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Do you ever stop to wonder at the astounding degree to which money and the machinery of its making, the economy, rules our lives? The economy is like electricity. Turn off the power and we stand around blinking as the world around us spins down to a stop. Turn off the economy and we become extra’s along The Road to post-holocaust oblivion. Even if you reckon you can ‘escape’ by going to live in a tree, can you really escape from the machinery of money? Are you sure??

The economy connects our dreams and desires to the dreams and desires of others. The world always seems to be shifting to a wobbly balance between those who create and those who take. Pollen makers and pollen takers. Together they sing the song of equilibrium! There’s an infrastructure to support the servicing of our birth. There’s an infrastructure to support when we go to school. There’s an infrastructure to support when we set up a business or get a job. And there’s a whole industry devoted to servicing our death. But it’s not as simple as that. We are each takers and givers at the self same time. Even if you are a bureaucrat on the public teat. Or a recluse living out your life on a self-sustaining farm. You need stuff, you give stuff. Stuff is shifted via the lubrication of money.

Sometimes this can get pretty oppressive. The economy’s also a bit like the atmosphere. Breath in, breath out. Turn off the economy and we run out of air. So, perhaps, it might be nice to head off with a backpack into the hills. But we are then just a battery off for a holiday. Eventually, we need to re-dock and recharge our way back into the Matrix of the economy. The experience lives on only as an asset of memory.

I was once an economist (fully paid up and qualified). So I am always intrigued with the cleverness with which the economy can seep into places you might have imagined as some kind of sanctuary. ‘The wilderness experience’. Big business these days. Water? You have no idea! Trees in a national park? Amenity, Option, Bequest and Market values can all be used to configure their place in the ecology of commerce. What’s the value of your life? Just ask your life insurance actuary for an estimate. What’s the value of a flower or of an hour beside the sea? No worries. There’s a Willingness to Pay measure to value their worth; the market places rations the experiences we seek to consume. The value of a view? The value of art. Easy to do, easy to tax. Fringe Benefits, Capital Gains; they will get their Take.

I must confess to being overwhelmed. Having just set up a new business, I was amazed at how quickly the economy of others started to oil slick its way into our pocket. Two days in business and the stand over men started to arrive. Solicitors and their craven kin wanting payoff for setting up our connections into the bureaucracy of Take. And then the local council caught the scent! Fees for daring to start something new. Fees for existing in their tin pot territorial turf. For what? It’s not as though they offer any known service that we could ever detect… Registration fees, name change fees, rates. Even the local power company wants a bucket of cash to simply register our name! Odious oiks on every side; flabby warty hands extending from every side. Fingers, fingers, everywhere. There’s a blood lust going on around here.

Is there any asset in which a person can invest that can be protected from the avarice of an economy on the take? Is there any asset in which we might invest that returns a dividend only in proportion to effort directly given? Is there any asset that can ever be totally ours! Tax free. Is there any asset that can not be directly converted into cash? That cannot be bought and sold? That’s safe even from the most devious of plans from that vulture-draped tree of local government? Is there any asset in which to invest that exists outside this economy?

Yes there is! There’s an asset of ultimate refuge from a world otherwise owned by greed and the culture of Take. It’s an asset accessible to just about anyone. It’s the one asset that, while operating in a state of perpetual undersupply and over demand, still remains immune to the economy! It’s the one asset just about everyone wants; but no one, even the super rich, can ever buy! Cash will not do the trick. Pretence will not do the trick. Aspirations without effort will go unmet. You can’t delegate it’s acquisition to someone else. It’s even beyond the purview of the quackery of pills! You can have it, but you can’t sell it. Even if you wanted to.

Serious cyclists know to what I refer. Serious runners, swimmers; athletes of any kind. It’s a simple thing. It’s ever so rare.

Fitness. Athletic prowess. Health. That’s my safehouse from the economy. Go on you odious little oiks from the mafia of local government. Go on you legal vultures; you on the take of the government teat. Just try and make me pay! Go you accountants, you who seek registrations for all the other details of my life. Just try to hitch a licence plate on this asset of mine. Shove your fringe benefit tax where it fits. Just try to tax this refuge of mine. It’s all mine! Go Mr business tycoon. Go Mr CEO man. Try to get what I have got through some kind of bypass with cash. Get out of here! It’s my safe house from the Global Economy of unhinged insatiable greed.

Cycling did it. Cycling does it well. Ride and ride some more; day in and day out. And on it comes. The more you do the better it gets. It’s a fragile thing. We have it only as long as we put the effort in. Freedom from wheezing up a hill. The forestalling of the ravages of age. Freedom from the noxious pretensions of the gym. Cycling does it, cycling is the key. I love this ticket to economic escape.

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OK, I admit it at last. I tried to work it all out just by wading in. I tried to just learn the programme by running the machine. But I still don’t understand what’s going on. It’s time for the manual. I need to read some instructions. I need a ‘dummies guide’. I need a ‘Dummies Guide to Understanding People’.

I need that chapter wherein it might be explained just why it is that folk persist in thoroughly self-destructive behaviour and then proceed to whinge and whine about the miseries of their lot as though those miseries are the outcome of someone else’s plot.

Take fat people (take them somewhere else… please!). Consider their total obsessive compulsion to whinge and whine about the miseries of being overweight. Consider the number of times they proclaim an intent to loose weight; but never do. Consider their self-obsessive diatribes on the low self-esteem they feel through being fat. Consider how they carry on as though their issues are the outcome of some kind of disease unjustifiably, unaccountably contagioned through someone else’s fat virus misdemeanours. Consider their incessant talk about visiting the gym. About how they did ten minutes on the treadmill, five doing push-ups and so on and on; as they wobble and waddle without visible result.

Consider the litany of diets, self-obsessive harangues on the evils of this bit of food over that. Pledges to cut down. Which translates only to reconfiguration of the daily five Coke’s to diet Coke instead.

Exercise? An intent to go to the gym. Purchase a membership. Post it on the wall. Feel better now? Back to the couch. Exercise? That’s in someone else’s world. And besides all that walking from the couch to the Coke machine…that’s exercise isn’t it? Next step. Buy a pedometer to count the number of steps. One step, two, five, 1,000…10,000 steps a day back and forth between the fridge, the Coke machine, and the TV. Ten thousand steps! Feeling like Olympic gold! Ten thousand steps, one at a time, resting pulse plus one. Remember the heart…

Oh! the heart… The sciatica, the sore back, tendonitis? Lumbago. Shortness of breath. Flat feet? Sore feet. Sore everything. Prickly heat! We need to stay indoors to avoid swine flue…to avoid catching maladies undefined. Waddle out to the car, drive five km to the local shop. Buy some chips. Some McDonald’s. Return to the TV. Watch some sport! Now you are talking. Cheer, clap, get involved. This sporting life – sporting hero! Heroic feats, all performed with no feet at all; chips perched on your medicine ball of fat. Need a rest after that.

Look in the mirror. Image out of joint with the fantasies of the mind? Mirrors distort. All our family has big bones…THIS is normal. Back to my chips. Schedule yet another visit to the local quacks. Going to the doctor…that’s engagement with health! Pills, more pills… SPEND on pills, buy some health.

I’m looking for the chapter in my Dummies Guide to locate the mental re-boot. Surely if people can self-elect to a life of sloth, they can reset to a life of heath. Where is the reset button? The human brain is something of a biological computer I am told. So – where’s the reset?

I want the chapter in my Dummies Guide to explain how it is that folk can walk around, through, past and over the bight fluorescent pink elephant in the room; like a ghost they simply cannot see. It’s right there! See! How can they miss this thing? This health giving, live preserving, planet restoring solution to every single issue of concern. It’s a machine of escape. A fat peeling, health giving, community building instrument of freedom. The cell door is open. The instrument of escape is sitting right there. What’s the problem!!! What do I have to do? Get on that bicycle and live! RESET Ride and Live; Live and Ride. Cycling Mind. Better mind. Right mind. Get out there and Ride! Get out there and Live!!

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These days, my travels by air are few and far between. So it’s been a while.

As for most people, I have a few core fears when committing myself to a flying tube. Crashing, of course. But also contracting the multiple contagions transmitted through the recirculated air in the airless wastes at 20,000 feet. I also fear being stuck next to talkers, zealous defenders of first class personal space in the confines of the cattle class cabin, and screaming aerophobics…

But the biggest fear is being stuck next to a human blimp. You know the ones. You see them in the waiting lounge. Folk who have vastly outgrown and given up on any hope of normal size. The morbidly obese. You see these folk and wonder … what if she/he gets the seat next to me? The visions that cross our minds are less than pleasant. The prospect is like facing a single loaded chamber in a 250 otherwise empty chambered gun. Play the roulette and that one-in-250 chance could be at your side for the next 18 hours! Pushing her/his stomach off your already cramped tray table…, being compressed into half your own seat space or less. All hope of a cabin walk to stretch the legs or attend to other more urgent matters; lost. Held captive. Just like them.

Now of course if I were politically corrected into a more humanitarian mode, I’d be talking about empathy with their sad plight, sorrow for their suffering, concern for their critically compromised health. But we misanthropes can be as surely and uncharitable as we like! If I were politically corrected into a more sociable character of empathy and feeling, I would feel for people like that. Curiously, considering my predilection to extend the warmth of humanity only to fellow cyclists and scant bemusement to all the rest, I do indeed feel a torrid feeling of genuine unselfish concern for the lady who has just corked herself into the aisle seat beside me. As her astonishing girth waterfalled over the now entirely redundant armrest that would otherwise separate our proximity, my very first concern was for the pure, unmitigated tragedy of her circumstance.

She struggled for a long time with the seat belt extension strap the militantly unhelpful Qantas flight attendants had provided. It was too short. She could simply not fit into the chair provided. The seat in front had wedged her into a position somewhere midway between standing and seated. But like an overinflated airbag being crushed into a too small suit case, she eventually compressed herself down into a hard core press fitted posture of extraordinary discomfort and, surely, abject humiliation. Like a keystone in a gothic arch, she would not be movable without assistance; without something akin to a crow bar and corkscrew combined.

As a too-thin cyclist, I had space to crush myself up against the window and still be able to accommodate the necessities of breathing. No, I was not considering my own plight. So I watched in horror her efforts to extract a book to read, her efforts to simply shift position, the utter impossibility to lower the tray table at feeding time. The impossibility to attend to the call of nature, should that call arise (and naturally, my own trapped incapacity to attend to matters of that kind). I watched in even greater horror as the ever unhelpful Qantas staff simply dumped her food on the outer hull of her rounded personal fuselage… I watched in horror as she absently crowded the entire contents of her meal (croissants, chocolates, hamburger; all) into her mouth in the time it took me to suggest the impossibility of my own compliance with tray table extraction to the unconcerned, uncaring, prosthetically smiling Qantas steward.

What makes a person like this give in so profoundly to a fatalistic acceptance of her current plight? How did she get like this? How could she possibly surrender to such an abjectly dysfunctional state?

Now my doctorate is in ecological economics, not medicine, so I can’t make an informed judgement on the biological or psychological preconditions for her state. But I am utterly sure that self-help is a pathway towards at least some degree of repair. Her mind needs to be blasted from the defeatism that has taken such a profound hold. Surely, she cannot possibly be comfortable with her current status. Surely she would like to be thin. So how is her mind keeping such a dysfunctional hold over any and all the possibilities for escape? What is it about the mind that can smash us so profoundly into such an abjectly helpless, self-crippled state? I simply cannot understand defeatism of this kind.

I know something that this woman doesn’t. I know the experience, the reality, of loosing weight. Two years ago, after 20 years of too little cycling, I weighted 104 kg (231 lbs). While that’s nothing to the 200+ kg that my neighbour must weigh, I dropped 32 of those kilos in 6 months of blissful, enthusiastic, soul-saving cycling. I remember my motivation to start that journey. It was a comment from my wife on a five day wilderness walk. I was complaining about the weight of my pack. My pack weighted 20kg. ‘Do you know’, she said, ‘that your pack weighs less than the spare fat you are carrying around?’ I felt that pack on my shoulders. Now I felt the weight of too much fat. I took to the bike like a dehydrated desert survivor to a water trough. One kg. Two kg. Five. Ten. 20. 30! Gone. I am alive again. Free. There was no diet. No regimen of pain. No militaristic martialing by personal trainers or gymn instructors. Just the pleasure of pedalling and pedalling again. Day in day out, every day. The more I rode the better it got and the better it got the more I wanted to ride. Life affirming, life confirming. The ecstasy of fitness. The ecstasy of reborn bodily flexibility and the capacity to participate in any physical adventure I choose.

These are the rewards to such a simple commitment. There was no medical intervention, no food detox retreats. No gut clamping, liposuction, diet quackery. No real expense (other than in a bicycle that paid for itself in saved commuting costs within only a single year). Yes, it was a real world, genuine, no-compromise win-win and win again. I know the joy that release of this kind can bring. I am thinking how this lady beside me would feel from taking a similar path. What sort of transformation just a simple change in mental model could bring. How astounding a change she could self-invoke. And then I look at her with a sideways glance. How utterly tragic that she can’t know what I know. How unspeakably tragic are all those who give in to the traumas of the self-destructive mind. I want to shout at these people. Shake them out of their stupor; their torpor; their self-inflicted self-destruction. Stupid people. Impossibly blinkered people. What a gift, what a profound escape the bicycle can provide!

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