Spontaneity

bike drawingI have been riding a bike now for two and a half years. When I first bought my bike, which I dubbed Baby Blue, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it. What if it was too hard? What if I hated it? What if I had just wasted $189?

It didn’t take long to discover the joy of movement. It took a little longer to learn how not to fight the bike but work with it, to work the gears, to realize that there was no embarrassment and certainly no shame in shifting to lower gears when going uphill. Of course not! It became an exercise of listening to my body and what it was telling me, and I didn’t need to listen to anyone else. It was me and Baby Blue against the hills, against the wind, against the world.

The first ride I took was only about three miles. I don’t remember how long it took. Then for that first summer, when I would ride in the mornings before work, I would go less than five miles and only about seven or eight miles per hour. It didn’t matter. I was outside, I was riding.

Now, two and half years later, when I ride in the mornings before work, I go nine or ten miles before I have to go back and get ready for work. (I’m sure my co-workers can tell when I haven’t ridden my bike in the morning—surly is the word, and I’m not talking about the brand of cycles.) But on the weekends, when I can ride as much as I feel like, I will regularly go between 15 and 20 miles both days, generally averaging at least 12 miles an hour. It feels glorious.

I had never planned on getting faster. Or necessarily going farther. I hadn’t planned my muscles becoming stronger. I hadn’t planned on losing weight. But all of that happened. It is perhaps true that if I had planned (“plan your work and then work your plan!” “those who fail to plan plan to fail!”) I might be riding even faster, even farther now. All of that may be true.

But there is a certain joy in spontaneity, a certain glee in doing something just for the sheer pleasure of doing it. No hidden or not-so-hidden agenda. No motivation needed other than the activity itself. Some people, some planners, never learn that. And while in my job I must schedule, and in my creative endeavors I must outline, and in my marketing efforts I must plan, I reserve the right in my cycling to do none of those things, to simply go where my heart, my legs and Baby Blue will take me on any given day.

Perhaps in life—anyone’s life—there should be one thing, one place, that is structure-free. It doesn’t have to be all of life. It doesn’t even have to be something large. Just something that you, as controller of your own life, can say, “What the heck — I’m going to do what I want to do.”

Here’s to spontaneity.

Pro-Choice

you can't be sad while riding a bicycleWhen I ride my bike during the week, I am constrained by the fact that I have to go to work. So I get up, hit the road by about 6:15 and ride until 7:15 or 7:20. I come home, make a breakfast of fake bacon and Egg Beaters, sometimes Greek yogurt with fruit, take a shower and go to work. It sets my metabolism and my mood for the day. But as I said, it’s constrained. I can’t go for as long as I might want.

On the weekends, though, I can ride as long as I want. I can take new routes and let myself get lost in the joy of speed and muscles and sunshine. I can listen to an entire playlist rather than just part. (I can also burn crazy calories and justify eating a Nacho Cheeseburger at Village Inn, but that’s another story.)

One thing I enjoy on the weekends that I don’t often have at 6:30 in the morning is seeing people in their yards or walking their dogs. I see them all the time, they see me. We wave and smile, and in some strange way I consider them my friends. I miss them if I don’t see them. It made my day when on my first ride of the spring I saw one of my friends walking his dog. He said, “Hey! Hi!” as I rode past, pleasure and recognition in his voice. I felt the same way.

But the other day I had an encounter that left me a bit baffled. One of the families I regularly wave to was having a garage sale on Saturday. It was crowded and fun and I got to wave to a lot of people as they cheered me on. On Sunday when I rode by, I stopped for a few moments and talked to the woman. I asked how the sale went. She said it went well, and they were in the process of cleaning things out because they were going to be moving. The weekends were the only time she had to do this because she worked during the week. Then she said, “I love watching you ride your bike. I wish I had the time to do that.”

It left me feeling … I’m not sure. At first I felt bad, like I was being lazy by riding my bike. Even though I work during the week, I wasn’t working on cleaning my apartment or anything like that. I was riding a bike.

Then it made me a little angry. Not because I felt that she was judging my choices (no doubt she wasn’t). It was because she was feeling sorry for herself for choices she was making. I have made different choices. Bike riding is a priority — it is freedom, it is exercise, it is my anti-depressant. It is life. It is my choice.

Choices are important. Very often, we get depressed or angry or frustrated when we feel we have no choices, no options. We feel out of control or that we have no control. We are put upon. But I am here to tell you, and to tell the garage sale woman, we are not slaves. We have choices in life. Celebrate that ability. Make choices. Make good choices. Make bad choices. Choose to learn from those bad choices and then make more choices. Become pro-choice.

In that way, say yes to life. Your life.

Lessons Learned from the Bike, Part Two

falling-off-bike-calvin-harris-pushupsI read a motivational quote about cycling not long ago that said “Even the professionals fall.” I want to say here and now, I have never fallen off my bike. I felt the rear end shimmy a little one time when I went over a patch of ice. And there have been a couple of times when I’m getting on that I’ll almost lose my balance (I never said I was well-balanced or graceful). But I’ve never actually fallen.

In other words, the professionals fall a lot more than I do. The reason, of course, is because they take risks that I don’t. They go fast, they lean into the curves and barely slow down around corners. They weave in and around other objects, whether those objects are squirrels, pedestrians or other cyclists. Me? I slow down. I’ll even follow a pedestrian for just a few seconds until I’m sure they’ve heard I’m coming up on them. It’s why if I’m trying to build up some speed (and for me that’s still pretty slow), I’ll hit the roads. That way I can avoid the dog-walkers, wagon-pulling fathers and unfriendly joggers.

But back to falling down. Other risks that other cyclists may take is riding on snow or ice. I won’t do it. They do. So while they may slide and fight for tire purchase on sanded or salted paths, I haven’t done that. Yet. (A blog I follow is All Seasons Cyclist. My goal is to eventually ride in the weather he does.)

People don’t take risks because they are afraid of failing, of falling in the big areas of life. And yet to not try at all is to fail, perhaps to fail in the biggest way possible. The lesson I am learning from not falling is one that we have heard often, and yet it bears repeating to ourselves every day. If you don’t take risks, if you don’t occasionally fall, you will never find greatness.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was intended to stand straight, but if the architect would have succeeded, would the building be as famous as it is today? When a reporter interviewed Thomas Edison, he asked Edison if he felt like a failure and if he thought he should just give up by now. “Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up?” Edison replied. “I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” Shortly after that, and over 10,000 attempts, Edison invented the light bulb.

Learning is a painful process. As Bruce Cockburn said in “Shipwrecked at the Stable Door,” “Ask anyone who can remember, it’s horrible to be born.” To fail is to take another step on the path to success. It eliminates one way that something doesn’t work. To fall on the bike is simply to learn how to balance better, how to read the road, how to get better at everything we do.

This doesn’t mean we take foolish risks. As Aristotle taught, virtue is found in the middle of two extremes. We find balance between rashness and cowardice. For me, this means while riding that maybe I strive to go a little faster — and still wear my helmet. In life, this means that I continue to strive in my writing. I write out of the box, I take risks — even if my writing won’t always be appreciated, understood or even liked.

We take risks We fail. We fall. We get back up. We learn.

And we ride.

I Am a Cyclist

bike signAt times when I get on my bike, I feel like a little kid playing pretend. I feel small, holding on to handlebars that are high above me. I watch the peloton racing by, their moisture-wicking jerseys and padded pants signifying passion, and I look at my t-shirt and leggings and bright pink girly helmet and feel like a piker–small-time and amateurish. A piker biker. I feel like a little kid, as though I should have multi-colored streamers flowing from my handlebars.

At the same time, something–rebelliousness mixed with joy–rises in me. Who the heck cares? Do the other bikers care? Of course not. Does my bright pink girly helmet protect my head? Yes. And my t-shirt and leggings are what I have right now. Eventually, I will get padded bike shorts, maybe a better saddle, a jersey that I’ve earned from a ride.

But for now, I’m okay with what I have. I can be that little kid. I didn’t ride a bike when I was young. No particular reason, I just walked everywhere. Now, however, when I’m on the bike, I feel free. Cliched, maybe, but true nonetheless. I am free. I am uncluttered. I am unfettered. I am grinning like a little kid as I go down hills, enjoying the feeling of my hair flying out behind me. I am a cyclist and I will not be stopped.

I am a cyclist.

Lessons Learned from the Bike, Part One

balance-balance-motivational-1310443928I’ve been riding a bike since May 2012. Not very long. I love it, though, and I’ve found that no matter what is going on in my life, it’s all made better by time in the saddle. There is a sign on a bike trail in Fort Collins, Colorado, that my daughter pointed out to me when we went riding a couple of months ago. It reads “Let it all go.” That’s so true. In the saddle, I can let it all go and just focus on the ride.

I’ve learned a few things while on the bike, and I think they apply to so-called “real life.” Let me say right here that these are my own lessons learned. They may not apply to everyone, and they may not be true for every cyclist. Here’s a few in no particular order.

1. Any ride is better than no ride. Sometimes my mind will trick me that I don’t have enough time in one single chunk to do something. “I can’t write–I only have 20 minutes.” Biking has taught me the fallacy of that. Only 20 minutes? No problem. I can still get a very short three-mile ride in. While that isn’t much, any ride is better than no ride. And writing two paragraphs is better than not writing at all. Grab what you can when you can.

This also applies to exercise. Riding a bike is great exercise. And while you may at times feel that you can’t spend enough time to make it worthwhile, or that you don’t go fast enough nor far enough, remember this: you are lapping everyone who is sitting on the couch.

2. When confronted with the choice to go uphill or down, choose uphill. I’m all about options, and generally speaking, the more options you have, the better. If you choose to go downhill, you have eliminated the easy option, basically leaving you with no options. If you choose uphill, you can always change your mind if you really need to. Going uphill has a lot of benefits. The first, of course, is that eventually, you’ll go down the other side, wind rushing through your hair, joy flooding your exhilarated body. Second, the view is better from the top. You can look back at the hill you’ve just climbed, the accomplishment you have achieved, the challenge you have conquered and say, “Wow, I did that!”

In child development, if the parent does everything for the child, the child never achieves a sense of accomplishment and learns instead to be helpless and dependent. We develop self-esteem and self-confidence only by conquering the difficult. Choose uphill. Say yes to the challenge.

3. When going uphill, go small. This goes along with the one above. If you’ve chosen to go uphill, there are going to be times that you are sure you won’t be able to make it. That’s especially true in life. Some challenges feel unconquerable. In that case, it’s best to look at the short distances. As the joke goes–how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don’t look at the whole hill; focus instead on the few yards in front of you. Look ahead a little ways and pick a target. On one hill that I used to regularly ride, I would pick my target and give myself permission to turn around when I reached that target. I never turned around. I always without fail picked another target and kept going.

I read an article recently by Kimberly Turner about resolutions for writing, and she made this point. Looking at the big picture is necessary so you know where you’re going, but looking at it too long can be overwhelming. Get the big picture, the big hill, in mind and then make smaller goals. Instead of saying, “I’m going to write that novel this year,” break it down and say, “I’m going to write chapter one this week.” Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 25 pounds this year,” say “I’m going to eat healthy today,” and “I’m going to lose two pounds this month.”

4. Keep moving. Life is movement. It pushes forward, struggles, surges, creeps. It is never still. Growth is movement. To stop moving is to become stagnant, to die. To ride a bike is movement. You can’t ride a bike and be still at the same time. If in life you feel you are stuck, move. If you are depressed, move. If you are uncertain which path to take, take one. MOVE. As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” Nothing lasts forever. If you are going through bad times, they will not last. Keep moving.

I wish I could say that you will not fall off your bike if you keep moving. You no doubt will take a spill at some point while biking. But it is a certainty that you will fall off if you don’t move at all.

I live in Colorado, where I can look out my window at any given moment and see the mountains. And they are beautiful, majestic, breathtaking. But my heart longs to be on the beach with its ceaseless movement. Life is movement. Growth is movement. Learning is movement. Biking is movement.

5. It’s all about you. When I first started riding, I would approach this one hill and kill myself trying to maintain my speed. It took a lot of the joy out of hitting that hill, because I just couldn’t ride it as fast as what I thought I should. I have riding friends, and I was judging myself–a fledgling rider–on their distances and speeds.

Sometimes in life people will judge you based on their own standards. Sometimes you will judge yourself based on how they live their lives. But the truth is, no one sits in your saddle but you. No one resides in your skin but you. No one rides your path but you. That’s right–it’s all about you. Shinedown has a song called “What a Shame.” The first line of the chorus is “What a shame, what a shame to judge a life that you can’t change.”

Don’t let anyone else’s judgment change who you are–either when you’re riding or in life. We in the church are famous for doing that to others, judging them without knowing their lives, motivations, choices, challenges as if we had the right. I will write more about that in a future blog post.

6. Announce yourself. While it is all about you, recognize that you are part of a community. When you are on a bike and are approaching a pedestrian, you are supposed to announce yourself. “On your left.” This keeps them from unwittingly stepping out in front of you and hurting themselves, you and your bike. So it is in life. Announce yourself. This doesn’t mean that when you walk into a party you have to throw your arms open wide and belt out “Here I am! Embrace me!” It means say hello. It means reach out to someone else. Greet people. Smile. As a pastor at my old church used to say, “Be kind to everyone you meet, because everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load.”

I don’t just announce myself to the pedestrians on the bike path. I have a bell on my bike and I love ringing it. It’s a happy sound, and God knows we could use more happy sounds in this often sorrowful world. I ring the bell at other bikers. It’s a recognition that we are in a special community, that we both know the joys of pedal pumping. I saw a little girl one time and I know the joy on her face matched my own, and when I rang my bell and she rang hers in return, I felt like I’d met a sister, even though 40-plus years separated us.

There’s the first set. One final story–not because it fits in any particular category, but because it makes me happy when I remember it.

Squirrels are always something to watch out for. They’re fast, they’re unpredictable, and they always think they can beat you. Not long ago, I was riding on the street (sometimes I like to avoid the bike paths because I can build up better speed that way–no pedestrians to worry about), when a squirrel darted in front of me. I braked and it got by me. But there was an accelerating SUV on the other side, and I was pretty sure the squirrel would be flattened roadkill in no time. But if the driver didn’t see the squirrel, he no doubt saw my look of horror and my shoulders scrunched up by my ears in preparation of impending squirrel doom, and he braked. The squirrel made it safely to the tree on the other side of the road, and as the driver passed me, he gave me a huge smile and a thumbs up.

Community, a simple shared moment, happens even in unlikely circumstances.

Until my next bike post, wear your helmet, look both ways, settle in the saddle, and ride on.