I used to tell myself that I cycled to improve my mental health. I’m unsure, anymore, if that is true.
Woke at 3:30 this morning, planning to head out on the bike around five o’clock. Right on cue, the rain we were supposed to have yesterday came in quantity around 4:30 a.m. Although it seemed to taper off around 5 a.m., sticking my nose out the front door, I found the air was bitterly cold, horribly damp, and knew from experience that riding at that time would only paint me with road wet, and freeze me in the saddle.
It rains. I have accept this fact. I have a rainy day workout of mega yoga. I opted for that this morning, and should have been glad that the elements forced me to vary my exercise in this way. Last year, as the weather improved, cycling became my sole source of exercise, and I lost the good gains I had made over the winter doing yoga and the 7-Minute Workout (arms, chest, and abs, all severely diminished). I don’t want that to happen this year.
So, I moved through 90 minutes of yoga listening to William Basinki’s heart-breaking Disintegration Loops. It was a great workout, combining handweights, yoga poses that hammered my chest, arms, and core. Threw in some triangle pose, warrior I, warrior II, and side-angle pose, and I felt like I had a massage by the time I finished.
Massaged, but not satisfied.
As I moved through my practice, light came into the sky outside. By the time I finished, I not only saw the rain had stopped, but that the sky had cleared entirely. Checking the weather, I saw it was 45°F at 6:50 a.m., but the day’s high would see a high of 79°F in the afternoon. How could I not ride on a day like this?
I put on my winter gear, and went outside. The damp cold was unflinching in the sunlight. As I coasted down the driveway, and onto the street on my road bike, I beheld a sight that horrified me.
Last year, right around this time, I endured a ride I later referred to as Wormageddon. Went out in the dark, on a drizzly morning, overestimating the coverage the newly installed mud guards provided my mountain bike: some, but not much, it turned out. I returned home, hours later, with my bike covered with worm carnage. One of the most disgusting sights I ever beheld. Not only are the faceless, featureless cretins smelly and generally awful to associate with, they are an absolute nightmare to clean off a bike.
So, I turned around on my road bike, and took my mountain bike, instead. Unlike last year, most of today’s 64 km ride took place in the city. The country roads were riddled with worms. There was some reprieve in the city.
I wasn’t wrong to go out following mega yoga, this morning. What unnerved me was the notion of missing even one day riding was intolerable. That’s not really a workable situation. As important as cycling is to me, there will be occasions where I simply cannot ride. Life happens. And I had to wonder, as I cruised into the wind, errant splashes from puddles dotting my sunglasses with muddy drops, if I might actually be addicted to riding.
I have joked about cycling being a socially acceptable addiction. When I began making long hauls — starting with 100+ km rides every Sunday, and escalating to periodic 200 km excursions—I marveled at how similar post-cycling hangovers were to alcohol-induced hangovers: feeling punchy, and uncomfortable, achy, out-of-sorts, sometimes a little sick. Cycling hangovers got me plaudits. I mean, I had just exercised! What could be more wholesome and righteous than that?
Today, however, I realized that my body is a medicine cabinet. Buried deep within is all the good stuff: endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. And not to be left out of the family picnic, the “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF), which some health information sources refer to as “the most important chemical released during exercise.” It is said to promote long-term brain health, and acts as a growth factor, encouraging the formation of new connections between neurons. Well, that sounds good.
And I had to wonder if I was less about the Zen of cycling, and more about getting my hands on the good stuff.
Went for the ride, got my fix, cleaned my bike when I arrived home, hobbled with hangover ever since, and cannot wait to get out there tomorrow in the predawn darkness.
If I am in the throes of addiction, I suppose I will wait for the intervention to know when I have gone too far.