As I pedaled into a fierce south wind on the day before Thanksgiving, I thought about how fortunate I was to be out there. It couldn’t be mistaken for a fabulous cycling day. The wind was gusting to around 40 mph, and the sky was dreary, except for the brief periods when the sun peeked out between the clouds. However, I was off work and riding in shorts and a windbreaker in late November in Kansas. I was fortunate indeed! (This would quickly be proven, as an ice storm moved into the area Thanksgiving night, causing a power outage and an extended internet outage, delaying the publication of this post by several days.)
Beyond being graced with the opportunity to ride on any specific day, I am grateful for the many gifts that cycling has introduced into my life.
Although I was a runner and avid exerciser when I met my husband in 1998, Kenny introduced me to the joys and challenges of road cycling. Of everything he has given to me over the years, that is one of the gifts I most treasure. We rarely cycle together, since our son was born 11 years ago, but we are still a cycling family and have been fortunate to share the cycling life with Logan.
My life is richer for my connection to the cycling community—both those cyclists I know and those I don’t, but with whom I share a common bond. Even for introverts like me, there is value in the sense of belonging that accompanies being part of a community. I feel a kinship with the random cyclists with whom I exchange waves or greetings as we pass on the road. I recognize myself in the cyclists whose stories I read in books or magazines. I feel an understanding even with Tour de France competitors and other cyclists who ride professionally, living lives very different from my own. Whatever level our cycling abilities, those of us who ride share a connection.
Cycling seems an ideal sport for introverts. Not only does it afford the opportunity to get lost in my head, sometimes for hours, as introverts feel a strong pull to do, but it allows us to be “alone,” at times, even when we are riding with others. Cycling conditions often dictate “social” and “alone” time on the bike. When riding with others in a tight paceline and pushing into a stiff headwind, circumstances do not lend themselves to conversation. We have to be able to read and respond to our companions’ body language and change of body or bike position, speed, etc., but we are essentially alone in our heads, because of the wind noise and the workout intensity. For me, it is the perfect combination of socializing and reenergizing in cerebral solitude.
Since the vast majority of my training time is solo, cycling is one of my best escapes from the onslaught of noise and the pressure of being “on” that comes with being around people in most settings. My introvert nature craves these respites and refuels through this time for processing, thinking, problem solving and generating mental health and happiness.
Biking Across Kansas (BAK) has enriched my life in innumerable ways—activity, adventure, vacation, community, movement, accomplishment, mission and more. BAK friendships form and deepen over years of creating common memories, both sweet and savage, in the Kansas wind and elements. My BAK friends and I have supported each other both on paved roads and on the virtual roads of life. We have seen each other at our grimiest and most real. These people are true gifts of cycling.
Some of cycling’s gifts are only apparent on the subjective level. I have read that passions are “those things you can’t not do.” Cycling falls into this category for me. I am a better person because I ride. I do my best thinking on the bike, and I have found the answers to many of my most grueling questions while cycling. I have written entire presentations in my head on long bike rides. I have developed solutions to taxing work problems while I pedaled. I have processed concepts from books that I have read, and I have been inspired to write—even stopping in small towns along my route to borrow a pen and jot down an idea or to capture my thoughts in my phone.
We all need activities that help us live more richly, stretch and learn and grow. Certainly, there are other things I do and other groups to which I belong that also enrich my life, but as I rode last Wednesday, I was energized by gratitude for the gift that cycling is in my life.