Never & Always Stuck in the Mud

The other weekend on one of our Wine Rides at age thirty I ticked one of those men’s things off my bucket list. I got a vehicle that was stuck, out of some mud. It’s ironic that I have done survival training and I have worked in Africa on several occasions, and the first time that I actually needed to use these skills was in a field in Sussex.

When I was setting up at Sedlescombe I got the vans front wheels bogged down in some mud. I hadn’t noticed but as the sun set the ground must have got softer and damper. So when I came to move the van the wheels stopped gripping and started to spin out.

I had the problem that the van was on a slope. It wanted to keep returning to the ruts I had accidently dug with the spinning wheels. Unfortunately I hadn’t realised the problem until it was getting dark, there would be no-one on the farm to help me out until late in the morning the next day. Our guests went to bed and I knew that the food for breakfast was at the other site.

That left me with two options: either get up an hour early and cycle to Carr-Taylor and back to get the breakfast supply’s, or get the van out myself. The solution that I came up with was to jam blocks of fire wood under the wheels as wedges and then deflate the tires of the van, until they had very little pressure in them and enough grip to get me out. In the end it worked. If I had to do it again, it would be much easier now as I now know how much air you have to let out: (FYI its loads).

On the same trip, one of our guests was telling me about her husband’s adventures cycling from Land’s end to John O’Groats. They did it in a very impressive 8 days. Apparently the same group of men have plans afoot to do the trip in 4 days. I suddenly jolted with surprise. I used to have this ambition of cycling through the Americas. It is still something that I would like to do but it has fallen way down my pyramid of priorities.

How is it that running Wine Rides has sapped my motivation to cycle across the world? What is it that motivates us to do these hyper endurance events in the first place?

Wine Rides is 3 days but endurance is not what it’s about. Cycle Touring is an activity that makes you a “Tourist” in the truest sense. Cycling and exploring a region by bike, you are not passive. You are also unencumbered.  There is no car door to stop people from engaging you. On one of our first tours before we set up Wine Rides, Hayley and I stopped for an iced bun and a lady in her late 80’s came up to me and said “Are you cycling around the world? I had to say: “no just the South of England“. At the time that felt like a failing but now, I would say it with great pride. We didn’t have a country to cross so I had time to chat and that is the point.

The paradox of modern life is that it is both so easy and yet so difficult. I oscillate wildly between seeing my fellow humans as assets and liabilities. It strikes me that most things in life are easy, it’s just the people that get in the way. On the other hand, you can’t achieve anything truly great without the help of those around you.

Perhaps we all feel the impulse to run a marathon because we have become insulated from problems that originate in the physical world like wheels stuck in mud and spend way too much time dealing with issues that originate within other people. We’ve stopped viewing each other as people who can help pull us out of the mud and we have started seeing each other as burdens to run away from.

Could the issue be that we so rarely have to solve these physical problems in modern life? It’s fascinating to me that we seem to have solved all the easy problems and left ourselves with only the really difficult interpersonal stuff to do. At the end of the day a van is either stuck or it isn’t. A human on the other hand can be stuck, unhappy and uncooperative. It’s those mental and emotional dimensions that make all interaction with people infinitely more complex.

On reflection the hardest part of getting that van out and why it was so stressful, was the human part of the problem: me. Using the tip of my knife to let air out by pressing in the valve was very easy. Reversing the van involved some clutch control, and jumping in and out of the van to check my progress might have burned a few calories, but by far and away the biggest effort was my mind whirring away thinking about all the “what if’s”.

I know that task separation makes people much more efficient. If I become an expert and specialise in one activity I am more productive. I can earn more money and pay people to do all the things that fall outside my specialism. But there is something to be said for having a go at solving problems for yourself even if you could afford to “pay the man”.

More and more I am finding that when I try and fix things for myself I get the buzz of having had a little victory. It feels like I have dragged one more thing into my sphere of influence. Each time I have a go at fixing something, I learn just enough to bluff my way through a conversation. The next time I am in the shop paying for a service, I am parting with money but I am also able to glean information from the mechanic, chef etc.

It will often cost me more in the short term to buy the tool and do it myself, and there is all that time you will ‘waist’. But now when I “pay the man” I look at him completely differently. Not just as another cost in my deficit column, but a reservoir of information. I know the right question or light-hearted remark will crack the seal and a gushing torrent of useful incites will come forth. And what’s more we will end up liking each other more.

All humans are psychologically set up backwards. We are obligate communalists. We love to impart information upon others and we find it tiresome to be lectured to. But that makes no sense at all. If you think of it in purely economic terms, if the other person is talking and you are listening, theirs is the mental deficit. You gain knowledge and they seem to gain nothing. But we enjoy sharing our hard won lessons. It’s what we are built to do.

If I just pay someone then, my personal interactions can only be negative. Either you are happy with their work and you don’t speak again, or you are unhappy and you have to badger them to do it over. The thing I am just learning is that if I do the work myself and ask for help, other people can become bridges that get me where I am going, not barriers to be overcome.