Essay: On the Restorative Properties of Cycling as Our 300th Post
Cover picture and article photo by Mike Mchugh.
(2018) I told Mike I couldn’t remember the last time I had ridden these roads. They were roads I once used nearly daily about a decade ago. Portions of road covered were part of an old favorite 50-mile route I would do regularly. Unbeknownst to me that route would bring me within a mile of my current house. I had often wondered what lay beyond that intersection if I turned left instead of right. As it turns out, I would have potentially caught a glimpse of my future residence. All of this over the starting and stopping point of a ten-year span.
As we bounced along one of the quiet farm roads just outside of Doylestown, PA, I took a minute to think of how much I changed as a cyclist in those ten years. Ten years ago I would not have been riding with Mike, as I had not met him yet. Ten years ago I was a naive cyclist unsure as to which direction to take the hobby.
Interestingly enough Mike made a comment about a piece of his kit that is still in regular rotation. I commented my pair of Oakley Radars is the last piece of cycling gear that was in use ten years ago. His selection was a pair of leg warmers present from that time.
Ten years ago I clicked through the gears on the same road solo. I had an aluminum frame and Mavic wheels. Now I had a carbon frame and HED wheels. In those days I had Diadora cycling shoes with nylon soles. Now I lace up carbon-soled Bonts. Helmets and kits have rotated through. I once had a Cateye computer. Today I was randomly pressing buttons on a brand-new Garmin. And I was riding with our ride hero, Mike. I added one person to the story in those ten years. I had also put hundreds of racing miles behind me in that span.
The week before we forced a ride in sub-freezing weather. Nearly a week later and we were winding our way around these familiar roads. I went first and stated I had lost someone in my family around the same time we had gone out for a ride. He echoed the sentiments and stated, coincidentally, he did too. For a brief moment I found myself letting my guard down and talking about the loss of a family member. Mike talked, too, though I cannot speak for his level of guardedness.
As we were about to enter into the final portion of the ride, I received an urgent text message that sent me into a brief fog. I needed to be home but was dozens of miles away by bike. I’m an anxious person in these situations. Mike suggested we ride to his house where he would give me a lift to mine. There was one way back to his house, yet it involved riding on a road cyclists should avoid.
I found myself sorting out my thoughts while riding as hard as I could. I concluded this approach was neutralizing raw nerves and eventually had to let Mike pull me the final mile or so to his house. We quickly got in his car and got to my house. I got in my car and went to the urgent situation. For a brief moment in time I thought how tired my legs had felt, which was the distraction I needed to think clearly after that. As the day deteriorated I found myself anxious but also still feeling the bike ride. In short, I was too tired to pace and be anxious.
Dozens of hours later the situation improved. I found myself using memories of cycling to get me through those moments as well as the conversation with Mike about loss. While we raced up that road I found myself wanting to explain our situation to each driver passing by only to conclude I had to focus elsewhere. I’ve learned over ten years of cycling many things: I’ve learned what the world now looks like if I had gone left all those years ago, and I’ve learned that the bike is just more than some exercise machine. It’s time aboard a transport that allows the operator to sort out feelings. And it always helps to have someone along for the ride.