If you’ve ever read Bill Watterson’s comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, you’re probably familiar with Calvin’s dad. An avid outdoorsman, he’s regularly thwarted in his attempts to convince Calvin that camping, biking, and being cold “build character.” Every time I bike to work, I’m reminded of this cartoon in particular:
In spite of our voluntary participation in an activity that is at once uncomfortable, dangerous, and disliked by the majority of automobile owners, I rank road bikers among the most optimistic groups of people in the world.
The other day on my bike commute, I was yelled at by a driver for being in the wrong lane (I wasn’t), narrowly missed being squashed by a minivan, and nearly flew into a ditch as a 16-wheeler sped past. But when I got to work, all I could talk about was how lovely the weather had been for riding. About midway through the return trip, I had to stand up on my bike because the bumpy pavement was bashing my tailbone against the seat. Even so, instead of stopping at my apartment, I rode an extra three miles to water the lettuce in my community garden plot.
I have to admit that there are times when I wonder if biking is really worth the misery. The other day, my friend Jenna asked me to join her on a bike trip over the weekend, and I almost burst into tears. Then I told her a secret. “I’ve sort of come to hate biking,” I whispered, shutting the door so no one else could hear.
Jenna didn’t look at all phased. “That’s because you only bike to work,” she replied. “One of my favorite things about biking is that it lets me explore places I’ve never been before. I don’t always enjoy being on a bike, but I love being able to look around and see new things.”
This made me smile. I should have realized that Jenna would put a positive spin on the situation while simultaneously admitting that biking isn’t very relaxing or fun. Last year she rode from New York to Washington, D.C. with Climate Ride, a five-day charitable demonstration to support clean transportation and climate change. During that time, she must have braved harsh weather conditions, steep climbs, rush-hour traffic, and flat tires, but to hear her tell the story, it was all just smooth coasting through daisy fields with soft ukulele music playing in the background.
I apologized to Jenna for my negative outburst, and then spent the rest of the afternoon daydreaming about all the fun places I’d like to visit on my bike. Places where I’d see moose and mountains, where there would be little automobile traffic, and where my backside surely wouldn’t hurt after hours of riding.
So the lesson here is simple. If you have a pessimistic disposition, or your heart is broken, or you just generally feel down in the dumps, here’s what you should do. Go talk to some road bikers. They’ll say, “Heartbroken? We’ll help you find your optimal heart rate in no time!” Then they’ll take you on a quick jaunt over the Appalachian Gap, even though there will be a lightning storm brewing and the road will be packed with tour buses and SUVs. You’ll be so busy being miserable that you won’t have time to think about your personal woes. And you’ll never look back.