These past few months, I endured what can only be described as the long, slow, painful death of a relationship. Circumstances in play were out of my control. This is a feeling I do not like. At all. And in order to get through it, I turned to my wonderful friend The Bike. I knew the bike would get me through, keep me grounded and sane. The Bike would be my rock and foundation when other footing seemed shaky. My plan? Simple.
Ride as much as humanly possible.
At first this worked out wonderfully. I clocked over 300 miles during the week of Thanksgiving, a particularly difficult stretch, and barely had any brain power left to think about the drama. So far, success of a staggering nature. I climbed, I descended, I rode each of my steel steeds in turn so that each would play a part in my coping. I talked to friends while pedaling and created positive memories. I got those all important endorphins Bicycling magazine always tells you about. I stayed strong, physically as well as mentally.
The next weeks followed in kind. 198 miles. 174 miles. My legs accumulated physical distance and my mind accumulated metaphysical distance.
Then I planned to ride a solo century on the Friday we enjoyed off following our company holiday party. I knew the roads, usually crowded with Christmas tree farmers during the weekends, would be extremely quiet. I had a gorgeous loop in mind that climbed, and then went up, and then ascended. I decided to document the more engaging moments via social media, taking my friends along with me as I rode. I woke up feeling extremely excited and positive. When I began to turn over the pedals, I knew it was going to be epic in nature.
And it was. I rode 97.6 miles, and climbed 10,500 feet. It was without question the hardest solo endeavor I had ever completed. I returned home feeling triumphant and amazed at myself. A weight lifted. And I had my bike to thank.
But then on Saturday, I awoke, and looked at the same bike, and thought, “I don’t feel like riding.”
I ignored that instinct. I kitted up. I spun over to the local coffee starting point, sipping a latte with my friends while waiting for everyone to show. I had the nagging sense that this was not a good idea. My mind was cluttered. My legs felt heavy. The bike, something I had relished only 24 hours before, was no longer my friend.
It was a frenemy.
Still, I rolled out with the group. I decided that I could go easy, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal; difficult, but definitely doable.
Except that this time, it wasn’t just my body feeling crappy and the bike feeling unwilling beneath me. I couldn’t quiet my mind either. What if I just gave him another chance? What if he really was the One and I just needed to be patient? How could I go back to being solo? Why couldn’t he just be a different person?
One very near wheel overlap later, I had to stop riding. I pulled off early, still managing to get a good 60 miles in, but not enjoying them at all. And the subsequent rides followed the same pattern. Not fun. Not relaxing. Not what I wanted to be doing. At all. And not giving that all-too-needed sense of calm and well being once I arrived back at home.
I felt like the bike, so often the source of truth, had suddenly started lying to me. And I didn’t understand why.
On Sunday, I woke up with the intention of riding, looked at the bike, and didn’t. I went for a walk. I had brunch. I journaled. I called some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I saw a movie. I took a nap. I read a book.
Then the next day, I woke up, looked at the bike, and did the same.
I went to work on Monday with the intention of riding during some spare time. But again, as I went down to the locker room and saw my Zunow in the hallway, I decided nope. Not today. Instead I borrowed one of the many office dogs and took a walk to the local Doggie Park. I played some catch. I gave some good belly rubs and scratched some ears.
And I felt so much better afterwards.
Tuesday came. I went down stairs during lunch and looked at my red, steel friend. And all of a sudden I was overcome with an urge to pedal so hard I could taste blood. I changed, climbed aboard, and absolutely murdered myself up two particularly difficult pitches known for chewing riders up and spitting them off the back. I saw stars. I spoke in tongues. I forgot my own name.
And felt so much better afterwards.
As I returned back to my desk, ready to face the rest of my day, my head cleared of cobwebs and my legs cleared of their glycogen stores, I reveled in the comfort of knowing that once again, the bike told me exactly what I needed, and delivered on the promise.
But then I realized something. The days when I took the break, did not ride, those were also some of the days where I felt the most whole, the most collected. The most myself during a time when nothing seemed real.
The bike hadn’t lied to me. The bike kept telling the truth. I needed to NOT ride. I needed to find my comfort elsewhere, reengage with people and activities that had been put on the back burner, connect with all of the things that made me who I was when not wearing copious amounts of lycra.
The bike was always honest. It was I that had been lying to myself.
The breakup, so inevitable and necessary and awful, is now past. A new, extremely exciting future lies ahead. But there will still be bumps. I will still need the bike to help me cope, and I still know it will tell me exactly how to get through every day.
I’ve just learned how to listen more carefully.