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On Noise & Nature

by Tyler

Being on the road today felt more like a chore than a grand adventure. Keeping my sour mood in check was a grim mental battle, and it was a fight which I found myself losing for the majority of our ride. I feel like a broken record complaining about the traffic, but it is featured in 4-8 hours of every day; placing my focus elsewhere has proven exceedingly difficult.

Part of me thinks I just need to suck it up. Traffic is not a new part of our routine. I should be able to cope with this. I mean, I am perfectly content to have massive semis passing me with inches to spare all day long. Even the shock of an overtaking vehicle barreling down on me until the last possible moment has been relegated to a vague annoyance.

Clearly my traffic hardening needs work. It's the noise, the blasted noise I can't figure out how to deal with. My normal coping tools don't work here. Every time I try to get my thoughts under control, an ear-piercing honk (or six) shocks me half out of my bicycle seat, annihilating any modicum of peace that I've cultivated.

With positive thoughts few and far between, I spend much of the day worriedly wondering, "Is this it? Will I ever enjoy cycling again? Oh my god, do I actually I hate cycle touring?" Mercifully, about halfway through the day, the honking wanes for a truly calm five or ten kilometer stretch.

Vietnamese Field Workers

My sanity cautiously emerges from hiding, and I remember to look around. As our now quiet road takes us past a rubber plantation, I realize that these are the first trees we've seen in what feels like ages.

Rubber Tree Dripping Latex

As we hike into the very organized array of vegetation, we find ourselves releasing muscles we didn't even know were tense. It's becoming abundantly clear just how much we need to be around green growing things in order to be happy.

Rubber Tree Tap

Breathing exhaust-less air, listening to leaves crunch underfoot, we explore the rubber plantation curiously. Trees are tapped like maples, but instead of sweet sap extracted into tin buckets, ceramic bowls are slowly filled with milky white liquid latex.

Rubber Tree Drips Rubber Tree Drips Rubber Tree Tap

The streams hang in mid-air, dried in a stretchy-rubbery drip that sometimes never makes it into the bucket. When the bowls are full, the latex is collected, and the process begins anew.

Rubber Tree Latex Collection Dish

On our way back to the road, we come upon a herd of dorky goats. Their antics delight us to no end. Someday, we look forward to keeping a veritable menagerie of creatures on our land for meat, dairy, eggs, and wool. Animals we think, adding the word to some sort of mental checklist. Besides a bit of woods to keep us happy, we need living breathing creatures as well.

Vietnamese Goat Vietnamese Goat Vietnamese Goat Vietnamese Goat

Rejuvenated from the quiet of the natural world, we take to the road once more, this time, happy to be traveling. But, the trees and goats are all soon gone, trailing behind us after just a few pedal strokes. Traffic picks up again, filling the air once more with its incessant screaming.

Today has made it abundantly clear: I have to let this noise thing go, because it might never, ever relent for more than a few kilometers. If I can't learn to let it wash over and through me, I'm going to hate Vietnam.

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This post reminded me of my studies of sensing and perception in psych. As you would imagine, our brains are hardwired to notice changes in stimuli. We quickly adapt to constant stimuli, so if the traffic noise was a consistant drone you'd stop noticing it after a little bit. With the intermittent blasting of horns, however it's not possible. Which of course, is exactly what makes horns effective as warning devices for impending doom.

Sounds like Vietnam just isn't cycle touring friendly. I was relieved to read your next post! I personally think sucking it up and pushing through are highly over-rated.
Posted by Katherine on March 14th, 2011 at 11:06 AM
We've heard reports of people cycling different roads, or even the same roads as us, who loved it. As incredulous as I am about this, I always weigh it against the fact that we really enjoy cycling in Bangkok, which is a chaos of a completely different sort (that doesn't faze us at all).

I wonder what effect all the honking has on the effectiveness of the horns overall. It was really difficult for us to adapt, but I would imagine for the people who live there, the frenetic honking has become background noise, possibly making the entire practice pointless.
Posted by Tyler on March 20th, 2011 at 3:04 PM