A Friend Like This
To throw a leg over a bike is a release. To push the pedals and make it move forward offers vast catharsis. The components of the simple act of riding a bike are many, yet all fall in lockstep when it comes to parting mental clouds that obscure and confuse. It’s been said that there are no problems that a bike ride can’t fix, and I stand here before you to note this to be a nearly pure truth. Granted, just as with any therapeutic process, it exists in tandem with a myriad of other possible solutions. The first step is always ours to take, and as it’s been for my last 30 years, that first step almost always boils down to being on my bike.
It’s both a time machine as well as a confidant. It transports me to a point in life when the weight of the world wasn’t so suffocating, and, without judgment, it offers me an unwavering shoulder on which to cry. Ours is a dance of simple mutual understanding, in that all it asks from me is appreciation; in turn, it provides an endless horizon of opportunity. Like the boy’s tall and proud friend in Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” all we want for one another is to be happy.
Even on my best days, on my shoulders there’s a weight, on my back a monkey and in my head a seemingly never-ending war. Aligning with one another, these unfortunate passengers’ primary focus is to beat me beyond recognition; certainly, were it not for my bike, they would win.
Any given day’s winding ascent makes my legs burn and begins to tie knots in my back. The pain is always a welcome distraction, one I’ve willingly invited into my realm more times than I can remember. As the sweat drips down my nose, I reflect on all of the times I’ve embraced this process. It won’t last forever, and one day I might look back on this meandering grind and wish to return. Beneath my tires, the static-like buzz of pavement makes way for crackling gravel and ultimately the unmistakable hum and rhythm that only singletrack can provide. It’s a language all unto itself, for which this machine assumes the role of translator.
Eventually we arrive at the place where gravity and reflexes take over. The surrounding browns and greens all blend together into a mass of passing blur. I know the trail well, but respect that it can always offer up a surprise. I’m not taking anything for granted while we engage in this dance. I know all too well that without warning and at any time it can come to a rapid conclusion, leaving me ragdolling in slow motion through the air. Thankfully on this day luck and skill are both on my side, and we emerge from the rocky, rutted trail that in some instances more resembles a dried creek bed than a purposely made passage for a fat-tired machine such as mine.
Continuing on with the ride, daydreams emerge about what adventures might lie ahead, or perhaps in which grassy field I might spend time lying on my back to watch the clouds pass by. I realize eventually this bliss will have to come to an end. The small sliver of my brain that looks out for me immediately shuts those thoughts down. Yeah, sometime we’ll have to get back to real life — the bills, deadlines and news feed featuring a rapid onslaught of this upside-down reality — but in the here and now, none of that is a concern.
I’m with my bike and my bike is with me, and right now, that’s the only thing in the world that matters.