Monday, November 23, 2009

Nomological Danglers: Double Cross Un-race Report

I once took a 'philosophy of mind' course while working away at a degree in...philosophy, back in Montreal. The course could have been extremely interesting. Either I wasn't quite ready for the material, or the prof was in fact a lame duck. I can say that he wore the same black jeans, black running shoes, and black sweater every day. In addition, he had thinning long gray hair and spoke with a British accent. Classic.

As I say, some of the material for this course just didn't really resonate. However, there were at least a couple really fun terms we got to throw around:

1) Homunculus - This word and its denotation are so interesting they've left a lasting impression in my mind. In a (small) nutshell, a homunculus (in this context) is a hidden agent steering/directing the functions of the body.

Rather than digging out my notes, I've gone to wikepedia for a quick and dirty account. Gilbert Ryle writes,

According to the legend, whenever an agent does anything intelligently, his act is preceded and steered by another internal act of considering a regulative proposition appropriate to his practical problem (Ryle 1949).

That's not really very illuminative is it? Nope. That's ok. I encourage you to do some more reading on homunculi if you are interested. That's what the interweb is for. The point is, its a really cool term.

2) Nomological dangler - This is another one that just stuck; its so distinctive. This time, wikipedia comes through with a good spiel:

Nomological danglers is a term used by Scottish-Australian philosopher Jack Smart in his articleSensations and Brain Processes. He credits the term to Herbert Feigl and his article The "Mental" and the "Physical". It refers to the occurrence of something (in this case a sensation), which does not fit into the system of established laws. He thinks that systems in which such "nomological danglers would dangle" are quite odd. In his example the nomological danglers would be sensations such that are not able to be explained by the scientific theory of brain processes. Some mental entities for example in a phenomenological field, that are not able to be found (and do not behave in the way that is expected) in physics....Smart puts forward his own theory in the form of Materialism, claiming it is a better theory, in part because it is free from these nomological danglers, making it superior in accordance with Occam's Razor.

BTW, I maintained the hyperlink on Occam's Razor because I've always loved its elegance. Check it out.

Ok, so what's the geeking out al about? Well, as a person who maintains a fascination with the many wonders of the mind, I like to pursue things that pop into my head from time to time. Once in a while, something is indeed going on below the level of awareness we call 'consciousness' that bears fruit. Dreams are sometimes productive in this way, as are intuitions. Nomological danglers popped into my mind as soon as I started thinking about this post, so I decided to follow the lead. What's the connection to Sunday's ride? Read on, I'll try to piece it together.

Like most, if not all, would be riders, I awoke on Sunday morning to +6 overcast weather, a good 4-5 degrees warmer than predicted. Very fine. After a quick breakfast, mostly brown, I 'kitted' (isn't that and annoying term?) up. I was faced with what would prove to be one of my most difficult decisions I'd make that day: which embrocation to apply. Indeed, I underwent mental gymnastics, weighing the pros and cons of capsicum versus cloves, finally arriving upon my choice: Mad Alchemy Uber Secret Coffee flavour. Its my favourite, and consequently I tend to save it for special days. Such a day it was to be. Off I went.

Five minutes later I faced an even more challenging question, quandry even: should I return home to get the maps I'd forgotten. I was already cutting it close to arriving on time, and it certainly looks bad for the organizer to show up late. Maybe I should leave them....But I photocopied them and everything! I decided there was more to lose from having riders get lost without maps than me showing up late, so I backtracked and got them.

I arrived to see a solid mass of riders assembled at Gamelin. Well, solid in number, not congealed, that is. Without much fuss, and a minimal speech we were off on the parkway.

What felt like a mellowish pace proved not quite mellow enough pretty quickly. By the time we turned onto Mine Rd. we'd already broken a few danglers off. I knew Dom and Sean were likely to be happy maintaining their own pace, so I didn't worry. They are always well prepared with routes, so I figured we'd catch up at Pipolinka. There was a bit of hammering going on up front that had to be tamed, which I managed to do one point. I was very impressed by the quality of riding in the group, numbering about 20 at this point. A few of the riders I know are not powerhouses on the road were sitting in very well, riding really smart. There was very little yo-yoing happening and we were covering ground fast.

As usual, Cross Loop was a real crowd pleaser. For the first time, I witnessed riders pass in and out of the covered bridge from atop the hill; a beautiful sight. Before we I knew it, we were pulling up to Pipolinka for a snack. It felt premature for a snack to me - we'd covered the first leg so quickly - but it was promised, and I think well appreciated by many if not all. Stronger riders tend to not realize how much a break like that helps others recover. I quite enjoyed my coffee, as I always do there.

Off to the trail past the Mill we went.

After a last minute addition of air to the tires (sorry, I should have done this earlier, like at home), we were rolling on the dirt. Ryan and Nathan pulled away immediately, never to be seen again. They expected to see some of us at some point. Nope. The rest of the group rolled toward Lac Phillipe as a group for a bit, then strung out. I pulled up the the parking lot at the lake and waited for the others to trickle in. Jamie and Neil were right there, but we soon realized there were issues further back. A lengthy wait revealed a number of flats have occurred further back. Once we were all reassembled we continued on around the lake.

‘We' is a little misleading here. In fact, a few riders dangled off the group and were completely detached. This was not realized up front until we'd pulled away from the lake. This was where the most difficult decision had to be made: do we wait?

The problem at this point was precedent. I/we'd waited the first time. I personally felt like riding with friends beyond Jamie (no offense Jamie, the more the merrier), and thought there were a lot of people riding the same pace anyway. My informal plan was to keep everyone together around the lake, then let it string out the rest of the way. Getting around the lake on the path we wanted to take is a little tricky, but getting around to the far side of the lake is pretty easy, one way or another. Unfortunately, a few riders broke off before we made a couple key turns. So when we found ourselves missing riders, I wasn't quite sure what to do. The tempation was to backtrack to find them, which Rodd and Pascal did, while the rest of us continued. But they came up empty. Later on I wanted to backtrack to get Rodd and Pascal, but they ended up catching us as I fixed a flat anyhow. In the end, the missing riders all made it home, but a couple ended up stopping to hang out, which we didn't know about. So, the lesson I take from this is that we have to follow a pretty cut and dry approach: unless explicit agreements are made between teams to wait for each other, riders should continue on with their partners, assuming those behind them will sort themselves out. Since you can't tell whether someone behind had a catastrophic failure and called in a lift home, took a shortcut home, or opted to take an hour long break, its best to just keep rolling. This lends predictability and reduces confusion. Dropped riders will know they can ditch the route and nobody will get screwed looking for them, and everyone can proceed without doubt. Again, pairings are meant to cover people - you'll know your buddy will come back for you.

Beautiful shot by Rodd.

Steve. Beer. We amassed a gaggle of riders apres at Raw Sugar on Somerset and it was great. They serve proper coffee, food, desserts and beer. New after ride spot I think (replacing our present non-existent one).

It would be rather nifty indeed if I pulled this all together and revealed how its all about nomological danglers. But its not, so I won't force it. Sure, I could work it, but the theme here is danglers, and I think that's what made me think of nomological danglers in the first place. Danglers are not unstuck, at least not all the way. They don't break off in a clean a binary manner: on/off. While a rider might well perceive they are off, unlikely to get back on, they often still dangle in the minds of those ahead. Where are they, just around the bend. They are not gone, a thread of concern psychically connect them, almost imperceptible...danglers.

If anyone else felt pretty bagged Sunday night, know that you are not alone. I cannot remember once doing an long cross bike ride on trails and not being drained at the end. Micromanaging your lines takes much more mental energy than riding a road bike on roads or an mtb on trails. Decisions are constantly being made. Its draining. Its also very rewarding. So don't think you are in worse shape than presumed; its just a case of sensation not really lining up with expectation. Not nomological, but certainly phenomenological. More on that another time.

Rodd's photos can be found here

NEWS FLASH: Sunday's ride was so much fun I can't wait to ride more trails on my Steelwool (below). After this coming Sunday's cross race, the last of the season, I hope to be able to pull off at least one more long ride before the snow sets in. I've got a couple routes in mind that would be fun (and longer) than the DC route. This would of course be an informal affair, but I'll post here if it looks like a go. I'd really like to make it out past Lac LePeche and return on the trails. You can email me at if you are interested.

Some will recall I promised a post on the ride quality characteristics I had in mind for this bike. That post is sitting, waiting for a quiet time to put up. That time will come very soon. I hadn't expected to ride this bike much with full on cross tires, but took Sunday as the perfect opportunity to try it. The bikes geometry is very different in comparison to my Pinarello. While it is set up with mid-reach caliper brakes, it still fits a 34 in the front and a 32 in the back, on account of the chainstays being too narrow for my fat 34. I fell in love with this bike on Sunday. Before then, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. On the trails the bike was flawless, incredible stable while plenty nimble. I will race it on Sunday and see how I like the geometry and tubing in that context. I hope for mud for the sake of making the race harder technically, but hope my brakes don't hinder my progress if that materializes. I'll report back on this for certain. I've tipped off the Belgian Waffle man about the race, so bring some cash in case he shows up!


The Vegan Vagabond said...

You guys did a great job keeping us mostly intact. Not an easy job when you have over 20 riders.

Also I think the reason us non-powerhouses could keep up on the way to Wakefield was the non-hilly route you chose. I was thankful for that!

Thanks for the fun time!

Matt Surch said...

Thanks Tanya. I'm glad the relatively flat route worked out. Its one I think I'll ride many more times.

Anonymous said...

Looks great, I am jealous, only a mutant super flu could stop me, hopefully we'll get out for one more!


Matt Surch said...

Toes crossed Chris.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic route. Thanks for organizing the event and the post ride report. Weather was incredible and the trails were much drier then I was expecting. Ryan pinch flated on the way back and I dropped my chain once or twice due to the excessive rocks/speed. Two more pinch flats today in the park so I think Ryan has added tubulars to his "wish list" for 2010. Great photos by Rod, Thanks! Same time/place next year?


Bigger Dummy said...

Glad to hear there is now an official post ride fueling station! :)

Just a suggestion from the one of the danglers - announce the post ride spot at the start so we can meet up after.

Thanks again for a great day out!

Matt Surch said...

For sure Sean, next time we will. This time it took us the whole ride to figure out where to go! The suggestion only came up once we were back at the gate. Now we're set.