I donned a pair of sweats and began my daily routine. First, a cup of Sumatra coffee and the Wall Street Journal. Once the coffee’s gone, it’s time to saddle up. Helmet, reflective vest & leg guards, and a pair of gloves. No coat – it was nearly 60 degrees -in December. I wouldn’t see 60 degrees again until at least June! That’s one reason I had to ride.
I was out the door and on my bike by 5:30 am. It felt great – warm, windy, but not THAT windy. Certainly not the 50 mph gusts they predicted. As usual, I thought, the weatherman was wrong. I turned west on Main Street and gave a shoutout to the barber about to open shop.
“I’m so impressed you work so early!” I called.
“I’m so impressed you ride your bike every morning!” he returned.
I chuckled. I didn’t know he noticed.
Then it hit me. A gust of wind so strong that my speed dropped to zero and I nearly fell over. If I had, it would have been my first fall since I began biking in the morning. No falling is my rule. I caught myself, laughed, and carried on. Hey, I wanted an adventure, and adventure I would get.
I turned north at the next corner, and now the wind was at my back. I flew effortlessly up the street, amused by the holiday inflatables that had taken a beating. The pink pony was face-planted near the sidewalk in an undignified manner. An elf’s ginormous candy cane was limp, dangling forlornly at his side. On the next street, Inflatable Yoga was underway. Santa was in Downward Dog position, while Snowman was in Shavasana (but still emitting light from his seven chakras!) South of Main, I saw a dinosaur’s shrinking head bounce like a ball against his chest. It looked uncomfortable. Nearby, Snoopy waved a frantic SOS distress signal. Empty Amazon boxes flew past me. I think they came from Toledo.
I alternated between riding with the wind and against the wind. One was joyful and high speed. The other was a slow slog, a challenge of great magnitude. Kind of like life.
Now, I should probably explain that riding my bike 10 miles every day before dawn became my personal Covid Relief Plan. I started in March, 2020 and I’ve been at it ever since. In 2021, I decided to track the number of days I biked by adding a simple “B” to my calendar. This is Day 350 on the calendar (we have 15 days left in the year!) and I’ve biked 253 of them, including 18 days in January. I refused to let the Michigan cold prevent me from biking. My “beat the cold” attire is an extremely attractive combination of heated gloves and socks, multiple layers, a balaclava, neck warmer and an old down coat. On one ride, I ran into a former IBM colleague, Jeff, who said my outfit “gave him a seizure.”
If I do the math, I biked 77% of the days where I was home and injury free. Some days I missed due to ice (ice on a bike is a bad idea), rain, travel, or injury. On my off days, I often lifted weights or ran.
Every ride is its own adventure. Once I was caught in a snow squall a long way from home. Biking into a snow squall – against the wind – is blinding. You literally cannot keep your eyes open and you can’t put your head down because there are these things called “cars” on the road. Have you ever been in a situation where you felt blind, losing ground, and yet you still had to keep your head up and carry on?
I learned to manage my pace and steer away from disaster. For example, there is a sneaky Tire-Eating Pothole just north of my house, and the Manhole of Death one block beyond that. Ride over (into!) either one and face unpleasant consequences. Avoid them – just a few inches to the left is all it takes – and you’re unscathed. Just like in life.
To be clear, I am not a Biker. I am a Thinker that pedals a bike. Biking is when my mind solves problems. Client problems, personal problems, writing problems – the universe conspires in my favor on the silent, dark roads. I return home with ideas and answers, or at least possible next steps.
I’ve seen full moons and the slimmest of crescent moons – both fill me with wonder. When I leave the house and look straight up, the Big Dipper hangs over me like an oddly shaped halo, signaling that it will be a great day. I’ve seen a falling star, UFO’s, and planets outshining the stars, illuminated by the sun that has yet to rise. To me, it’s all magic, and it fills me with energy.
I’ve seen critters – LOTS of critters. Kamikaze rabbits attacking my front tire. A hawk swooping past my shoulder to capture an unsuspecting squirrel – both were gone in an instant. Once a cat jumped out of a tree and I nearly jumped out of my skin, it startled me so. I’ve swerved to avoid racoons, rats, mice, possums, and have managed to bypass two skunks. One of them glared at me. But far and away, the most astonishing critter encounter came in a dense fog. I flew along my normal path near the hospital, when out of the murky ghostly mist appeared a doe, not three feet from me. “Good Lord!” I cried. Her ears twitched and she looked at me like I was the crazy one. “Give me some warning next time!” I added, giving her a little free coaching. In life, things happen that we never see coming.
I’ve gotten to know my little town in a new way. There was the handmade cardboard sign that read, “WELCOME HOME GRANDMA!” I saw a father placing letters in the yard spelling Happy 13th Birthday Haley in the wee early hours, when Covid was eliminating birthday celebrations. I’ve seen hospice vehicles and funeral home hearses. I paused to cheer and clap when I met my neighbor, Paul, running a marathon around our neighborhood because the Big Race had gone virtual. Each lap, his beautiful wife and kids were rooting him on and giving him cups of water. He made it, and has completed more since! Life’s great and hard moments remain and are magnified.
I’ve seen small businesses quietly disappear, including the little Hungarian restaurant where I had fine meals and conversations with friends. The parking lot is empty except for the overgrown weeds. At one dry cleaner, whose neon sign fell dark after decades of service, nothing remained but a bottle of hand sanitizer and a roll of toilet paper. A sign of the times, I guess.
My biking has given me perspective. Don’t take a corner too swiftly in bad conditions. Braking and accelerating are helpful when deployed at the right times. Constantly adjust away from the emerging potholes and other obstacles – tiny tweaks make a big difference. Life will give you head winds that strengthen and tail winds that liberate. Be adventurous but not stupid. Find meditation in movement. Silence solves problems. Wave to the little kids. Beware the drivers that don’t stop at the stop sign.
We all eventually end up like the battered inflatables, and when we do, we can take a couple of deep breaths, regain our sense of self, and reengage. We can encourage family and friends when Life happens to them.
Most of all, I’ve learned that it is important to know what nourishes your mind, body and soul, and make it part of your routine.
Today I didn’t go 10 miles – I went 8 miles; four miles with the wind, four against. It was exhilarating.
I look forward to more lessons from the bike seat in 2022. My new book will be published, The Win Like a Girl Project. That’s why I’ve blogged so infrequently this year. I’ve spent a million and one hours polishing the book, with the support of family and friends. One thing is for sure: I’m sticking by my No Falling Rule!
Keep leading –