Taming the Machine

<!– Field notes for becoming Fitter Happier –>

On the bike again. Same playlist as the other day.

I adjust the seat so that it's at the appropriate notch for someone of my height (no.8) and climb onto the bike, as a cowboy would climb onto a very skinny horse. I begin to pedal — slowly at first, feeling out the machine and warming to the task. After a few minutes, I get off to stretch and then prepare for the real battle.

It's Me versus the Lifecycle (a Bally Fitness product).

Once again, I climb the bike, but this time it is no longer a horse, but one half of a tight cybernetic coupling between man and machine. My pedaling is at once cooperative and competitive, that paradoxical versus relationship of the cyborg age. The bike requires my kinetic energy to spring to life, diodes flashing, to demand the parameters of the contest, which I enter: Hills, 24 minutes, Level 8. The machine offers a silent acknowledgement, and it's on.

Back and forth we go. Stacks of lights indicate whether I am going up or down a hill, programming my brain to expect the increase or decrease in tension that my legs feel and try to respond to.

Wait a minute: there are no hills. They're simulated. Score a point for the machine.

I keep pressing on, determined not to be beaten. Techno beats pulse into my ears and my legs become like pistons, driving against the resistance mounted by the bike. Where does the machine end and the human begin? I wonder to myself briefly, as the cyborgian cybernetic system continues on its 24-minute journey to nowhere. But then a light blinks to let me know that my RPMs are higher than the target range of 80-100, temporarily interrupting my trance.

To hell with it, I say, I can beat the machine at a high RPM, and take it up to 119 on a hill. Point for the human — tie game.

We come down the stretch, one hill to go, the tallest of the simulation. The machine throws its highest tension at me — a smart strategy, as I have begun to tire. But my legs keep pumping, adrenaline floods my body, sweat drips from my brow, and I feel a burning pain begin to creep into my muscles, into my consciousness. This isn't part of the program.

It is pain that makes me human. In its embrace, I transcend the cybernetic system.

23:58, 23:59, 24 minutes.

Game over. I win.

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