On Resilience: Bicycling Through Life and the Pandemapocalypse

It’s hard to not write about the elephant in the room when it’s far, Far FAR! bigger than that. Coronavirus is like sunlight, or water — except that it’s poisonous for many, and deadly for some. There are I’m sure much more eloquent attempts to explain and interpret what’s going on. After all, I’m just A Dude who rides a bicycle and blogs about it. My tiny corner of the internet is just one example of something a few humans think is kinda cool, or interesting, or important, but in reality is not. It’s frivolous, navel-gazing distraction.

And yet, we each do what we can to cope, to survive, and maybe again even to thrive. So I’m writing this blog. And it occurred to me that maybe I’ve learned a few lessons from biking 100-175 miles a week for 22 weeks in a row that might help me and you get through this. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (I’m not really suggesting you do that; please don’t.)

Art in the Bicycle Sport Shop bathroom by Sophie’s founder, Taj Mihelich

Every day brings worse news, and it seems like it could be the last one we’re allowed outside the house. Quarantines, curfews and lock-downs are coming. For now we in Austin, Texas are encouraged to stay in but not barred from leaving home for important matters. We have 10 cases and no community spread — at least until testing ramps up and shows otherwise. So I took my temperature (it was below normal, as usual), and noting I had no cough, fever, or malaise beyond my usual fatigue, I went on a 25-mile ride.

Given the Pandemapocalypse, my ride was not for idle recreation or exercise, which are important. It was for things like a lab test a doctor needed me to have. There were a dozen people in the waiting room, a couple in masks. Glaring signs that said if you had “it” you were not allowed to just walk in, and I didn’t notice anyone coughing their head off, so I felt fairly safe. On the way back, I stopped to check out a book I had reserved to help me figure out freelance writing. That seems like something I absolutely must do now to make money. That may not seem life or death to you or even me today, but it sure as shit might be in a week or month or two if I’m out of money, food or both. A Dude ain’t rich. If I were a rich man… I’d have more bikes.

However, the public library closed for two weeks, so I couldn’t get the book. Who cares about these inconveniences when people are dying? Pretty petite potatoes. Infinitesimally tiny tubers. Everything is changing daily, quickly, with no clear end in sight. Stress is just one description of what we’re collectively feeling, and a woefully inadequate one at that. Freaking the fuck out is another, maybe slightly better. How about meltdown, clusterfuck, end of the world? Breakdown of society, even. So apocalypse seems not too far a stretch. It’s all unbelievable, but totally true. It’s a really bad sci-fi flick — and we’re the stars and extras, producers, directors, grips and best boys. You can’t fool Mother Nature. Technology is no match for microorganisms. At least not until the vaccine arrives, well over a year away — assume it works.

Sophie the Fairdale chilling at the bike shop

These thoughts swirling in my brain, I went downtown to pick up my paycheck from my mailbox after hours. It was desperately required, as I said, so that I’m able to buy food during the coming weeks of likely being stuck at home on lock-down. Before I could get there, I had a bike issue so I stopped by Bicycle Sport Shop which was on my route. It was low-risk with two guys over six feet away. The kindly dread-locked mechanic was thrilled I bought something. His boss stopped by on his old purple bike and was similarly excited to hear about several service orders. So I wasn’t alone. I worry they like many other LBS’s (Local Bike Shops) won’t survive if forced to close by the health department gestapo.

Here’s an article from Bike Portand (Oregon) about bike shops closing. (Portland copied Austin’s Keep Austin Weird slogan, by the way. Not very original or weird, Portland!)

Bike Portland

Heading home in the warm spring evening, I found the roads mostly deserted. Sure, it’s spring break, but many people with the privilege and luxury of cars to drive around, jobs that they can do from home, and the money to order supplies online did just that. But I had to stop at another bike shop because the issue recurred. The shop was bereft of customers and the three employees were bummed to be closing early beginning tomorrow. I returned home without incident and hopefully had no exposure that my immune system can’t handle. (Yes, I washed my hands and used the hand sanitizer when I couldn’t.) Social distancing may “flatten the curve” of infection somewhat, but widespread testing and follow-up is what the US needs. We are months behind on that, though, thanks to our fascistic, feckless, fearful, future ex-president!

I’ve got legs. I know how to use them.

So, what about that resilience, Dude? Well, I had ample time to consider that while biking. Often when I bike, I’m tired. I just passed five months of riding every day without a break, so cut me some slack. I go slowly, so what? Big fucking deal. I’m not winning any prizes for being speed racer; in that sense I’m like fellow bloggers and bike riders Rootchopper, Half-Fast Cyclist, Idle Cyclist, Anthony, Kieran and Cape John. All are excellent bike riders in their own right who for the most part don’t seem to be in too much of a hurry. (Sorry if I’ve left anyone out.)

But we all get there, and that’s the key: we don’t give up. Or we have to take a break but eventually we come back. Whether it’s commuting on a daily basis like I do, to work when weather allows in England, flying to Colombia to bike, biking around New England, New York, or half-way across America, riding a long way takes some grit, gumption or gall, We put our feet, hearts and souls into bicycling, and it’s hard but also rewarding. For many, it’s a lifestyle. But biking can also be hard on the body. There’s the normal wear and tear made worse if you’re older or a fathlete or if you have a crash or an injury; those can all require a long comeback. Never mind bad weather, hills, cars, and all the obstacles in the road. But the good news is that biking can be as easy or as challenging as you make it. Life under a killer global virus, not so much a choice. Silent but deadly. But way worse than any fart.

We’re all going to have to adapt to these bizarre times. Maybe we have to use indoor trainers. Or take legitimate breaks. But to get back on the bike after a fall, or time off, when you’re tired, or just don’t want to requires reaching down into a reservoir of strength, discipline and courage you didn’t know was there. Over time, small victories add up. So do the miles. For me it was my first charity ride in 2015. I went 50 miles, more than double my longest ride ever. No clip-in shoes, on my steel GT Arrette named Sonnie, without a ton of training. I don’t think I even had padded shorts. Somehow I did it. I couldn’t believe it. Biking is a forge for tenacity, will, and toughness. If you[ve ever fought your way up a hill, and then again and again, you have a hint. Life in the time of cholera, or rather coronavirus these days, will require even more of those attributes.

Here’s a little anecdote to illustrate: Back on my first charity ride for people living with HIV disease, there was a very steep hill toward the end of the course. I had done probably 35-40 miles, and I was hurting. A bunch of volunteers were there to offer to push you up it. But I refused and told them to back off. I fought up that incline and very nearly fell off — but I didn’t. I got cramps but still helped a friend who needed support to get him and his painful knees to the end. At the rest stops I drank plenty of fluids and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas and oranges. I stretched, thanked the volunteers, talked to other riders.

I embraced the suck, but I didn’t give up, either.

There were many times during that ride and other rides since that I’ve wanted to quit, but I had a talk with myself, and kept going. Or took a break and lived to ride another day. Nevertheless, I persisted. Giving up is always an option, but it’s not a good one. If you take short cuts in your bike riding, you might do that in life, too. But the benefits of sticking with it are key motivator. I’ve met some really good people along the way and had some fun, too. (I haven’t lost any fucking weight, but whatever.) Somewhere in all these rambling thoughts are some clues to how I’ve done so much on the bike, and how I imagine others have, too. There are parallels to surviving the much bigger hill we all find ourselves having to climb.

Serpents would be welcome about now

But life is not a bike ride. These days of novel coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 will require a lot more resilience than what’s needed to bike 20,000 miles in four years as I have. People will get sick, some severely, and more will die. That could include me, and/or you, and/or people we know. It’s already unbearably sad for so many people. What seemed far away and unthinkable a week ago is now not so bizarre at all. No one gets out of life alive, after all. It’s surreal, and dealing with all the chaos will require finding that extra gear of deep emotional strength and unused creative brain cells to survive.

I myself am worried more about running out of money for food, medical bills, and rent than getting sick. Plus, I have to find a place to live and move in the middle of all this fresh hell. The government may not even let us go outside for a while and whatever financial stimulus they send we sure seem to be headed for an economic collapse. It’s important to me to bike, to blog, to write my book, but really it’s all quite frivolous in comparison. This pandemic means it’s go time. Shit just got real. We have to take extraordinary steps, reorder our priorities. And yet, even out of the horrible crisis, a common enemy may unite us. It could reduce air pollution, increase the social safety net, lead to more compassion, cooperation and innovation. Small consolations, I know, but consult your silver linings playbook.

We humans are fragile, but we also can kick some ass when we team up. We are learning some hard lessons about not being prepared. In the end, all we have is this present moment. Try to not panic. Find your towel. Breathe, maybe even meditate or do some yoga. If you can, take a walk or go ride your bike (just stay six feet away from others).

Don’t despair, but if you must, do that, and then keep going. At the top of this shitty, painful, scary, interminable, leg-shredding, lung-busting, slog up Mount Doom is the summit. On the other side is a beautiful vista, a verdant valley, a long downhill, a new day, a new world and a new us. No, not everything will be all right. But with some hard work, good luck, and a big dose of resilience, hopefully I’ll see you on the other side.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.”

“A Great Wagon” by Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks
In the bike shop bathroom. My roommate says the words are from the book and movie Dune

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10 thoughts on “On Resilience: Bicycling Through Life and the Pandemapocalypse

  1. Sue and I have gone into self containment. It’s been two weeks and at our age it’s not that bad. We have to wonder how much damage our President has done by following the lead of China and being in denial and doing nothing for two months.

    You can see on my post today some of the wonderful things that are happening here.

    Take care. See you in September maybe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you’re able to do that, CJ. I’ve had to go out some and it concerns me. Will try to check it out. If we’re allowed to go outside and you can fly, I look forward to meeting, riding and hanging out with B a bit.

      Like

  2. Thanks for the shout out, but the link doesn’t go to my blog. Try halffastcycling.club instead. Your roommate is right, that quotation is from Dune. Reciting that seems better than the ABCs while washing hands; which reminds me that in my CPR training we were taught two songs to keep the appropriate pace: “Stayin’ Alive” and “Another One Bites the Dust”. If someone were performing CPR on me, I’d love to wake up to the latter.

    Liked by 1 person

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