I came really close to bailing on the ride.
I felt overwhelmed with stuff to get done. It was a dreary day. I was tired. Maybe I’d just take a nap and then spend the evening at home packing for my upcoming trip, getting ahead with work, and cleaning my mess of a house.
But I had plans to meet a friend. She’d probably still ride without me, but maybe not. I knew she was looking forward to it. She’d been sick and this would be her first ride in weeks. I couldn’t bail on her.
So I loaded up my bike and headed out the door. A few miles down the road I realized I’d forgotten my helmet. Another opportunity to just call it off, but I didn’t. I went back, texted her I’d be late, and drove off again.
It was windy in the parking lot, colder than it had been at home. The chilly breeze numbed my fingertips as I struggled with my muddy winter bike boots. The zippers get stuck sometimes, especially when they get gritty. The last ride had been a mudfest.
I resisted the temptation to put another layer on, instead stuffing it in my pack in case it got colder later. We headed up the road.
Logging trucks were making a racket up on the hill, pulling entire trees from their roots and lifting them into the air. But soon we were past, and the world grew quiet.
Pedaling up the slushy gravel road, my legs began to feel the groove. The beginning of a ride is always hard for me. It takes a while for my body to warm up, to become one with the bike, to settle into the endeavor. My quads burn at first, and my lungs pound. But after a few miles, I begin to feel better.
But my mind still wanders, still worries, drifts back to work, and packing, and the messy house, and all the errands and chores I keep forgetting to do.
I settle into a rhythm, slowly climbing the ridge. The snow is patchy, but consistent, marking the trail. I’m always curious about why snow tends to stick on trails the longest, as long as they go undisturbed.
One lone set of tracks told me that someone else had been here today on a bike. Skinny tires though.
Dark clouds move in. Snow flurries begin to swirl in the air.
On top of the ridge, I slip into a zone of pure focus and contentment. The other thoughts disappear. I no longer care about work, or packing, or the chores. Those things don’t matter right now. What matters now is riding my bike, picking my way through the rocks, feeling the wind against my face, and noticing that the granular bits of snow falling from the sky looked an awful lot like Dippin’ Dots as they landed on the trail.
I reach the crux of the ridge, a section of forest that had burned in a wildfire about 12 years ago. Most of the big trees are gone, and those that remain are dead skeletons, making this landscape quite unusual for central Pennsylvania. From this vantage point, one can see for miles, unobscured by the usual foliage and dense tree cover. It’s one of my favorite spots, a landscape of allure and mystery, so different from the norm in these parts. At dusk, the few still-standing trunks look ghostly, silhouettes of destruction and rebirth.
I’m on fire as we make our way across the rolling terrain. I am focused. I think only of the trail ahead, its ribbon continuously burning an image into my brain as I pick my line. My worries are long gone. I am happy. I am home.
Darkness falls, and I turn on my headlight. Descending back down towards the car, I begin to feel the magic wearing off. My mind returns to its to-do list for the rest of the evening. But my attitude is better. I am more at peace. My worries are more manageable.
When I am mentally tired and not functioning properly, a good ride can set it all straight again. Riding bikes is like a reset button for my brain and my soul. And no matter how many other things I “should” be doing, I never, ever regret going on that ride.