Biking Clears My Head
When we lived in Chicago, I biked to work. It was simple: get on the lakeshore path, zip downtown, and weave through a few blocks to the office.
Then we moved to a remote area of Michigan, where people are more likely to ride tractors or horses across town. I resigned myself to the reality of losing my daily ride.
But, not long after moving, I discovered something wonderful. Our new house is right off the Pere Marquette trail, a path that cuts all the way across Michigan, from east to west. And what’s better, it would take me straight to work.
So, I started biking to work again, but this time it was a much longer ride than it had been in Chicago.
The 14-mile ride took me about an hour per way, so I spent two hours a day on my bike. It gave me lots of time to think — at least, after I got over my fear of being kidnapped or attacked by a bear.
Wild Animals and Crazy People
I tried to keep my biking habit (addiction, really) a secret, but it wasn’t long before it leaked out. Then everyone had something to say. I remember two specific conversations. One gentleman, a city employee, struck up a casual dialogue with me, then abruptly changed the subject.
“I hear you’ve been riding your bike a lot?”
“Yes, I have, actually,” I replied.
“Well, just be careful on the path, because in some places it can be pretty remote, and sometimes bad things happen back there. They don’t talk about it much, but because I work for the city, I hear about it.”
I told him I’d be careful, then went home and asked Curtis if he thought I’d be kidnapped if I kept biking. He told me to be careful and aware. A few weeks later, another lady gave me her two cents.
“So, you’re riding your bike to work?” After a brief pause, she continued.“You should really get some bear spray. There are bears around here, and you’ll want something to defend yourself with if you see one.”
Then she smiled and walked away. Later that day, I asked Curtis if he thought I would get eaten by a bear. He was skeptical and told me I’d be fine, but offered to buy me some mace if I was really worried.
I kept riding, willing to exchange the risks for two solid hours of enjoyment when the rest of my day was spent in a confining, windowless cubicle.
It wasn’t long before I stopped being afraid, and realized that exercising and being outside weren’t the only benefits of my daily bike ride — it was also making me a better thinker.
It’s not hard to bike. One leg goes up, the other goes down. Repeat, repeat, repeat. After a few weeks, I’d memorized the trail, so I could let my mind wander, or consider a specific issue. And I did plenty of both.
On some rides, I watched the rising sun cut through the waving grass and listened to the birds serenade in the morning.
On other rides, I focused on specific problems: my struggles at work, frustration with a recent social scenario, even the tiring chore of moving, redoing a house, and having an overflow of obligations.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I do my best thinking on my bike.
I learned to start with a problem, and with each rhythmic pump of my legs, consider it from a different angle. It helped me see things from others’ point of views, instead of just working up a frustrated anger from focusing on my own feelings.
It also made me better at processing things. I knew that for the two hours I was on my bike, my time was my own. No phones. No people. No barking dogs. Having those solid hours and knowing I wouldn’t get any more time made me work to spend it right.
Finally, it helped me to realize that not all issues are equal. If I was upset about the way someone said something to me, or how a person treated me, my annoyance melted away as soon as I started pushing myself to work harder and pedal faster.
Sure, my feelings got hurt.
But I can’t control other people, I can only control my reaction to them.
And I can control my legs and pump them as hard as possible to pedal faster and get stronger. And in the world of “hurry up and get home,” that matters a lot more than “he said, she said.”
I didn’t bike all winter, but I’m back at it now — with tired legs, a bruised posterior, and a sunburn. And a much clearer head.
And wow, I missed it.