February 2009


Letting go is something I struggle with. I stew, I fret, I mull, I often describe it as “my mind spins.” I can’t seem to easily let go of things. The biking is a huge help. It is like a cleansing. It is like getting filled up with fun and smiles, pushing the other stuff out of the way.

Tonight at yoga, the teacher presented a definition of “letting go” as our yin thought for the night.

“Letting go is fearing less and loving more.”

I like it. There is a lot of room for reflection in there.

It is hard to explain why I have such a good time on my rides to and from work. I think back on them, and I smile. I apparently forget most of the annoyances and challenges immediately after. My enjoyment is so great that I’m often baffled by comments people make.

Recently I saw the office manager and she asked how it was going, exclaimed over the fact that I rode that day. It was really cold, she told me, and I chuckled vaguely, not sure what she was talking about. Was it cold that day? I didn’t remember anything extreme on the way in. (I think it had been in the high 20’s, which is not the lowest temp I’ve ridden in, not by far.) She mentioned standing at the pump while putting gas in her car. And I think I’d find that bone-chillingly cold as well. But on the bike? On the bike it is different.

No one believes me. Except other cyclists. Or so I imagine, I guess.

When I was at the sound wall this afternoon, taking my normal water-gulp break, two people came around the corner. It was Friendly Commuter and his sometimes riding partner, who I had seen before but hadn’t met. We chatted for a few minutes. It was fun, I enjoyed the chance to make the connection.

But I had a weird moment in the conversation. She said something about how she hadn’t ridden yesterday, and when Friendly mentioned that I’d ridden, she was surprised. She asked me, or exclaimed, or something, and I was (probably visibly) confused. “Was there something different about yesterday?” I asked them. It was, I was reminded, colder and pretty windy.

Oh. Yeah, I guess it was. But it didn’t seem that bad to me. Which is what I said to them, and looked to Friendly for confirmation – he rode yesterday too!

I had the feeling that my reaction was confirming something to them both. And that surprised me. I’m not sure what it was confirming, but I am pretty sure this is why Friendly told me I “inspire” him, and why that baffled me. I don’t see myself as being “tough as nails”, as Friendly insists.

And I don’t – what I do, the riding, it doesn’t feel extreme to me. Sure it is cold outside, but I am not personally cold while riding. (I’m sweating on my rides, and I need to stop overdressing, to be honest.) And the wind, well, it is extra resistance and it does bug me sometimes, but it doesn’t stop the ride from being fun.

Today when I tried to get Friendly to agree with me that it hadn’t been that bad yesterday, and instead got the feeling that I was amusing them both, I insisted that I had ridden in worse. Which is true, I have. And didn’t actually find it to be that bad, other than the extra tiredness at the end of the ride.

“You’re just addicted,” Friendly said with a smile, I think trying it out. It was something I’d said to him before…in response to the “tough as nails” comment.

I’m not tough as nails, I’m not a trooper…I’m just a girl addicted to the bike. I can’t explain it any better than that. I can’t explain why I didn’t realize I was different either. I was naive, but I can honestly say I assumed that everyone loved their rides as much as I do!

Maybe it is just perspective. I read the blogs of a couple true cold weather cyclists, one of whom is about to start riding a 350 mile race in the dead of Alaska. The other “merely” commutes through the winter in Anchorage. Plus goes mountain (snow/ice) biking for fun on the weekends.

I didn’t think NoVa even qualified as having a winter, in comparison!

My departure times in the mornings have been slipping, slowly. I’m now leaving an hour later than I used to. In some ways this is nice – there is more traffic, but there are also more bike commuters and more light. With the later start times, I’ve been seeing one commuter regularly, morning and afternoon, which was a happy thing for me. Happy because he always had a smile, and a hello, and there is something happy about being able to look forward to that.

I mostly would see him in the neighborhood that I think of as The Between. Between the bike lanes and busy-ness on one side, and no bike lanes on smaller roads and The Big Hill on the other. The Between is my favorite part of the ride, and so of course it is also the shortest. Quiet and pleasant, I often see people out walking, working in their yards, chatting to neighbors. I know the trash pickup schedule, and I know which dogs wig out every time they see me, and I sometimes see kids riding their bikes or skateboards to school. It is not exactly the half-way point, but close enough, and on my way home I stop at the sound wall, and I take a second. I drink water (because I’m not coordinated enough to drink and ride), and sometimes check my phone for new tweets. Sometimes I even send a tweet myself.

Having a happy greeter in this short section makes me not want to change my schedule, in case I miss him.

I had never talked to him, though, he was just the Man in Blue, the Friendly Commuter.

This morning I did leave home earlier, I wanted to have time to get home for my Thursday night yoga class. It is a yin class, and I find I need Yin to uncrimp and restretch after a week of biking. So I knew that I might not see my Friendly Commuter, or I might see him across several lanes of traffic if I saw him outside the boundaries of The Between, making a greeting a thought instead of a reality.

As it happened, I saw him just before I hit the far side of The Between. He turned into The Between as I was approaching the exit. He pulled over to my side of the road, so I stopped when I got to him.

And about fell over at his first words, which were “you inspire me!” I am pretty sure I have only ever inspired someone by accident, but there you go. I had my first laugh of the morning.

We exchanged names and general route information. We talked about our love of the biking. He mentioned his schedule change, which will mean I won’t see him in the mornings for a while, but maybe in the afternoons. He’d stopped me, specifically so he could mention his schedule change, in fact. While that might seem weird that he’d do that, given we didn’t know each other’s names, and had never before had a conversation, it made perfect sense to me. I’d have wondered, and worried, if he’d suddenly disappeared.

And it turns out I had a name-for-when-you-don’t-know-someone’s-name too. I was the Mystery Commuter to him!

A quote from yoga class:

“What we have done is who we are. What we do is who we will become.”

I think about this quote often. On the bike, at work, random other times. Simple, but it has a lot of significance for me. The hope of change, the acceptance of my past mistakes, the confidence that I have some say in myself.

It is pretty similar to “be the change.”

But just different enough that it is more significant to me.

I made a long-needed change at work, firmed up my work habits. It felt good. It was overdue. I have a lot of excuses for why I got into bad habits to begin with, but in changing those habits I was able to accept that I allowed the bad habits to form, that my excuses were only one piece of the reason.

I have other changes I need to make.

I’m actually looking forward to tackling them.

I’d read the weather reports, I knew what to expect. One last check before I left confirmed the prediction: 15 degrees with a wind chill bringing it down to a “feels like 0”. 0! Fahrenheit!

I girded my loins (or did I? What exactly does that entail, I wonder? Gold lamé underwear, perhaps?), put on my layers and set out.

It was cold, sure enough. Certainly felt like the coldest I’d ridden in, though going by thermostat readings without factoring in the windchill I know I’ve ridden in colder.

My feet were quite chilly by the end, Vapor Barrier and all.

Yet I wouldn’t have traded it for a 20 minute drive in a heated car, not even in those temps with that wind and my freezing feet. There is no comparison to the feeling of accomplishment as I keep up with traffic making my left turns, no replacing the enjoyment, satisfaction, and general feeling of well-being that comes from my morning ride.

To any who are contemplating biking as a way of getting places: it is wonderful, it is empowering, it is addictive. You’ve been warned.

Turning on the lights — rear blinkie and front headlight — are as symbolic as they are practical. That’s when the morning starts, that’s the delineation between the drudgery of morning tasks and the adventure that is my trip to work.

Even then, though, I often resent the start of the day. I would prefer to sleep, to not have to face the cold, to not put my body through its paces. This feeling changes as soon as I start rolling. There is something magical about that moment, an internal smile that is the reward for facing the day.

Today the magic moment started even earlier. As I turned the headlight on, the light reflected tiny snowflake flurries dancing in the air. I’m not a snow-lover, but even I was charmed.

And so it was a day when the good things were noticed. The *shush* of the wheels on pavement, the power in my tired legs, the personal satisfaction in having timed my sprint perfectly to float across an intersection in the sweet spot of safety, these were all felt in a more conscious way than usual. As if my inner child had woken up and was excitedly pointing out to me all the things that have become routine.