I inhale and downshift and give myself a silent high five as I climb the final hill back to my apartment.
When I left the house this morning for my hour long bike ride, the lump of tension was lodged, like it is daily, somewhere in my upper body. Today it is in my throat. Yesterday it was in the center of my chest. I imagine it to be a small, squishy piece of black putty affixed to my innards, paralyzing me from happiness and good decisions. My shrink gave me new agey advice to “get curious” about the lump of tension, whenever and wherever it visited.
“That’s why I pay you,” I grumbled to myself. I was so sick and tired of thinking about my problems.
I didn’t want to get curious about something I’ve been living with since I’d left my marriage over a year ago. I just wanted to eviscerate the damn thing, and quickly.
That’s why I bought a bike. A shiny aqua 7-gear hybrid called the Midtown Breezer, shipped to my neighborhood bike shop just last month, after a woefully low inventory due to Covid supply chain problems. When I saw the ad in the local newspaper “We have bikes!” I made an impulsive decision to buy one. I had just rejoined and subsequently quit my gym because the mask mandate, which I fully support, felt suffocating while I huffed and puffed on the elliptical. The cost was fungible, I rationalized, as I shelled out more money than I had intended.
Afraid of getting run down by someone’s car door, despite the well-intended bike lanes (I live in Massachusetts after all) I stick to the old rail trail that winds through three seaside towns. Through the salty air and past the egrets and herons I glide. Slow and easy, hoping for an epiphany about my life. I silently coach myself like an overzealous Peloton instructor.
“Just thirty minutes in each direction! You can do it! You are awesome because you showed up today! Yay me!”
This is the first time in my life that I have exercised for mental health first, weight loss second. While losing an extra 10 lbs would be thrilling, prioritizing my sanity suddenly made so much more sense and much to my disbelief, it was fun. I even skip my usual self deprecating thoughts like “why did it take me so damn long to figure this one out?” and just enjoy the ride.
I’m surprised that I’ve unconsciously increased my cadence and notice that the air smells sweeter as I pedal away from the ocean and deeper into the trail, where the lush green landscape pops with orange, yellow, and purple wildflowers. My senses feel alive and it is primal and nourishing.
I slow down to carefully pass walkers, dogs, and baby carriages. Like a big shot, high on endorphins, I ding my little bell and happily shout, “On your left. Thank you!”
I cruise past the library, the post office, and the high school and confidently pull on the breaks when I reach my halfway point. I stop, inhale from my nose, deep into my abdomen and feel nothing but good.
“This is better than weed,” I think, somewhat amazed.
No lump of tension, no angst, no anxiety. Just joy. I want to call everyone in my life and tell them I love them, just because. Wishing I could bottle this feeling, I apply some chapstick, do a quick phone check, swig some water and head back, hoping it will last.
I still don’t want to get curious, but I am hoping that with the perfect alchemy of exercise and fresh air, my lump of tension will shrink, and visit less frequently, as I pedal through my problems.