Stop and smell the hierarchy

Morning air’s heavy when we park at a strip mall in Sparks and unload bikes. Within minutes, my friend and I are cruising down the Sparks Boulevard bike highway, alongside a mucky run-off gulch inhabited by a few die-hard ducks. The ditch smells rank, a rancid mix of lawn fertilizer, road spillage and waste dumped into gutters.

The bike highway ends in view of Wild Waters, where we encounter road construction, beeping trucks and orange cones. Dust and fresh asphalt make me wrinkle my nose as we walk our bikes across the road. A construction worker with traffic signs waves at us.

“Be careful when you come back this way,” she warns. “Yesterday, a biker was hit.”

Not encouraging.

“It’s not that far,” I tell my friend, who’s new to the Truckee River bike path. “The river’s just over the Interstate.”

We dodge sparkling shards of broken glass and ride along a sidewalk marked “closed to pedestrian access.” Sparks Boulevard rises over Interstate 80, and just before the crest of the overpass, pedaling slowly, I gulp a lungful of tractor trailer exhaust.

A worse odor waits at the river, where the trickle of gulch muck runs into the water. This always reeks, but today it seems worse. A sump truck, parked across the Truckee River bike path, is pumping.

“Should only choke you for a half mile,” I say.Past the truck, the path is wide enough to ride two bikes abreast, and my friend and I can talk about life, relationships and books. My friend just finished reading Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live In It by Thomas de Zengotita. She found it disheartening.

“He says we can’t experience anything as ‘real’ anymore except through media,” she says. “Not even nature. And he doesn’t give us any ideas about how to deal with that.”

We ride under a bridge near Rock Park, inhaling Eau de Dried Urine. We pass joggers and some people who appear chronically homeless.Murray Bookchin’s Toward an Ecological Society, published in 1980, seems relevant now. Neither the political right nor left addresses what Bookchin sees as our society’s root problem—gender, race, age and ecological hierarchies. Man dominates man. Man dominates woman. Man dominates nature. To fix this, Bookchin plugs individualism of a different sort than what’s shoved down our throats by the pernicious ad and PR industries.

Bookchin’s ideas seem immediately applicable. I’m always attracted to idealists.

“Just start to abolish the hierarchies in your own life,” I say.

My friend is dubious, pragmatic. “How can you do this from within a hierarchical system?”

Details, details.

Riding into downtown, we stop at Dreamer’s for iced drinks. We ride past Idlewild Park, tooling along the side streets.

My back tire goes flat. I re-inflate with a hand pump. We continue west, passing expensive homes, one built over a waterfall. Others have roses and honeysuckle blooming. I inhale deeply here. Affluenza may be a plague, but it smells fine. At Mayberry Park, we stop. This path has taken us through the industrial part of town, past the mental hospital, beyond casinos and into hills with homes out of my price range.

This path is not the only route we could have chosen to ride today. Is it trite to conclude that being free from hierarchy simply means finding another way? Probably.

We turn around and bike back to my friend’s car, and I continue on alone. It’s been a lovely ride with a great friend. I ride the last few miles up to Baring and over to Vista, walking my bike across a stretch of Sparks desert that smells, in the hot afternoon sun, richly of sage.