rubber on my rear bike tire sitting in place or an hour, sweating puddles and giving myself crotch pain trying to push out watts on a traditional trainer. However, with how bad the situation has gotten on the roads I am seriously contemplating buying a smart spin bicycle that can work with virtual riding software. Even with a mischievous toddler and limited space in my home this option seems wiser than riding out of the neighborhood sometimes. 

Driving to the trails isn't much of a better option. The nearest trail to nowhere that is paved is still a good 30 minutes away from my house. To get to a premium riding destination is about an hour drive. I have a few mountain biking trails that are closer, but extreme weather can keep those trails closed weeks at a time. Up until a few years ago, I lived near trails or lived in a bike friendly town. I would routinely get rides in as often as 3 times a week. I had fitness, I had drive and I was in the right environment for cycling. When we bought our first home in many years we were priced out of the areas I had lived in previously. We bought into a new community which was at time a small neighborhood surrounded by quiet, rural roads. In a matter of just a few years, the growth in the area has exploded, but the roads aren't any better. Several neighborhoods are now built or being built in the area. Newcomers who don't respect the slower pace of rural life are tearing up the once tranquil, idyllic roads. The new home we bought as a family has become a money pit of problems caused by rushed construction and rolling black outs in the area. We are in the golden handcuffs scenario as having a mortgage rate too low to refinance and no way of lowering our mortgage payment elsewhere. So unless I leave Texas altogether, there is no moving back to the city or closer to bike trails anytime soon. 

As I get older, the more irrelevant  I become. My cycling peers of a similar age have already moved over to the dark side of cycling, aka indoor cycling. Road cycling isn't attracting a younger audience like it did when I started riding, one could even argue that it has always struggled to find its footing with younger people. The fact that I am choosing to blog about it in 2024, when the written language is going the way of analog film cameras, is my therapy and way of coping with life's changes. We are in a malaise era in a lot of ways, but this is probably the worst time to be a cyclist on the roads of north Texas than any other period of time that I can remember . In the grand scheme of things, my problems are only a ripple effect pointing to a much larger moral bankruptcy in our society today. 

It's official that the millennial generation that I am a part of has finally grown up, peaked and fallen out of style and favor with the generation coming behind it. Despite this, I am still here in the sense that I will continually adapt to life's changes and will do my best to make the best of getting older. I do not really feel like my time has passed. There is very little evidence of change of who I am on the outside as well as how I feel on the inside. I must admit, however that the rest of the world is moving on and away from those in my age group, especially in terms of deeming them a target audience in the fitness community. I get more targeted ads for investing and politics than I get for new bikes. No matter what, I will keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, one pedal stroke at a time.

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