Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bicycle Philosophy: Mind Map

"When you drive a car your peri-personal space expands to include it, from fender to fender ... As you drive you can feel the road's texture as intimately as you would through sandals. As you enter a parking garage with a low ceiling you can "feel" the nearness of your car's roof to the height barrier as if it were your own scalp. ... When someone hits your car you get upset--not just because of the bills and the hassle ahead, but because that person has violated your peri-personal space, no less than a careless elbow in your rib." Sandra & Matthew Blakeslee, "The Body Has a Mind of Its Own."

This is mind-blowing. We grew up thinking that when, for instance, you cut your finger, the finger sends an alarm signal to the brain, and the brain reacts (OW), and tells you to feel pain and react. This happens within nanoseconds, if all goes well. But, we're learning, the brain is more astounding than that. It doesn't just connect linearly (one brain part to one body part), it makes maps of your body parts, which interact with each other. Same scenario: finger cut. The visual map interacts with the finger map, and the brain chooses whether to send a pain signal, or maybe something else like that finger is toast, send opiates. Interestingly, the brain extends these maps to include the space around you and the tools you use. When you handle a fork, for instance, you can "feel" the texture of food, even though you are only touching an inert utensil. Apparently that space extends to our cars. Put another way: according to your brain, your car is part of you.

Yowza. Does this mean that when we don't drive, part of us feels left behind? If we stop driving, does the mind map of the car deteriorate? Does less driving lead to a kind of brain drain? Switching to bicycling literally messes with our minds?

That would explain why showing up on a bicycle is greeted as an act of heroism, or an oddity (like nudity). It would also explain why a person who has driven cars for say, 35 years, feels exposed on a bicycle. We insulate ourselves with clothes and homes, extend that bubble of privacy to travel, and our minds take it all in.

But of course, there is the other side of the coin: without a bubble of car, how far might a mind map extend? To the bike, surely. To the edges of the bike path?

Maybe as far as the cherry trees that hung over the sidewalk this week, heavy and fragrant with rain.

Maybe even farther.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rickets on the Rise

Newspapers report that rickets is on the rise. Remember rickets? Dickensian malady of children in the poorhouse, surely? Not our darlings.

Yes indeed. Obeisance to the mantra Sun Is Bad, the increased time children spend indoors and probably poor diets, is causing vitamin D deficiencies. Children's bones are softening, bending to the insufficiencies once the herald of poor children in poor countries.

We need more sun.

These are my gloomy thoughts on a winter morning, sodden and alone in the bike lane, on a morning when it seems it will never stop raining, and succumbing to auto envy -- all those lucky children sailing past in warm cars. Or are they so lucky?

New research links low Vitamin D to not only rickets, but other awful diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis and cancer. The absolutely, bar none, best way to get vitamin D is to spend approximately 15 minutes a day with 45 percent of your body exposed to sunlight. But sunlight causes cancer! Argh.

Don't panic. Fifteen minutes a day will not, for 99% of us, cause skin cancer. If you're worried about crows feet, slather SPF 50 on your face, or wear a hat.

But there is another hurdle for those of us who live at the 45th parallel or northwards. The optimal time for getting adequate sun exposure is between 10:00 am am and 2:00 pm (most people are at work), and between June 21 and Dec. 21. At other times, the sun is too low to do much good.

Many of us, it appears, need supplementation, or so says my family physician. This news is sending manufacturers into a frenzy of production and advertising, and consumers to purchase and ingest Vitamin D, much as we scurried to manufacture, advertise, purchase and slather ourselves with sunscreen. This will undoubtedly be followed by an epidemic of Vitamin D toxicities, tainted Vitamin D batches imported from overseas, a surge of tanning bed-burn scandals, and reports of sun-caused melanoma.

We're always in pursuit of a quick fix.

Don't panic. Slow down. Get tested. See if you are deficient. See if your children are deficient. If so, find out the best way to take vitamin D, and find the best sources.

And when it rains, don't just get in the car and roll up the windows. Get out an umbrella and walk, and have your kids walk with you. You never know when the sun might come out.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bicycle Hero: Peace Rider

Don Ross is proof that cold, dark and wet don't qualify as reasons to retreat to fossil fueled transport. He recently visited our town, en route from Alaska. He left Fairbanks in October on studded bicycle tires, camped in the snow along the ALCAN Highway, and now aims to ride coast to coast and make Washington, D.C. in time for Earth Day. He meets with bicycling enthusiasts and school kids along the way, carrying the message that the way we live cuts us off from each other and from nature, and disconnection leads to environmental policies that don't make sense. Cheer him on, and follow his blog: