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  1. #1
    VWVagabonds.com Losligato's Avatar
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    The power of the mind to push the body beyond perceived limits

    You know how you get an idea, like a flash, that seems so wonderfully perceptive at the time, but then, after digesting it for a while you wonder if it is really all that great after all.

    Well, in the delirium of a swelteringly hot, ten-hour, 110 kilometer ride featuring illness, wind, and hills I had one of those thoughts. I want to run it past you folks before I actually write a story about it… no, that’s not really true, I already have the story… I just want to know if the idea is crazy, or perhaps conceited, or just plain silly.

    Anyhow, here goes: In the First World mobile phones allow us to get an ambulance in a flash. Hospitals will be there to stitch us back up. Police can be trusted to protect us from many of life’s uglier elements. Governments work fairly well at doing all those things governments do. Insurance provides a bottom through which we will be prevented from falling. All of it strung together becomes our social safety net.

    Does the fact that this safety net exists limit us? Does it lull us into a (false?) sense of security so that we fail to use that part of our mind that allows us to push beyond what we believe to be our limits? Does it keep us from finding (or putting) ourselves in situations where we must push beyond?

    Now here is the crazy idea: Is this ability - for the mind to push the body beyond perceived limits - something that is improvable. Does it get stronger each time we use it? Can that piece of our mind be turned on – activated – then get stronger much like a leg muscle. Can it atrophy when not used for long periods? And, most of all, is it a trait we pass generation to generation, and will it wither in our current risk-diminished environment like a primordial tail?

    Have you had experiences while touring (or in everyday life) where you have had no other option and found yourself going beyond what you believed to be your limits? Is self-contained touring attractive to those for whom the ideas of self-reliance and “pushing beyond” are appealing? Does any of this feel right to you or is it just the results of an addled mind during an exhausting day of cycling?
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  2. #2
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    Here is my take, based on some long, mid-level, experience:

    On the first world thing, I think it is a plus and minus issue: 1) The first world has confidence that if they emulate the latest JackAss stunt and break a tailbone, they are going to be rescued in most situations. Like in Vietnam the idea that any hurt soldier should be able to count on care within 15 minutes, to be in surgery. I think that had to help.

    2) a) I don't think the safety net only restricts us from pushing past our limits. I don't think the others are necessarily wild and free. If you were in Africa back in the days of exploration, you might bump into the Masai and their lion fighting one moment, and around the next corner run into a tribe with little sense of time, geography, and totally terrified to leave their palisade for fear of lions etc... The main difference was possibly accumulated geographical isolation, made sense to them. b) therefore we all can have influences that may hold us back or push us forward. c) I certainly feel the safety net can restrict us. In some ways I find the economic aspect of it debiltating. For instance If my life's desire was to climb el Cap, I might these days be restricted by the idea that even with insurance, it probably wouldn't pay off if I was hurt climbing, and that I might be bankrupted by the cost of the medical or rescue. I think this is more powerful as social conditioning, I feel respoinsible not to impoverish my children, or leaving a local Cali hospital with large bill for my unpaid medical.

    3) Is this capability something that can be strengthened like a muscle. Yes, but it can happen much faster than that. You are dealing with perceptual issues, so there isn't a physical reason not to do something. So you don't need to exercise the muscle of this ability, you can shatter it at any moment. If you climbed, for instance, you would have seen over and over where nobody could do something (world wide, or maybe just in your little group). Someone pulls it off and then everyone raises to that level almost immediately. So the trick is to program the idea that you can get from the current level to the next level effortlessly and this process is variously referred to in such ideas as going with the flow, alignment, or visualization.

    4) at some level there aren't any limits. I know there is lots of stuff I won't achieve, but is it because there is a limit? Think of the speed limit, that's clear because it's law and language. But what exactly is the limit we are talking about here? There are no real numbers on that scale, there are just perceptions. It's not necessarily a bad thing to have those "limits" Allows you to concentrate on scenery rather than transcendence, to be glib.

    5) I like to imagine a non-first world existence were questions like these wouldn't come up and some more fulfilling issues would dominate my day. Competitive behaviour, even/particularly with ourselves, is a by-product of our economic and political system. Not complaining about either of those, nor would I expect to encounter their litter in other cultures.
    Last edited by NoReg; 01-15-07 at 04:05 AM.

  3. #3
    Formerly Known as Newbie Juha's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1
    1) The first world has confidence that if they emulate the latest JackAss stunt and break a tailbone, they are going to be rescued in most situations.
    This is exactly what came to my mind. I think rather than NOT pushing their limits, people push them a lot, and often don't have the resources or plan B ready if something goes wrong.

    For example, our coast guard rescue missions are reported to be increasingly related to simple problems. Such as GPS device failures (no backup map / compass), misreading the nautical route markers and other posted signs, basic mechanical failures (including running out of fuel). None of these would have been a major issue 20-30 years ago, not even for a recreational boat owner .

    --J
    To err is human. To moo is bovine.

    Who is this General Failure anyway, and why is he reading my drive?


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  4. #4
    Professional Fuss-Budget Bacciagalupe's Avatar
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    Yeah, I think your brain got baked a little bit.

    I've gone on plenty of rides and hikes in the US and Europe where a cell phone would be of no use, as I would have no way to tell my alleged rescuer where the hell I was. Insurance is extraordinarily beneficial, but I'd rather avoid getting injured than have to rely on it.

    That said, I do not see any indication that this stops the truly daring from pushing their limits. If anything, the advances in support, health, medicine, wilderness technology and safety make it possible for (a really, really small number of) people to do things like run 72 miles, do 30 marathons in a row, climb Mt. Everest, ride a bicycle across the US in 10 days or less, or sail around the world. In fact I'd think that there are more people pushing the limit of human performance in affluent countries, because they can do so with less severe consequences (or perhaps, better ways to recover from those consequences) than 100+ years ago. How many people climbed Mt Everest for fun in the 1700s?

    As to whether pushing the body beyond "perceived limits makes it stronger" -- well, I'd think that depends entirely upon the activity.

    Biologically there are certain limits to the human form. Proper nutrition, exercise and training will allow a human body to reach a maximum performance. We can even use environmental conditions (high-altitude training) and performance-enhancing drugs (which are frowned upon, but do exist) to go beyond our original genetic potential.

    But there will be certain things that almost certainly cannot be done (e.g. running a two-minute mile).

    Your genetically-defined potential may be passed on from one generation to the next; if you are a great runner, you may pass that genetic potential on to your children. Your non-genetic (memetic?) abilities, such as the will to ignore pain, may be transmitted to your children (or, if you're a coach, your trainees).

    But realistically speaking, the human genome is somewhat stable. It is unlikely that humans will lose any significant potential or capacity any time soon.

    Also, when you do push your limits, in some cases there will be no major negative consequences -- particularly if you are prepared for the effort. For example, I felt worse after my first 40-mile bike ride than after my first Century, because I was trained and ready for the Century but not for my first big ride.

    However, if you "push your limits" without taking care of your body, you may very well damage your body, which can have long-term consequences. As you get older you will also find that your body does not recover or heal as fast as when you are young.

    I've done things while bike touring that I normally would not choose to do, like riding in the rain for several hours with what turned out to be insufficient rain gear. And I do get a sense of accomplishment at the end of a tour. But in general, I don't usually tour to push my limits, I go for my vacation. I like cycle touring because I enjoy going from A to B on my own power and at a pace that really lets me enjoy the countryside.

  5. #5
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Losligato
    Now here is the crazy idea: Is this ability - for the mind to push the body beyond perceived limits - something that is improvable. Does it get stronger each time we use it? Can that piece of our mind be turned on – activated – then get stronger much like a leg muscle. Can it atrophy when not used for long periods? And, most of all, is it a trait we pass generation to generation, and will it wither in our current risk-diminished environment like a primordial tail?

    Have you had experiences while touring (or in everyday life) where you have had no other option and found yourself going beyond what you believed to be your limits? Is self-contained touring attractive to those for whom the ideas of self-reliance and “pushing beyond” are appealing? Does any of this feel right to you or is it just the results of an addled mind during an exhausting day of cycling?

    1. Yes, I think the ability to push the body beyond perceived limits is improvable.

    2. Yes, I have had many experiences where I pushed myself beyond what I thought were my limits ... although not specifically in touring.

    Let me elaborate ...

    1. Lots of people think that a century (100 miles) is an extremely long ride ... a milestone. I thought so too at one time, but not anymore. After having done over 100 centuries, a century is just a common training ride. I went through a stage where I thought a double century was something amazing too ... but not so much anymore. Now I still consider 600K, 1000K, and 1200K randonnees as a challenge. Maybe one day they'll become common place too.

    2. My experiences have been during randonneuring events, during 24-hour race events, and during centuries in extreme weather conditions .... all of which you can read about on my website which is located in my signature line.

    One of the reasons I got into randonneuring and one of the reasons I enjoy it, is because of the self-sufficient, risk taking aspect. I'm not sure how it is in the US, but up here in the Canadian prairies and mountains, we are often out there in the middle of nowhere with no available help. I did a 400K and a 600K last year where about 200K of each was in an area where there were no stores, no houses, no businesses of any sort ... and no phone service of any kind - no phone lines, no cell phone coverage, nothing. If something had gone wrong, there would have been no way for me to contact anyone.

    Putting myself into those sorts of situations really makes me think and plan what I'm going to take with me, and what sorts of precautions and preparations I need to make. It's good.

  6. #6
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    The whole cell phone thing is pretty weird. First rule, if you can call someone on a cell phone it's not really an adventure. Has to be a satalite phone. Just kidding.

    When I was in an extreme accident the sort of thing where you get beatten nearly to death, but survive; Then it seems like you might be getting burned to death, cause the firemen won't come due to all the fuel and sources of combustion; meanwhile you're bleeding to death, and everyone else is leaking body fluids all over you; and finally you're freezing to death. This was '97, and I remember hearing the next year how some guys on everest who were dying called home on their sat phone. I have to say that's a call I would prefer not to make. I prefer the privacy of going out with the other people in the same situation, rather than waking someone up in the middle of the night to tell them where one hid the Kid's Xmas presents...

  7. #7
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    I think its certainly improvable.
    Your question makes me think of something that's been in the news a lot lately, about climbers going to Everest. 1996 was a record year for deaths, and last year's news of a climber being left behind to die, but actually surviving when another group found him still alive and cared for him. Another interesting story was about the double-amputee climber that summited. Could anybody ever really have thought that a double amputee would summit? Seemed pretty improbable, but it's now been done. He just needed the idea in his head that he COULD do it, and then decide TO do it.
    So much of it isn't all that physical, but the mental and emotional capacities we have, and the ability to cope. Our ability to cope with difficulties may be the greatest factor in it. Certain applications come to mind. Think of when you were learning math as a kid. The addition and subtraction was pretty hard, wasn't it? Then along came multiplication and division. Wow! But before you knew it, you were factoring quadratic equations!
    Basic training in the military. Can recruits do in the first week of training what is expected of them in the last week? For most, probably not. There's the physical training, along with a certain amount of mental and emotional discipline. But its the coping, the knowing you can do these things that are asked of you, which just a few weeks earlier seemed implausible, that you are able to accomplish them.
    Other examples might be people who have cancer, who have had a stroke and need to rehab from it, or a heart attck and are going through cardiac recovery programs, been in serious accidents and push themselves to get back on their feet. The physical aspects of these periods of recovery are of course incredibly difficult, but the ability to stay mentally focused on the goal, stay emotionally stable throughout, and able to cope with setbacks is far more strenuous. And sometimes its just too much for people.

    By pushing ourselves into more and more difficult situations, we find the limits of what we are able, or not able, to accomplish. Sometimes its with baby steps, and other times its by leaps and bounds. For most of us, we know how far we need to be able to go on a regular basis and still be able to stay within some sort of comfort zone. For others, we just need to know occasionally how far we can go, and still make it back on our own steam.

    A quote I just saw today, by Ed Viesturs, the first American to summit all 14 8,000-meter peaks in the Himalayas, "Getting to the summit is voluntary. Getting down is mandatory."

    We could fling ourselves out of an airplane without a parachute, and probably survive the fall. It's the landing that would be a bit unpleasent and difficult to cope with.

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