I came to a stark realization during the grueling 90-mile, 2-day trek from Lewiston to Belfast: I know absolutely nothing about bicycles. This thirty-pound hunk of metal, rubber and whatever else has been hauling me around the past 5 weeks, carrying me and my belongings hundreds of miles while shoved in my most intimate of places, and I honestly couldn’t really tell you how it works.
When my pedals froze mid-journey I was convinced my bike was broken forever—but Lilyanna quickly popped the chain back on the gears and it was good to go. When I had a kink in my chain that kept tripping up, I was sure that I needed to replace the entire thing—but a little lube and labor from Belfast Bicycle easily remedied that issue. My knowledge of bicycle mechanics extends no further than the hour-long bike maintenance session we had back during training—meaning I might be able to change a bike tube if my life depended on it, although to be honest, I’d probably default to the expertise of my teammates instead. Anything more serious than a flat tire and it’s time to throw my hands up in the air and hand it over to a professional.
You would think that due to the amount of time I have spent wedged up on that seat, hammering down on the pedals with all my might that the intimate relationship with this piece of machinery would be mutual, and yet I’m sure the Prairie Breaker knows far more about me than I know about it.
This just goes to show how our society has become so far removed from the inner workings of all that sustains us. This phenomenon extends beyond simply the singular items—such as a bicycle—but from entire systems. Systems built by society such as agriculture and food production, are systems so crucial to our survival, yet so complex and hidden from the general public. It is so easy to just pick your food up at the grocery store and to not even consider where it originated from or how it was produced. The inner-workings of these systems is often only revealed when an individual inquires about them and takes the learning into their own hands, by reading a book such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma or watching a documentary like Food, Inc.
We have just become so disconnected from everyday processes, so uninformed about the products and structures that create our livelihood. Everything is so complex and impersonal; it is often forgotten that there can be beauty in a reduction to simplicity. Granted, I have already confessed my lack of knowledge regarding the mechanics of a bicycle, and yet I am certain that I am far less competent regarding that of an automobile.
It is embarrassing to admit that I know so little about the things that I depend on everyday. I believe that in order to live sustainable, harmonious lives we must know and understand the systems that support us, to fully comprehend the impacts of our actions and the resulting reactions. I challenge you this: pick a sustaining force in your life: be it a societal system, such as agriculture and food production or waste management, or a natural system, like the carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous or hydrological cycle. Research it. Understand it. Teach yourself something new, and further comprehend the support system of your existence.