Sea Otter 2016. The races, the pros, the gear. So glorious. Months of anticipation, training, and preparation. All of my plans set.
But sometimes life–well, death, actually–gets in the way of plans. Just days before my annual pilgrimage to Sea Otter, a close family member passed on. And somehow, all the excitement of press meetings, scoping new gear, and joining the other roadies flying along the Laguna Seca track just faded. Basic black replaced my bright lycra kit. The bikes went back into the spare room. And the hours of unfolding asphalt ahead now promised a much more somber ritual.
Funeral preparations are slow. Sitting in the hushed and varied dining rooms, halls, and chapel, I often heard, “Sorry you had to miss your big weekend in Monterey.” But former plans barely entered my mind–filtered by the new contemplation of loss and a few opening lines from T.S. Eliot poems.
But, like an Eliot-driven sled ride, the draw to kit up and throw a leg over my bike grew stronger as the preparations dragged on. I coveted the idea of the road. Where no one stops to ask, “Are you ok?” unless you’ve picked up some new road rash.
And it all motivated me to share my version of last weekend with you. Because I think bikes are good for dealing with pain, or grief, or emotional stress. Hopefully, you’ll find this article useful. If not, no worries. I don’t do well with “serious” either.
Cycling Through Grief
Let me preface my article here. I’m not a doctor. I’m not giving you advice. Instead, I’m going to list out a few ways that I’ve used bicycling to help get me through the rough patches in life. I’ve done the research, and that’s at the end of my article–look through the peer-review journals for a good time (OK, not really). The research does, indeed, hint at the idea that exercise aids in the grieving process. Maybe it doesn’t get you from denial to acceptance directly, but it can give you a sense of purpose. A sense of direction.
- Bike riding is my coping mechanism. I’m going to assume that bikes make you happy. They make me happy. And research shows the definite connection between well-being and exercise. On my bike, I can concentrate on my power output, or I can concentrate on the impact my father has had on my life. I can focus on Strava segments, or I can focus on how my grandmother’s hard upbringing made her a fierce and independent woman. Either way, bikes give me options: leave sadness on the road and gain motivation. A better prospect than fetal-positioned cry sessions with Netflix in the background.
- It gets me out with friends. More than binge-watching TV, I like people. I like cycling because it’s truly a group sport. Heading out on a five-hour ride with a spouse or best friend is serious bonding time, and hanging in with a pack can remind you that you’re not alone in any of this stuff. All of those other people there on their fancy carbon or their muscle-sculpting steel have difficulty in their own lives. And they’re just happy to be on bikes too.
- Motivation makes me faster. Although hitting the road with a group promises a good time, cycling solo builds character. There’s no one to make an excuse to–just myself. And when that feeling strikes that a loved one is watching me from unknown skyscapes as I struggle up a climb, I can remind myself to be thankful for the ability to ride. I know. It’s corny. I’ll never be a truly great poet.
- It keeps me outta trouble. I don’t have many vices–although Cherry Coke is my great nemesis–cycling gives me a reason to steer clear of them (well, that and religion). No drugs. No alcohol. No creepy relationships. Cycling is a constant reminder of purpose. I purpose to be faster next year. I want to make the podium at Sea Otter. I want to watch my progress in training plans. Racing, training, writing, and learning everything bikes is what drives me. What keeps me from that dark siren call.
- Remembering is essential. I do have the fear of forgetting. The tenor of his voice. The color of her smile. The rhythm of the pedals seems to sharpen memory. And I can see them again. It’s almost like a great, cathartic, super-power. Cycling does that for me.
Well, that’s me. What has cycling done for you? Send me a message, or comment below. Happy riding everyone, and I hope to see you at Sea Otter 2017.