The Bright Spot

The Bright Spot

Some years ago I realized that my emotional state was not unlike Christmas gift giving; I can only give that which I have. If I buy someone a bicycle, that’s what I can give. That bike won’t magically become a car. My emotions are much the same way; if I’m angry, I don’t have much else to share. If I can manage to fill my heart with gratitude, I’ll spread light everywhere I walk.

I can’t lie, I’ve gone through large chunks of my life depressed, sour, negative. I was insecure of myself, my place in the world, the regard in which I was held. It’s an uncomfortable place to live.

The miracle in this isn’t that I found the bike, it’s that I applied myself to the bike with enough dedication that it opened the world to me in ways that allowed me to see with new eyes. The bike gave me a body I was more at peace with, friends, eventually a whole tribe with which I could identify. All those things were wonderful, but you can have all of those and still be a dark cloud on a sunny day. I’m proof.

But I kept riding. That’s always been the answer. Upset? Go ride. Mad? Do intervals. Hurt? Pedal to the top of a hill and look out on creation. Happy? Go soak in this life.

A few years ago when my newborn son we called The Deuce spent six weeks in the NICU I did my best to remain a neutral presence. I wanted to impart nothing so much as devotion and support. I did what I could to conceal my emotions on a day-to-day basis, and committed my feelings to the keyboard. During that period the bike was less a way to strip away stress than just to recharge my battery so I could go back to the hospital. I had trouble getting my heartrate up. And if someone asked how he was? It was as if I’d suddenly hit my threshold; I was apt to get dropped because the stress would just shut my legs down. I couldn’t even take a deep breath. Even so, I didn’t want to be a drag on anyone else. I’ve no idea if I succeeded.

Years ago, I worked for a recording studio in Memphis. One Sunday night there was a knock at the door. I opened it only to find Al Green (yes, that Al Green) standing there. This wasn’t wholly impossible. It was, after all, a recording studio and he was known to sing. When he stepped in he smiled, said hello and clasped my hand in both of his. It was as beatific a greeting as I’ve received in my life. I’m still willing to swear he glowed with a divine light.

There’s little in my life I admire the way I admired him that night.

I’m not that guy. I’ll likely never be that guy. But that evening remains a sextant to help guide me.

I’m still fearful, sometimes insecure, prone to quick reactions. I accept these as part of my makeup. However, I work against them daily, the same way fitness requires daily riding.

A week in Las Vegas has left me fatigued from all the people down on the Interbike show, cynical about the bike industry, righteously angry about ebikes on the road and trail. I can’t figure why we wouldn’t want more people in cycling. Among my failings is that I’m naturally short on patience, but my lack of patience for this isn’t a quirk of personality. Those of us lucky enough to devote more than an hour or two of our time each week to bicycles are fortunate, full stop. I’ve worked with people in other industries who could make Eeyore look like Al Green. I could be wrong, but I had the suspicion that a bike would have changed things.

I’m at an age where going fast is still fun, even if the fast is less so than it was. Even so, I’m past the point of proving anything. I mean, what could I prove at this point? That I can’t generate 1000 watts in a sprint anymore? It just doesn’t matter that I’m not the fastest guy on the road. Despite my personal limitations, I’m taking an increasing joy in sharing cycling with others. From my boys to new riders I meet, spreading cycling is a way to find a positive even when the ground in my own life is shifting.

I may not have a lot to give, but I can give cycling.



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  1. Jeff Dieffenbach

    Patrick, thanks for sharing. I see so much benefit in being as open as one can as it increases awareness and the ability for support.

    I’d love insights into how best to help a friend or loved one navigate their depression. My initial instinct, and I know that it’s a poor one, is along the lines of, “You’ve got a lot going for you–there’s no reason to be depressed.” Of course, with depression being a physiological state, that approach is about as effective as telling a short person to just be taller.

    Does it help to ask about ways that they spend their time that help them cope the best and then see if they’d find value in your working with them on increasing the amount of time they spend doing those things?

    Other ways to help?

    1. Author

      I’ve never been good at helping others through the forest. I’ve been an ineffective friend, beyond just checking in. What has helped me every time is riding. Going out and doing the rides I love, even if covered more slowly, has always been helpful. I can say that were a friend in trouble now, I’d simply announce when we were riding and show up, and refuse to take no for an answer, even if I had to push them out the door. I wouldn’t bother with talk. I wouldn’t bother with advice. I’d take them for a ride, stop for coffee and just hang. The people who made room for me when I was lost were indispensable. A great descent did more for me than any advice or pep talk. Flow. It’s key. A neuroscientist once told me that if they could bottle flow, it would be more effective at treating depression than any antidepressant on the market. I’d have to agree.

    2. Pat O'Brien

      Bottling flow would not be a good idea. It must be earned to be savored. One of the best ways to earn it is on a bike.

  2. John

    This: “The miracle in this isn’t that I found the bike, it’s that I applied myself to the bike with enough dedication that it opened the world to me in ways that allowed me to see with new eyes.”

    Thank you, Patrick.

  3. TomInAlbany

    I’ve met a couple of those ‘Al Green’ type of personalities. I find myself attracted to the joy and peace they radiate and simultaneously repulsed because, it doesn’t seem possible or real. I mean, how can someone really and truly be THAT happy all the friggin’ time?

    I don’t get flow often enough and I’m moody. Maybe now I can understand why.

    Thanks, as always, Padraig.

    1. Author

      I’ve encountered people who put on that demeanor as a posture; because it’s not genuine, it makes me uncomfortable. There are other people who just radiate joy like the Peanuts’ Pig Pen with that cloud of dust.

      I wanna be in the cloud of dust.

  4. TomInAlbany

    I’ve met the posers as well. AFter 52 years walking around, I can typically spot them.

    The true ones. The PigPens, as you noted, I still have that same, odd, contra dance with. Wanna get dirty but can’t believe it’s possible to make that cloud all the time. It’s my issue, not theirs. It’s one i work on. And, my kids are an awesome salve. My daughter is typically a joyous 9 year old. If I can’t absorb some of that joy, I need to try harder.

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