I woke up nervous, 5:30 A.M. on a Saturday, no alarm necessary. I had a plan to take my bike on a new route this morning, but suddenly, I was positive that in the process I would be killed.
“Hey, this is kind of dark, but I’m going on a bike ride this morning and just had a wave of anxiety that I’ll be hit by a car.” I shot the text off to my friend Latifah, along with a screenshot of my route and instructions for how to let herself into my house to grab my dog if she didn’t hear from me within a few hours. After filling Foxy’s food and water dishes, I grabbed my phone, driver’s license, a $20 bill, and – at the last minute – my medical insurance card, and slipped them all into a pouch I strapped around my waist. Then, despite my anxiety, I clipped in and took off.
Of all the cities in which I’ve lived, Nashville is the least suited for cyclists. The greenway system is disconnected, protected lanes are not the norm, and drivers aren’t conditioned to look for bikes. I understand that cycling carries with it some amount of risk no matter where you are, but my previous homes of Seattle, Denver, and Minneapolis are objectively safer for those who choose to pedal.
Still, I love the wind on my face, the freedom of going fast and far, the joy of seeing my city in the open air and from a different vantage point. I love to ride my bike. And despite my fear, I don’t want to stop.
Some people think of the spirit as separate from the body, but for me, physical activity has always been a spiritual practice, regardless of the form it takes – and over the years, it has taken many forms, each replete with metaphor. Hiking in the mountains is an experience of peaks and valleys, subject to the elements while searching for camouflaged cairns that mark the way. Training for a marathon, I meditate on perseverance, running the race set before me despite discomfort. Yoga is a form of embodied prayer, equal parts determination and surrender. And now that I’ve bought my first road bike and am in the process of becoming a cyclist, I find that I am learning a new sort of good faith, and vigilance in the face of fear.
Riding a road bike can be dangerous, it’s true. It takes a tremendous amount of trust in drivers I do not know but will surely encounter. But when I learn to reframe scary as, say, unpredictable, suddenly I have the opportunity to engage differently with my surroundings, exercising heightened awareness and engagement with the world around me. How many of my days are spent on auto-pilot, barely noticing my life as it drifts by?
Cycling may be a risk, but risk makes me conscious, and consciousness is a gift.
Rose Cousins has a great song called “The Benefits of Being Alone,” a peppy yet nuanced ode to the best parts of singleness. The first time I heard it, my now favorite line made me laugh out loud: “If I don’t end up with anyone, it could be six days to find my body gone – but think of all the space I get to roam.” For my own sake, I will be as safe as possible, and for the sake of my dog and my mother, I will text a friend when I go on a ride – but man, I’m going on the ride.