The New Bike

My first bicycle was yellow, with swooping handlebars and a banana seat, and coaster brakes.

I got it the Christmas I was six years old, but wouldn’t learn to ride it for another three years. In the meantime, it would lean against the shed behind the house, while I was content to stay in the house and read my books. I had no particular place I would rather be than on the couch, reading.

Now, I should also point out that I lived on 30 something acres, with a long gravel driveway and no sidewalks or pavement anywhere. Riding a bike on grass is not a fun experience. Riding a bike on gravel is painful, but not as painful as falling on gravel. I was the oldest child by five years. My closest friend lived miles away. I had nowhere to ride, no place to go, and no one to go with.

But once I did learn, I burned up the road. I would ride to the neighbors, I would ride to the corner store, ride to my friends. Ride to the church. I loved riding my bike – right up until I got my license.

I probably didn’t touch a bike again for 15 years. I got one when I lived near downtown Memphis, as it was easier to bike places than to bother with parking, and when I lived in Raleigh, I had several different bikes over the years. I like biking, but I really don’t like bike culture.

While there are exceptions, I don’t like the way people here in the US treat biking as a sport, rather than as transportation. This means that there is little infrastructure for bikers, and it pushes the prices of bikes higher and higher, and because of that, there are gatekeepers and snobbery around the whole thing.

Compared to cars, bikes are cheap, they are easy to maintain, they provide low-level physical activity – the sort doctors recommend as particularly healthy – and particularly important right now, they don’t require any gasoline. We should incentivize them, not make them harder to use or acquire or drive.

I had bought a bike just before the beginning of the pandemic, but it got stolen shortly after the pandemic began. Bikes were hot items in those days. But recently I’ve been looking again, and the used marketplace is a hot mess still, but I found a commuter style bike, new, at a local sporting goods store for what seemed like a reasonable price. I went and got it this morning.

It’s nobody’s idea of fancy. It has a wide saddle seat. Wide handlebars. It’s a 7 speed. You sit upright on it, rather than lean over the handlebars. It has both a chain guard and a kickstand. It looks like something an old man would drive, and something nobody in spandex would look twice at.

In other words, I love it.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m trying to prioritize my health these days. And we live in a part of town that is a short way from grocery stores, coffee shops, bakeries, the pool I belong to, and an independent bookstore. Most days, I drive less than 3 miles. There’s no reason I need to use a car for any of that.

Today I drove it to the pool – what took 5 minutes by car was 12 by bike, but it wasn’t harder. And I saw things I don’t see when zooming along at 45 miles an hour, and got to use muscles I don’t normally use, and used a little less gas, and made the world a little less warm than it would be otherwise.

It started to sprinkle on me as I made my way home from the pool, so I guess I will have to start paying closer attention to the weather. But that’s not a bad thing, either.

Giving it 80%

In 2012, I spent a week at Mepkin Abbey, in South Carolina. Mepkin Abby is a Trappist monastery, and they invite folks to come and stay with them as a form of retreat. A friend I really respected did it on the regular, and encouraged me to do it as well.

I really enjoyed my week there. It was lovely, and the campus is beautiful, and it’s right on the Cooper River, where you can sit on the bluff and watch the boats roll by. The campus is filled with Live Oaks that literally drip Spanish Moss, and the silence there is magical, punctuated by the chanting of the monks seven times a day.

You are also invited to eat with the monks, and they have a simple, vegetarian diet. Again, one of the struggles those of us with ADHD have is the inability to create structure, so a simple diet with simple rules appealed to me, and I think there is definitely an ethical argument that can be made for not eating animal flesh. So, when I came back to the “real world”, I decided I would be vegetarian.

I lasted strictly about six weeks, and gave up trying completely within three months. Because it was easy to fail at being vegetarian, and when you have the sort of life I do, where lots of people want to feed you, and a huge part of how you expressed your spirituality involved eating with others, it became super complicated, super-fast. In the end, it just wasn’t sustainable for me at all.

My last few days have been chaotic. I went from having a week in front of me with virtually no outside meetings planned to having my entire week scheduled almost instantly. Which is fine – in the work I do these days organizing Faith Leaders, it is like that sometimes – you are forced to react to something someone else does and then your whole schedule changes.

But what that does mean is that my whole routine is thrown off, and instead of cooking dinner for my family like I do most nights, this week I am eating a lot of sandwiches and take out, and because I am living on the phone when I’m not in front of a Zoom camera or at City Hall, I had to miss going for a swim today.

Most of my career has been filled with reactive crises like this, and in the past, I have often used that as a reason to not prioritize my health, and to not eat well. But these days, as I prioritize my health and try to avoid returning to the burnout that almost took me out, I am seeing things differently.

I want you to pay attention to what I did there – it literally is about seeing things differently – I am looking at things through a different lens, and it has made all the difference in how I view the world in general and my health in particular.

If you get ill and, as a result, don’t take a shower on a given day, you didn’t fail – you just didn’t do something you normally do. You don’t decide that because you failed at cleanliness you will henceforth renounce soap. You don’t decide you will now sleep in a mudhole. The next day, you take a shower again and you are back on track.

And tomorrow, I will be back at the gym. I didn’t fail at being healthy. I didn’t fail at anything. I just didn’t do what I normally do. But tomorrow, I will. Because this way of life is sustainable, and I don’t fail if I don’t do something just one day.

It’s easy to fail at “Being Vegetarian”. Hell, it’s easy to fail at “dieting”. But it’s almost impossible to fail at “focusing on my health”. Saying I am focusing on my health recognizes that it’s about what I do most of the time, not what I do one time, that will make a long term difference to my health and my life.

I tend towards extremism – again, my brain loves simplicity – but I am trying to remind myself these days that even though I can’t give it all I have, if I can give it my 80%, then that’s enough.