Gather my people and hear a thing you already feel deep in your soul. I will not attempt to dazzle you with heaven or to raise myself up higher simply by sharing this message. Ours is a simple faith, and one that requires not much in the way of a leap, and not much in the way of a leader.
Today I want to talk with you about faith in the bicycle. Regular readers will wonder at my pseudo-religiosity, knowing that I am ardently irreligious, which is not to say areligious. I’m an atheist, but I don’t really care what you are because what we have in common is the bicycle, which is sufficient both physically, mentally and spiritually. In fact, no matter your metaphysical faith, I still think we’re basically the same, because at root we all need this bike faith in order to go on living.
It’s a root level faith, empirically tested and reinforced.
First, a personal story. Last week or the week before (I don’t orient things in time very well) I wrote a piece called To Burn Off the Madness, which was basically about using the bike as a treatment for episodic depression. There’s nothing groundbreaking there. To say that exercise is good for you when you’re not feeling well in that way is easy, right? We all know that.
What’s hard, really, really hard sometimes, is getting yourself out the door to ride.
Two things I’ve learned about my depression are: 1) I have to confess when I don’t feel well. I can’t keep it a secret. Depression wants to keep me alone and isolated so it can work me over. When I bring someone else into the loop, I break that spell and weaken the illness. So I confess. And 2) i have to keep moving. I have lived through stretches where moving was the last thing I wanted to do. Depression doubles whatever the effect of inertia is on my mind and body, but movement is medicine. So I keep moving.
This is where the faith comes in, and you don’t need to be mordantly depressed to need this faith. You may be out of shape, out of sorts, out of motivation. You may be lonely or need time to yourself. There is a 120-Crayon box of reasons to want to sit still, to beg off riding, to just stop.
My mind will tell me all sorts of lies and half-truths when I’m struggling. The easiest thing to do is succumb, to listen to all that crappy static playing on my mental radio and wallow in my despondency. For myself, I’ve had to cultivate a faith that doing the things I don’t want to do will lead me out of the darkness, which sounds an awful lot like how faith functions metaphysically as well, but I’ll leave that for those of you who know better than I do.
Wherever you are in your life, whatever struggles you have, and we all have them, I know the bike will help you through. It’s usually the medicine I need most, especially at times when throwing a leg over and pedaling is the last thing I want to do. But the bicycle knows the way forward, and it very seldom leaves me worse than it found me. Amen, and pass the rolls.
We really hope you’ll share TCI content with your
patients who chew gum friends who ride bikes.
The bicycle knows the way forward. And the bicycle carries us forward. Because on a bicycle, by the result more than the intent of its design, it is so very hard to go backwards.
Very well said Robot and Jeff Vdb.
[…] the end of “The Faith,” Cycling Independent’s Emlyn Lewis crafts this […]
In my 58 years I have been both destroyed AND saved by the bike more times than I can count. Currently in stroke recovery and in save mode.
I pretty much had a near religious experience riding my Neo Retro 1994 Stelvio today, I felt blessed by it’s beauty and ride quality, friendly smiles and waves from onlookers and pride in the job I did over the past week making it safer, more comfortable and a pure joy to be astride. All smiles!
I’ve never experienced a major episode of depression but I attribute that in large part to my consistent movement (bike, run, swim, strength). People sometimes start to ask me something along the line of “why do you exercise so much?”. My answer is always “For my mental health.” If this sparks their interest I continue to let them know that without the consistent physical efforts, I get irritable, ineffective at work and with my family, and generally loose my motivation to do much of anything at all. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to feel the stress and anxiety leave my body during exercise and be mindful of how my mood is improving, which improves my performance, which changes my mood further. It’s a fantastic self-reinforcing loop. I just had one of those rides on Sunday morning last weekend. I left the house in a bad mood and feeling grumpy and not wanting to be around other people. By the time I got home 2 hours later I had clarity on the source of my stress, a plan to tackle it, and energy for everything else that was to come in the day.
Sometimes I just can’t get myself to go and get in the pool, but I can go ride my bike slowly around my neighborhood, and other times its the exact opposite. I find that these 4 activities almost always provide me with a way to take a step forward, and then that leads to another step forward, until I’m back to feeling good again. I’ve been dealing with a series of injuries the last few years that have made this more of a challenge and I worry about what will happen to me as the aging process continues (I’m currently 47) and it becomes physically more difficult to rely on this approach in the coming decades. So far, I’ve been able to find a path through it.