(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.)
It’s lunchtime on a weekday, and my schedule is such that there’s just enough time for getting outside. The dog’s tired, so I can head out solo on my bike if I want to…
Am I sure I want to go? The sandwich stuff is already out on the table. My inbox is full and my to-do list is fuller. I’ll get hot and sweaty. And what if that approaching rainstorm hits while I’m out?
Next thing I know, though, I’m heading upstairs for my cycling stuff. Five minutes later I’m on my mountain bike for a basic out-and-back. Ten miles, forty-five minutes. The route is mainly gravel road; I know every pothole, every low-hanging branch, every long uphill. This is not about testing my riding skills, but about breathing, about moving.
Now that I’m out here, I look back at the mental process preceding my ride and wonder why I even had to debate whether or not to do it. What was that about? Have I ever regretted a decision to go rather than not to go?
After all, what if I broke my leg tomorrow and couldn’t ride for six months? What if some other, more insidious disease made it impossible for me to ride ever again?
What if someone close to me went to the hospital and I spent the next significant amount of time sleeping in emergency-room chairs?
(As it happened, later in this very ride I watched a lady walk toward a building on University Avenue, using a cane for assistance. What if, far sooner than I hoped or planned, that became my situation?)
Meanwhile, on my bike, on the dusty gravel, those pollen bombs that seem to be making all of Sewanee wheeze are making it hard for me to see. The nasty particles hang in midair, somehow surf the slipstream around my glasses, and embed themselves in my eyes.
Night-black butterflies rise calmly out of the dust, showing patches of irridescent blue at certain angles. I pass a friend and his dog; the dog lopes along with me for a few moments before returning to his owner. A fun little shortcut beckons me: I pedal faster, swerve around a couple of logs, hop over a couple more, and return back onto the gravel.
The first advance drops of the impending predicted storm plap on my helmet just as I return to asphalt. Back at the house, it’s time for a sandwich, shower, and work. I take my laptop out on the porch as the storm front finally arrives. Rain pours off the eaves and rushes through the gutters…and more importantly, scrubs at least some of that pollen from the air.
My day will have been almost immeasurably richer for my having chosen to ride. A mere three-fourths of an hour. Nothing epic, or extreme, or rad, or even gnarly. But oh so satisying.
Why was there even a question?