Riding my bike is my best attempt to defy my weaknesses.
This thought popped into my head one morning earlier this summer as I was enjoying a solo “ride before the ride” on the Allegrippis Trails. Later, I’d be meeting up with some friends for what I knew would be a pretty casual roll, so I wanted to get my own ride in ahead of time to burn off the inexplicable frustration and uneasiness I was feeling.
As traversed the hillside above the lake on Old Loggers Trail and then began the slow grind back to the parking lot, I was thinking about why it is that I feel such an intense need for exercise and solo time in the woods, and why I am obsessed with pushing myself to go faster, farther, longer.
It is my best attempt to defy my weaknesses.
I feel strongest when I am on my bike, or running, or doing anything that pushes me physically. I’m not talking physically strong – sometimes I feel that and sometimes I don’t, depending on the day. I’m talking about mental strength.
I struggle with anxiety on an almost-daily basis. Some days, I get lucky and feel like the world is okay, but most of the time, I’m plagued with a general feeling of uneasiness, worry, and guilt. I try to assuage these feelings by planning and trying to take control, which, more often than not, makes me feel even worse because, as we all know, planning can be futile and much of life is out of our control, especially when other people are involved. And when plans go awry, inflexibility to change or go with the flow is our biggest downfall.
My anxiety also causes me to take on a meek persona in many aspects of my life. Despite a desperate longing to be an integral part of the team, whether it’s at work or in my marriage, I often take a backseat, too scared to voice my opinion or my needs. Inside, I am screaming; outside, I cannot speak, for fear of … what? Rejection? Maybe my ideas are stupid. Maybe my thoughts are invalid. Maybe I’m completely off-base and everyone will think I’m crazy. Maybe the words coming out of my mouth won’t sound as good as the ideas in my head. Maybe, maybe, maybe…
When I’m alone on my bike and I’m pushing myself up a climb, all of that falls away. It’s just me, my bike, and this challenge. When I’m alone, there’s no one else to compare myself to. I am doing the best I can, in this moment, and it’s enough. Nothing else matters.
It’s here that the mental strength that so frequently hides itself in other parts of my life comes out in full force. I can’t find the courage to speak my mind in a meeting but I can push myself to ride 100 miles through pain and exhaustion. Talking about my desires with my husband causes an army of butterflies to descend upon my stomach and leap out my throat but I can crash my mountain bike and get bloody and keep on going unafraid. Standing alone at a party or making meaningless small talk leaves me desperately wishing to disappear into a hole in the earth but I can spend all day in the woods alone and feel completely at home.
When I am on my bike or running down a trail, sweat pouring off of me, legs speckled with dirt, thighs burning and lungs on fire, I am what I consider to be my best self – strong, capable, fearless, focused, determined. The anxiety I have about everything else in life disappears. I feel happy, grateful, alive, excited. I feel as though I can be who I want to be without fear getting in my way. I have good ideas, and they matter, and I believe in myself to carry them out. I feel positive and optimistic. I finally feel at peace.
I grunt up the final steep climb to the parking lot. Some of my friends are already there. We exchange hellos and they see the mud covering my legs.
“Did you already ride?”
“Yeah,” I say, slightly sheepishly. I’m a little embarrassed. I don’t know why.
I’ve convinced myself that people don’t get it, that I’m a freak and there’s something wrong with me. The truth is, I know there are a lot of people out there who feel a similar way. Hell, I know a few of my friends definitely do, because we’ve talked about it. And yet, I’m still uncomfortable in my own skin.
Except for in my darkest moments, I have confidence that I will somehow figure out how to be alright with myself. Maybe it’s a process, or maybe it’s simply a bold choice that I don’t have the strength to make right now – except when I’m riding my bike.