in early 2004, i was working full-time in my metalsmithing studio – designing and making, exhibiting, teaching. there was alot on my plate, and at some point i stopped and asked myself why and for what i was doing this. i realized that i was burnt out and dissatisfied with the route my practice had taken and needed a break. within 3 months i’d left the studio and was thinking about a trip to france and spain. i’d recently purchased a road bike, and decided that the best way to see these places would be from my bike. and so it began.
over the summer, i learned as much as i could about cycling on the road and france. what equipment and supplies to bring, how bikes worked and how to fix them, what other people’s experiences were on the road, what the routes could be, all the while training to ride upwards of 100k at a time. i relearned the french language, and about french culture, attitudes towards biking, social and geographic topographies. my inexperience was tempered (or so i thought) with my desire to learn, as well as the leap towards uncertainty i was taking – while the route was more or less mapped, the journey itself was completely unknown.
i flew to paris in late september, and after a few days took a train to vernon, close to monet’s hometown of giverny. i awoke early and readied my bike, bought a croissant at the boulangerie, and walked out of town, prepared to ride the 120K or so to dieppe. excitedly, i got on my bike and started to pedal. and immediately stopped – the bike’s shimmy was so severe the bike literally wouldn’t ride.
for all the planning and coordinating, i’d never weighed my gear, or done a test ride fully loaded before leaving. and i’d overplanned, thinking i was heading to the moon rather than the country that invented the bicycle. even though just about every small french hamlet has a bike shop, in my preparedness i’d brought something for every worst case scenario i could think of at the time. spare parts galore – tires, tubes, chains. clothing for bad weather, and rehydration capsules just in case. guides to cycling in france + italy, backpacking guides, road atlases, plug adaptors for asia… when i tried to get underway, the rear weight imbalance was insane enough to render a ride impossible and potentially snap my steel frame. epic fail.
a pretty understandable error, after all, but one that could have serious consequences in a different context, because prototyping the experience (ie – a ride around the block fully loaded) wasn’t part of my vernacular at the time. for all the worst-case-scenario planning, i was oblivious to one of the most obvious conditions. it’s in our nature to plan and create expectations, even though that often blindsides our tacit understanding – our doing – and our knowledge of experience.
looking back, this was a critically important lesson, and one that i’m still learning. first, there will always be weak signals that can drastically change the path of any situation. one way to reposition a potential disruption is to prototype experiences – literally, or through scenarios/visualizations where imagined narratives build an experiential or latent context and encourage solutions. exploring possibiloty to live and grow in the wild, and if that’s not possible, we need to imagine the wild in all it’s glorious wooliness.
second, the ability to assess and adapt to changing situations while maintaining some sort of equilibrium is learned through experience. you gotta mess up a few times and look for the patterns in the situation and response, finding ways to tailor behaviours and methods. lose what’s unnecessary and get back on the bike – the adventure will still be there.