A Truly Happy New Year

A Truly Happy New Year

When I think about how I entered 2019—depressed, anxious, confused—I can scarcely believe how I ended the year. If someone had asked me where I thought I’d be at the end of the year, the scenario I’d have conjured would have been at best all the same fenceposts, but maybe better mood. The things that troubled me at the beginning of the year were such that I was only willing to allow myself to hope that they’d bother me less, not be resolved.

I didn’t anticipate that I’d find the opportunity to do counseling aided by Ketamine, that my living situation would find resolution, that I’d close the year with a new job. I’m beginning the new year happier, more centered and more confident than at any other point in my life. My relationship with both of my sons is running so high we are near flood stage.

And then there was the riding. I’ve recorded more miles, more hours on the bike, but 2019 was a year where I enjoyed a number of special days on the bike. From the Grasshoppers to Dirty Kanza, I tackled some of the toughest events I’ve ever started, and I finished them all. But the best part of my riding year weren’t those big events. Truly, the best part of my year was the time I spent doing the rides that make up our lives. There were the hard training rides, the easy recovery rides. There were pretty hard self-thrash fests that may not have done much for my fitness, but saw me return home with a fresh grin. There were surprising occasions, like riding eMTBs with all-around badass Mark Weir and the day I rolled 161 miles, largely alone, in preparation for Dirty Kanza. And then there was my first-ever ride down the California coast with the Arthritis Society, where I met a cast of characters I’ll not forget in this lifetime.

I recently read an essay in which the author delineated the difference between Zen Buddhism and the major religions of the world. He wrote that Zen isn’t a religion because it doesn’t come with a bunch of prescriptive rules; it’s not a destination. Rather, Zen Buddhism is spiritual practice, a pursuit, a thing that informs one’s sense of self, of the world.

That may be the best description for what cycling does for me I’ve encountered. Is it meditation? Sure. Is it exercise? Yeah. Is it recreation? Absolutely. But more than that, it is a way for me to check in with myself, a place to plumb my own depths and to ultimately discover the epiphanies that help me process my experiences.

Could another sport give me all this? I suspect so. But for me, this has been the right fit, the aggregation of my love of motion, my love of machines and technology, my love for introspection. Even when things were bleak, the bike managed to remind me that the world would always contain moments of sublime beauty.

To say that I owe my happiness to cycling is no stretch. It was thanks to cycling that I learned about flow states. It was through flow states that I learned a great deal about the neuroscience that underpins our greatest experiences. It was through neuroscience that I began to see pharmaceuticals like Ketamine, MDMA and LSD—not to mention psilocybin mushrooms—in a new light and that new light allowed me to embrace “How to Change Your Mind” which led me to find the clinic where I’ve done my Ketamine treatment. Without the bike, I’d never have found the treatment that has profoundly changed my life.

I once wrote that quitting robs you of more than the thing itself. Sticking with cycling has also given me more than the thing itself.

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5 comments

  1. AusTex

    I think you have captured the thing about cycling that I enjoy the most, its all practice and hardly ever boring. Every ride is its own experience, some days it’s a slog from beginning to end and other days a joy even when the route is the same. Maybe other things are like this, but this is my “thing”.

    Most people people miss the affirmation and fortitude that comes from disciplined, diligent practice.

  2. Steve Courtright

    One of my favorite riding friends, between races, would sometimes say, “It’s time to make friends with the bike.” Of course, what he was really saying, I guess, was that it was time to make friends with himself again, to find the joy, as AusTex notes. It’s such a nice gift to find yourself experiencing happiness in the ordinary. Keep it up, Patrick!

  3. John Knowlton

    Good to hear from you, Patrick! I am starting to miss my podcast “friends.”
    This is a short piece I wrote for our December club newsletter in the same vein as your column above. So glad things are better for you!
    Black Friday was imposed on us recently, just like it is the day after every Thanksgiving. Honestly, I don’t recall ever visiting a mall or retail store on Black Friday, and it seems that the country might be starting to leave the mania behind. You might recall that in 2008 a temporary Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by a crowd in New York. Wal-Mart had advertised several “Doorbuster” deals and by 5 in the morning the crowd had swelled and tired of waiting to the point where it literally broke down a door. Jdimytai Damour had been trying to hold the doors closed until the official opening time but died as a result of being crushed by the throng. That was more than a decade ago, in the depths of the great recession. Economic anxiety was running at eleven on a one to ten scale. Fortunately things have changed and most people feel more economically secure.
    However, it seems our collective anxiety hasn’t really gone away. Rather we have just moved it over to the “politics” bucket. In my other job (not editing the Pedal Press) I get to guide people as they make financial and life decisions. Some clients I have worked with for more than two decades and we speak to each other several times each year. People share their dreams, hopes, and concerns with me. The overwhelming leader in the concern department right now is about politics and the caustic, divisive nature of our current public discourse.
    I have observed people trying many different tools and techniques to manage anxiety, whatever its source. Some people try to eat their way through it. Drinking is also pretty popular. Binging Netflix, movies, TV and now Disney Plus is the number one remedy in other anxiety medicine chests. Meditation and prayer are probably more constructive methods. Spiritual leaders throughout the ages and from virtually every religion and philosophy have suggested meditation and prayer, so this should probably stay in our toolkit. Gautama Buddah, Mohammad, Moses and David, and Jesus of Nazareth all instructed their followers to set aside time for personal prayer, meditation and introspection. However, not one of them explicitly suggests outdoor exercise. And why not?
    Until about eighty years ago almost everyone walked or rode a horse almost everywhere. Since personal motorized vehicles didn’t exist, wise men and women of the past didn’t need to tell their followers to walk or exercise outside! I am most familiar with the Christian tradition and while Jesus of Nazareth taught his followers on prayer and how to deal with anxiety, he never mentions exercise. However, the Bible does record him walking all over the place! He walked from Galilee to Jerusalem and back, then to Tyre and Sidon, around the Decapolis and beyond. First century Roman citizens typically walked about 16 miles per day just doing their daily business, not to mention journeys to other provinces. There was no need to prescribe exercise because it was built into life until the last century.
    I find that exercising has an incredible positive impact on my attitude, mental health, clarity of thinking, creativity, problem solving ability, and mood. Occasionally during the work day I will leave my office and take a walk around the neighborhood. It seems clear that we evolved (some say) or were designed (my preference) to enjoy a lot of outdoor exercise.
    So, back to Black Friday. Outdoor retailer REI was closed Thanksgiving day and Friday. They offered discounted prices Monday through Wednesday of Thanksgiving week. And then they encouraged their customers to “Opt Outside.” In other words, buy some cool new gear and then go use it instead of shopping. Closer to home, Pedal Bicycle closed both locations on Friday and instead of selling stuff, invited their staff and customers to come out for a gravel road bike ride. There were two distances, 22 and 34 miles followed by lunch at a local restaurant. Julie and I have done the ride a few times and this was the largest crowd by far. I estimated at least 50 people at the start! Instead of stoking their anxieties scrambling for deals, this crew decided to go outside and exercise in 39 degree weather. Plus we got to ride up Wetherbee Road’s camel humps!
    If we could get inside the heads of the wise ones of the past who gave us great techniques for living a good life, I bet they assumed that outdoor exercise was part of the package. Smart trainers seem great, and cool and high tech and all. But exercise – outdoors – is as important as prayer and meditation for this guy. And one of my secrets is that you can pray and meditate at the same time as you are riding your bike outdoors! Praise and thanksgiving seem to well up spontaneously as I ride and drink in the creation. Stress, anxiety and problems get left behind somewhere in the ditch.
    How about you? Is bicycling a part of your spiritual discipline? Could it be? In any case, thank you for being a cyclist and one who, at least sometimes, seeks wholeness in outdoor exercise.

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