Friday, December 4, 2009

Mountain Biking The Amish Way

I just finished an epic mountain bike ride.

Five clear Portland December days in a row are about as rare as an old British guy with all his teeth. Like, actually still in his mouth. I knew I had to take advantage of the dry singletrack for perhaps the last time in '09.
As a result of the clear skies, though, it's been ridiculously cold the last week or so. As I write, the temperature outside is 37 degrees Fahrenheit. All of my fans in South Dakota and Saskatchewan are laughing as they read this.

However, once you factor in the wind chill, and the east wind blowing in from the Columbia Gorge, and Oregon's extremely high barometric Berscheid factor...

OK, I'm just a wuss. There's no such thing as the Berscheid factor. Yet.

In any case, I knew it was best to bundle up before heading out to face such bleak conditions. I glanced at myself in the mirror before walking out the door.

Brown North Face fleece. Black snowboarding gloves. The svelte fuzzy grey beanie-under-red-bike-helmet combo.

Khaki shorts. White tube socks. Blue thermal underwear. Long johns, if you please.

Anytime I can write 'long' and 'john' in the same phrase, I will.

I was a walking (well, riding) fashion faux pas. For a guy who refuses to brush his teeth with a toothbrush that doesn't match his shirt, this outfit was the Titanic on a collision course with the iceberg of Goodwill. I was tempted to ride there and literally donate everything I was wearing. However, naked bike rides aren't even that much fun during the summer, and we all know what cold weather does to the male anatomy. No more long john.

However, as pneumonia also isn't on my bucket list, I wasn't too concerned with how I looked as I rode the trails of Powell Butte. It was a great ride, by the way. I only saw one other foolhardy biker on the trail, and he looked even more ridiculous than I did. So, of course, I laughed at him.

I will gladly sacrifice style anyday for the sake of something I love. So will most people, I think. Did those businessmen I was watching the Oregon-Oregon State game with last night really, firmly believe that those Beavers neckties were the perfect match for their light blue Oxford shirts?

Actually, sadly, they probably did.

As I was pedaling down 174th St. to get to the trailhead, I passed an Amish man in a horse and buggy. Well, more of a pony and buggy. This would've been a commonplace sight in Indiana where I grew up, but I'm pretty sure this guy was a long way from home. Still, he waved and smiled as I blew past him on my Trek 8700 carbon-fiber 27-speed mountain bike.

I could take him head-to-head anyday.

All you strapping young Amish lads can take that as a direct challenge. Ponies only, though, please.

Do you know the reason why Amish men shave their mustaches? Contrary to popular belief, it's not because they are enamored with Abraham Lincoln. On the contrary, it's because the mustache is, in their minds, an emblem of war and the military, involvement in which they are morally opposed to. Personally, I think that beards without mustaches look pretty weird. They look even weirder if the wearer also has a unibrow, but that's a whole different story.

At least the Amish can compensate for their emasculating lack of a flavor saver with those uber-pimp top hats.

And by knowing that tourism brings in a cool $30,000 annually, per capita, to many Amish towns.

The Amish have actually had a long history of sacrifice for the sake of what they love and believe. The Amish people originated in 16th century Switzerland out of the Anabaptist movement. Anabaptists believed that everyone should be able to choose what they believe for themselves. Although they had all been baptized as infants, they practiced rebaptism as adults, once the individual was old enough to make his or her own decisions. For this, they were oppressed and sometimes killed, yet they clung to their beliefs.

While I certainly don't champion all of Amish ideology, they must be doing something right. Their simple, hardworking lifestyle, free from most of the pressures and strictures of modern American society, attracts many new converts every year, and their numbers continue to grow across North America.

Due in large part, I trust, to those uber-pimp top hats.

This really could be the first blog ever written that encompasses both mountain biking and Amish. I'm not sure how I got here. I guess, though, that it all comes full circle: the Amish can and do indeed ride bikes. They've even developed a line of uber-pimp top hat bike helmets.

I have no idea if this is true.

I do, however, think it would be fun to be Amish for a day. Hopefully not on a day where a lot of manual labor was getting done. My management contract contains a strict anti-barn-building clause.

It's crazy to me how much of society views the Amish culture in a negative light. People have taken to pelting Amish carriages with rocks. This ended tragically in the case of one six-month-old North Carolina Amish girl who was struck in the head by a rock and died from her injuries. Another Canadian Amish woman also required thousands of dollars of reconstructive surgery after being hit in the face by a beer bottle from a passing car.

Just because we as a society view another culture or group as weird doesn't give us the right to trample on their rights. Amish people are among the most peaceful, most family-oriented, most hardworking people in existence. And they certainly aren't the backwards, ignorant individuals that Hollywood and TV often portray them as. They don't view all technology as evil, but simply look at each new technological advance in an objective light to see if it will bring their families and community together, or drag them further apart.

I'm not sure how I ended up on this pro-Amish soapbox. I honestly can't say that I even know any Amish people. However, I admire their commitment to what they believe, and admire their sense of community and harmony. I admire the fact that they've willingly sacrificed many of the so-called 'comforts' that we enjoy in order to preserve the things that are most important to them.

Would I want to be Amish? No way. Is there something to be learned from their way of life? Most definitely.

Would even a polite young Amish girl laugh at what I'm still wearing as I write this? By all means.