Here’s the thing: I didn’t set out to bike 366 days in a row. If you had a crystal ball and told me my future a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. I just went on my birthday ride, a mile per year of life, as I have done the last several years. But instead of taking the next day or more off to rest like a normal person, I became more like Forrest Gump: I just kept bike-ing and bike-ing and bike-ing… Except there was no Robin Wright as Jenny yelling, “Bike, A Dude, bike!”
The Energizer bunny I’m not. I’m just a middle-aged, slightly overweight (aka fathlete), regular guy who chose the bicycle as his vehicle for his mid-life crisis mobile. I can’t tell you why I did this, except at some point it was simply to see if I could do it. And now I have. Don’t believe me? Check my Strava activity log – it’s all there. But this isn’t really about me. Here’s the main thing I want to tell you: If I can do it, most of you can, too.
Man, what a long, strange trip it’s been. Then again, I’m in Austin, where we supposedly Keep It Weird even as corporations gentrify the East Side and knock down buildings for their towers and campuses and factories. But that’s another article. If you know me, there’s nothing odd about starting an activity or a habit and making it a daily thing. In December 2013, I began what’s now almost seven years of a half hour of daily yoga. On New Year’s Day of 2018, I added 30 minutes of walking and 30 minutes or at least 500 words per day of writing this blog, ADudeAbikes.com. In March of that year, I began alternating blogging with writing the manuscript of a memoir about my biking 10,000 miles from 2016-17. (Agents, editors and publishers: let’s talk!) I also quit eating flour products of all kinds: bread, pizza, pasta, cookies, cakes, pancakes, crackers, naan, pita, etc. Did I mention I gave up fucking PIZZA? So yeah, adding daily biking was a no-brainer.
There were no rules on distance, but only on a handful of days did I travel under 10 miles, and often I rode 20 or more. A few times I had flats or was simply too exhausted or it was pouring rain. But I rode, man, did I ride! EVERY. DAMN. DAY. I became a car-free dude when a truck killed my Honda in 2005; if I wanted to go anywhere, it was walk, bus or bike. The latter was cheaper, free exercise, and faster than walking, and sometimes faster than the bus. I know because I once raced an express bus downtown – and I won. I didn’t stop to pick up or drop off passengers, though.
What I mean to convey to you though is that while maybe I make it sound easy, it ‘twas not. It was hard, so very hard. But as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, the idea of skipping a day of biking seemed far worse than the aches and pains, exhaustion and… I’m too tired to remember what else. Just kidding. More exhaustion. And yet, it was never a chore. Riding my bike became like brushing and flossing my teeth; there was no way in hell I was going to not do it. Flossing is another daily habit I trained myself to do a while ago. Marginal gains add up, folks.
Were there days I felt like skipping it? That’s a sure as shit affirmative, yessireebob! I had plenty of excellent reasons to throw in the towel: miserable muscles, tight tendons, sore skin, aching ass and other alliterative annoyances. Nevertheless, I persisted. Do plenty of people far fitter than I do far more impressive athletic feats? Sure. They’ve been running daily for YEARS. Or they do 1,000 push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups, Jack LaLanne style. And so on. That’s awesome. If you’re one of those people, good on ya’, mate! You do you. You don’t need to read this for inspiration anyway. As the Buddha said, “Comparison is the death of joy.” But for me, a dude who is still vibrant but on the downhill of life, carrying more pounds than he should, and has other obstacles, riding 366 days in a row is nothing short of miraculous.
But the secret is this: there is no secret. It’s not a miracle. How did I do it? Put in the time and effort, and you too can have an accomplishment that few people understand and even fewer care about. But again, why? Well, I didn’t know this was on my bucket list, but once it got on there, I just kept pedalin’, so now I’ve ticked it off. I achieved the goal without kicking the bucket, either! So I biked a lot, but what didn’t happen? I didn’t lose a ton of weight. I probably put on some muscle, but I’m fighting an uphill battle with my genetics, predilection for late-night snacking (especially as I’ve become something of a night rider), not enough sleep, and so on.
All the biking didn’t make me faster, either. Sophie, my sea foam green Fairdale Weekender Archer (whom I won in a Bike Austin raffle) has been my constant companion. She’s 28 pounds of steel with nine gears, a big boned gal not keen on hills like I am not fond of them. Well, I’m a downhill specialist, what with my extra baggage. Sophie and I hit 50.5 miles on the downhill at Bike Night at Circuit of the Americas once. But I did not have any grand spiritual realizations, achieve enlightenment, or ascend into Nirvana. As I wrote in my previous post, Approaching the Summit of a Goal? Prepare for the Ride Downhill, there’s also a feeling of a let down.
What I can tell you about my journey, all 6,563.58 miles of it (not including the easily 600 miles of walking), is not that it was “worth it” — it totally was — but that it has meaning and purpose for me. I can look back at my Strava rides and photos and relive those moments. Stories and accomplishments that cannot be taken away, except by Time. Even still, it does not define all of me. But what is ineffable about this massive effort, that which is indescribable (yet one must try), ethereal even, is about the knowing. I have in the muscle memory of my legs, and every fiber of my being, the knowledge that I traversed six thousand, five hundred sixty-three point fifty-eight miles under my own power. Some people don’t even drive their car that much in a year.
I biked in all conditions: rain or shine, even snow once, 15 degrees and 115 degrees, thunder and lightning, and plenty of wind. Gorgeous mornings, glorious sunsets, deep, dark nights. There were also the internal climate changes: from happy and joyful, sad to stressed, to miserable and worse. As a painter applies her art to a canvas, this dude drew lines on the earth with my legs. Each ride a Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala, living in the moment, trying to be here now, in order to keep one’s balance and not to crash. Is that a good enough metaphorical explanation?
I got exercise, I got Vitamin D, I got to be outside in Mother Nature, to see my neighbors and the world around me, and meet people. Oh, the people I could tell you about. Mike in the bike shop who knows his stuff and the rest of the crew at Sun & Ski Sports. Like Trenton, who’s always gifting me with stuff. Saurabh the reluctant rider who really only loves biking when he’s actually doing it. Rhodney the older rider who’s still at it. Plenty of people who passed me by on their bike and returned my wave or bell ring. The runners who would smile when I offered them a passing high five. The crazy Thursday night social ride kids with their high bikes decorated with lights. Christina and her bike polo friends I watched once.
There were fellow Bike Austin advocates who show up in force when opportunities arise to improve bike lanes: Alan, Chris, Sam, Patricia, Ashley, Preston, Doug and many more. City of Austin transportation staff. The Yellow Bike Project folks, The Peddler, Bike Farm and Bicycle Sport Shop guys. The pals on Strava and on this blog. And on and on. Sure, there are those jerks who pass you too close with nary an “on your left!” They may be good riders but they’re lousy people. Still, even those guys are awesome. They actually look good in Lycra, which I think is like a clown suit made to make fat people never ever ride a bike, but I don’t care. Most cyclists are nice, and the really good ones always ask you if you’re ok when you’re stopped. And the ignorant ones can be taught, if they want to learn.
I’m well aware this year on a bike hasn’t been all great or in a vacuum. Half of it has been in this never-ending global pandemic that’s killed a million people and counting. Biking throughout coronavirus has helped me to preserve my sanity and health. Speaking of clowns, the US president is dragging us into the gutter to devour us like small children, like Stephen King’s Pennywise in IT. There’s the open war by police and systemic institutional racism against Black, Latino/a and other people of color, political repression, human rights abuses, environmental destruction, poverty, unemployment, and homelessness (something I’ve been close to and am again at this writing because the high cost of Austin rents is outrageous) and a lot more.
A bicycle isn’t going to help with most of those societal ills, though it can help with some. If there’s one thing I can tell you about my year of biking vigorously (which is actually my fourth and fifth year of doing that), it’s this: there isn’t one thing. Riding a bicycle means different things to different people. What it means to you is totally up to you, but there’s only one way to learn what that is: to ride your bicycle. You don’t have to bike as far as I did, or a lot farther as many do, in order to derive meaning and pleasure from it. If you have or can borrow a bike, just get out there, swing your leg over the top tube, wear that helmet (and your mask when near others!) and start your leg engines.
I can write 2,000 words about biking, but the best way to understand it is for you to go get on a bicycle right now and start riding it. You may find that you recapture a feeling of youth, of freedom of joy. Because the worst day on a bicycle is better than the best day without one. And it will make you a better person for it. Even if you can’t exactly explain how. You just know, you know? Get on a bike, and bike on, if you can. If so, you’ll see. If not, I hope you enjoyed this vicarious ride, or remembered riding as a kid yourself. In the end, do you need more of a reason than that?
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