My Cycling Joyride…Three Years In

It has been three years since I started riding a bicycle again.  Much has changed over this time.  I thought it might be kind of fun to share the “whys” and “wows” that have happened to me since then, just in case they can be of value to you.

Heading into Pittsburgh, Saturday morning, Hot Metal Bridge.

Heading into Pittsburgh, Saturday morning.  Bicycle.  Hot Metal Bridge. Who knew just how beautiful this city is?

The first time I rode this skinny spit of trail, I was scared to death I'd fall off.  The next time wasn't as bad.

The first time I rode this skinny spit of trail in Ogden, I was scared to death I’d fall off. The next time wasn’t as bad.  Now it’s pretty much normal.  You grow.

A few weeks ago I pulled off the highway on the way to Utah to get in a quick ten miles on the high plains.  For me, there is no place finer than the altiplano of the American West.

The stillness of the High Plains on a bicycle is pure magic.  There is nothing finer.

Happy Jack makes me happy...no matter the weather.

Happy Jack makes me happy…no matter the weather.

Like a lot of us, I think, I started riding again to lose weight.  It worked, though not right away.  That first year I didn’t ride often enough or far enough to have much of an effect.  I hadn’t changed my eating habits yet, and if you’re not eating the right foods in the right quantities, all the exercise in the world isn’t going to help you lose weight.

I rode  just over 1,000 miles from early May through the end of 2013.  My average ride was about eight miles, more or less, and I rode 3-4 times per week.  In hindsight it doesn’t seem like much.  It was huge at the time.

There's no mistaking the meaning of the sprayed-over sign.  Adventure awaits!

There’s no mistaking the meaning of the sprayed-over sign. Adventure awaits!

Cycling through an oil refinery on a deserted road is so Mad Max.

Cycling through an oil refinery on a deserted road is so Mad Max.

Lincoln Nebraska.  Most people pass through on the freeway and have no idea what they're missing.

Lincoln Nebraska. Most people pass through on the freeway and have no idea what they’re missing.  Pure Americana with a surprisingly urban vibe.

I rode more in 2014 and more again in 2015.  I typically would ride around my neighborhood after work in the evening.  I wasn’t chasing a goal.  It was just fun.  Along the way, I discovered that I missed cycling on those “rest days” that we’re all supposed to take so I stopped taking them.

Without a bicycle, I would have never learned that the Platte River bottomlands are one of America's great ecological treasures.

Without a bicycle, I would have never learned that the Platte River bottomlands are one of America’s great ecological treasures.

...or that Indianapolis is beautiful when the light is just right.

…or that Indianapolis is beautiful when the light is just right.

Not taking rest days didn’t hurt me physically.  I discovered that this is one of those great myths foisted upon us by others.  We have to be careful what we believe and who we believe.  It’s much better, I think, to try new things and see how they work out than it is to listen to the experts who may or may not have our best interests at heart.  I am not a professional athlete.  I wasn’t going that hard or fast, so why was it necessary for me to rest and from what?  The short answer is that it wasn’t.  I started riding more and more.  I listened to my body and it told me it was doing fine.   I think I rode over 330 days in 2015.  My mileage increased again but I honestly never once felt tired or worn out by cycling.  Every time I rode, I came home feeling better than when I left.  Every.  Single. Time.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of all occurred when I started riding to get places.   Whenever  you make a big change like abandoning a car for a bike, there’s a period of adjustment.  Given a choice, we will almost always choose that which is familiar or comfortable to us.  If you’re used to driving a car, you’ll keep doing it.  You have to force yourself to change.  You have to cut off access to the old ways.

That’s what I did earlier this year in Ogden.  I was there for three weeks and renting a car was too bloody expensive, so for those three weeks I didn’t have one.  I had to go everywhere by bike, so that’s what I did. At first, it was a hassle.  I had to remember to bring a lock and a backpack.  I had to make sure my reading glasses were in the backpack so that I could see prices at the grocery store.  I could never find what I needed when I needed it.  It was all a little frustrating.

But then it changed.  It became normal sometime late in that first week.  I got the patterns down and the frustration went away.  The biggest surprise was discovering that life is actually better when you slow down.  I had no idea.  20 mph > 60 mph. It really is.  Things come at you a little more slowly and that allows your brain to process them a little more fully.  This is how it is supposed to be. This is la vida.  This is living.

I’ve cycled some really cool places over the course of the last three years.  This is perhaps the greatest takeaway of all.  I feel that I’ve gotten to know these places better on a bicycle than I ever could in a car or on a train.  I rode in Pittsburgh last weekend.  It’s a fabulous city full of genuine people.  I loved it.  A few weeks earlier, I rode around downtown Lincoln Nebraska.  I loved it, too.  In fact, I love everyplace I cycle.  I suspect I’m not alone in this.

countyrides

Where I’ve ridden.  Green=states.  Red=counties.  The object is to paint the map red.

I have no idea what the future holds for me or my cycling, but I have learned a few things over the past three years as I’ve traveled down this road….things I want to share with you.   One, we have a lot more power to change our lives than we’ve been led to believe we have.  Two, the simplest things are almost always the most powerful and profound.  Three,  these things are right in front of us and very easy to acquire.  Four, we have to learn to be still in order to see them.  And five, once we do, we owe it to ourselves to reach out and make them ours.

I’m glad I started cycling again.  It has changed my life.  It has created this tremendous value that, even if it were all to end today, nobody can ever take away.   Wherever you are, I hope you get out and ride.  This weekend.  Tomorrow.  Every day.

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