Even the darkest of rooms have doors.
In these darkest of dark times, it is easy and obvious to see the sadness surrounding all of us. Every aspect of our lives has slid into a fearful state of uncertainty. Concerns that kept me up three weeks ago haven’t crossed my mind since I packed up my college dorm last Thursday, saying a premature goodbye to a place that really became home.
Yet, despite all that has transpired – and that will continue for many days to come, these last couple of weeks have brought me some truly incredible experiences. Just as the weight of uncertainty has crept in to crush my spirit, life has given me a taste of joy that shows why it is so important we as a worldwide community do all we can to come through this preserving as much of our collective spirit as possible.
It is hard to isolate a particular experience that lead to this cathartic perspective. It could have been my final night rides around my beloved city of Richmond with my dearest of friends. It could have been the days spent in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, with a new community of like-minded souls, to experience the surreal unwinding of society through the lens of the sport we all love.
However, I reckon it was rather on the solo ride through the Smoky Mountains as I journeyed to my family home in rural Wilson, Arkansas. I chose to stop for the night early at the Pigeon Creek campground on the Tennessee side of the Smokey Mountains to give myself one last hurrah of exploration before hunkering down in an unfamiliar place with extremely familiar people.
That night I sat in a lonely mist-filled campground, pitiful fire burning low, with inescapable bad news blaring from every technological outlet, I contemplated what my life would look like. All my plans, my wonderful, exciting, perfect plans flew out the window. Instead of a full slate, I had no slate.
For the first time for as long as I could remember, I had nothing, NOTHING, to do. As I watched the battery percentage tick down on my phone – 10, 8, 7, 4, 3, 1 – the weightless euphoria that only simple solitude can provide washed over me. That night, stretched out in my two-man tent with the feather-down mattress topper, three pillows, and countless blankets from my dorm room providing an unnerving amount of comfort, I was free.
I awoke the next morning in a soft lime-green haze, as the sun washed over the nylon walls of my temporary home. Muscle memory kicked in and I grabbed my phone. Click – nothing. Turns out I did not mind, I memorized what I needed to know for my adventure, the specifics were not important. In fact, the more lost I could get, the better. Maybe, if I was lucky, I could just stay out and REALLY social distance myself among the hillbillies and hollers that had mastered that art hundreds of years ago. A dead wahoo compounded those sentiments. And again, I was far from upset by this. Down the road I set, no computer, a phone with 5% battery siphoned from the rusty trusty Prius, two tubes and enough candy to make a kindergartener run a marathon.
What resulted was magical.
I’m not sure if it was the fear of the vast uncertainty that was to come, or the joy and abilities to enjoy that unmatched freedom of a bicycle, but throughout that rambling 4-hour ride I reached a flow state I have experienced only a handful of times. Through the wooded ridges, mountains, and sweeping fog of the ancient Smoky Mountains clarity and purpose ran through my body. The simple joy of the task at hand chased away the tempting thoughts and pervasive worries of the past and the future. I was present, I was in control, and I was happy.
Descending through mossy creek crossings, sandy switchbacks and rocky pitches led to uncontrollable hoops, hollers and disbelieving chuckles. Like a pig to mud, I careened through that Tennessee morning mist without a care in the world, putting away the worry for a minute and loving life for what joy it could provide.
I sit here now, six days later, writing this story with a smile. As we as a nation continue to batten down the hatches and grip those we love, I hold onto that joy. My rides through mud filled cotton fields and deserted towns here in Arkansas have been less inspiring, but still give me that sense of exploration that I feel so dependent upon.
In a time when so many things are grim, as a community of cyclists we have before us a door extending opportunity for every one of us to see the light that still surrounds us. We now all have the ability to simplify our cycling pursuits, lose the intervals and group ride politics, and get back in touch with what bikes are all about. Getting out, going deep, and living life to the extent of our capacities.
While we still can, chase that wonder. Be with yourself and not your technology. And see the light in all that surrounds you.
Keep riding, keep exploring (with appropriate social distance, of course), and always, always, always keep creating. Have a great weekend!