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  • Writer's pictureErin

Musings from a morning bike ride

It's a lesson we've all been hearing lately: get outside. Touch grass.

I love the sentiment I've been seeing from all over about our critical need as modern humans to spend more time outside and get into nature, but this nudge extends in all directions, simple and surface level, yet deeper than we could ever comprehend.

A black cat laying on the pavement of a back road

Since early April, I've been challenging myself to get up early with my partner to bike across town to the gym each weekday. This is wild to me, because even six months ago I would have laughed at the thought of this being a possibility for us, but especially for me. If you've been here at Lead to Gold for a while, you know the story: I'm always tired, I could sleep every chance I'm given, I've survived off naps and sleeping in for years. It's been a habit and a staple of each day for so long now that I have internalized the belief that I am a chronically exhausted person and that I require constant recharging, and every little story told along the way added to the greater picture of that being who I am.

But at the end of March, my old gym closed its doors. Mikey and I had been talking for a while about looking into new memberships at the community center, where there are multiple types of fitness opportunities available. He'd been wanting to get into swimming and outdoor running more, so it made sense for him. I, however, had made a quasi-routine of going to my franchise gym after the school day since it was on my way home, and he wouldn't be home for several more hours anyway. That went well enough, except for the (many) days I felt too drained after work to stop by. I also wanted him to start working out with me, but our schedules didn't line up. When I found out my gym was closing, we both had a reason to switch over. I joked when I said "maybe we should start getting up at 6:30 so we can go before work together."

He said, "We should bike there!"

He wasn't joking.

Though the initial thought, I think from both of us, was one of immense doubt in our ability to see this through, it actually really excited and motivated me for a host of reasons. First, as much as I had clung to the story of being a chronically exhausted person, I really, really didn't want to be. I had always fantasized about being a member of the "6 AM Club," getting my days started on the right foot and not showing up to work groggy and irritable, having rushed my ass out the door each morning. Second, I missed the brief period of college when I would hit the gym for a workout before doing anything else - this, too, gave me sustained energy throughout the day.

Third, and most important of all, something about the idea of biking there really lit me up. I'm not a biker (the one I own is a second-hand Walmart Schwinn that I got for 15 bucks at a thrift store), so I didn't suspect that this change would do much for me. But even just ten minutes on the bike first thing in the morning opened me up to a new world. As I've talked about both on the blog and my podcast, I have been feeling a draining disconnection from nature for a while now. No matter how much I want to get outdoors and explore, I would always have some kind of excuse for why I couldn't. Too busy, too tired, it's too cold, you name it. Opting to bike was not only a way for my partner and I to bond, as it's his favorite activity, but it also forced me to get out and, more importantly, be present, for several minutes a day.

What a WORLD of difference it's made for me since we started the new routine! Granted, we began just as spring did - most mornings have been pleasant and sunny, if not a little chilly, with gorgeous foliage blooming and new baby animals getting used to their surroundings as we cruise by. But as we leave from the backyard and onto the main road, so many things happen in such a short time. Our neighbor's cow stands ready for his breakfast. The earliest commuters start to roll in. Their coworker just left the 7-11 with two coffees in hand: one for themselves, and one for the commuter. My favorite cashier, Surin, waves as he sees us drive by. My bicycle makes a strange knocking sound as we turn corners, as I admire all the beautiful landscaping of the houses in town. Several people are always out walking their dogs, but it's never the same people or the same dogs. Squirrels run out in front of us and then duck and retreat. The breeze feels as if we're at the beach, sometimes. A stranger compliments my bike (as it's making that weird knocking sound...I wonder if he knows it's from Walmart).

The amount of presence that's possible from a bike seat is the secret potion I've been searching for all this time. It's amazing how simple the change is, yet how enormous an effect it's taken over the rest of my day every day we've done this. I've noticed now that when we don't make our morning gym time, I trudge through the rest of my day in an apathetic fog. My mood is harder to lift and motivation runs low by the end of my first class. Without the fifteen minutes of quiet presence (with a slight need for concentration), I don't have the same opportunity to build that up before going to work. I can't be as diligent or present for my students, and I can't concentrate on my own work. Being able to start the day with fresh air and pleasant sights - even if it's just the feeling of a cool breeze - sets me up for the kind of day I only dreamt of having a few months ago.

It's so funny - I did a 75 Soft challenge at the beginning of the year, but its only now, weeks after it ended, that I'm really beginning to reap the benefits I wanted to see. It had nothing to do with that challenge, and everything to do with a passive joke I made just after it ended.

Though this is a pretty specific and personal example, I hope it can serve as a reminder to get out into the world and notice her intricacies when you feel stagnant. I swear, there is a medicinal benefit to doing so. Count how many types of animals you see or hear on a fifteen minute walk. Sip your coffee on the stoop of your porch and notice how it tastes different outside. Stare at clouds! Touch grass, as the kids say!!! You can tell it makes me feel euphoric just to talk about it here, but imagine how it feels. It's really so simple, but also so tragically overlooked. For all of these years I spent wrapped up under the covers, I began to convince myself outdoor time only counted if I was deep in the woods, barefoot and bathing in rivers, climbing trees and not seeing another human. If you've put yourself in that corner, I want you to hear the reminder that this is such a lie. Outdoor time is whatever you can get, and its benefits are powerful and potent no matter where you are or what you can access.

Whatever your story is, let nature remedy it. Get out there and alchemize it into the version of you that you have envisioned for so long. I'm learning to see my surroundings as therapy and to listen for signals of where to go for further forward momentum. It may take some imagination, some silliness even - or it may be as simple as getting on the bike and going down the road a few blocks. Whatever it may be for you, I hope you take some time to explore until you find it.

I love you!



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