“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it is lethal.”

By: Michael Marckx

Some say it’s ADD, but I live for distractions. Maybe it’s a rebellion against the inculcation from five decades of training with their promise of specific activities, hard days, rest days, races, and off-seasons. There was always a purpose: winning. Now, the first leaves that fall to the ground spark memories of crowded start lines on cordoned-off fields, of hole shots and racing over grassy knolls, though now it's about long Sunday rides through the backcountry followed by waffles and beer.

The routines, while important, can be, well, routine. Today, with perspective, I recognize routines—too much of the usual—can be lethal. That’s one of the gifts that this terrible pandemic has given us… our routines have been disrupted.

In thinking about this in terms of cycling, I realize some of us ride for fitness, or to get out with our friends. Some do it because, you know, winning. Others are out there looking for silent surroundings; to commune with nature. And, we all know the ones looking for the kind of adrenaline only some daring descent can offer. For some, it can be all of these. Riding a bike is a panacea and I have a hard time thinking about a life without two-wheels, but lately, thanks to Covid, I’ve found riding a bike has become transcendental, taking me to a more joyful place.

I no longer have the same riding routines defined by the usual group rides, because they don’t really exist. So now I get out and ride on a whim at no regular time. Since I am mostly out riding alone, I find myself rolling into an entirely new place. More often than not, I inadvertently go for ‘Joy Rides.’ In my transcendence, these legs that have turned over billions of times no longer require any direction from me. I get on the bike and go, never planning which direction the bike will take me, just smiling as I see others out finding themselves lost too. Remarkably, these Joy Rides have no agenda attached to them, no negative inner dialog, no worries, and if there are dark clouds, all the better, as they definitely aren’t routine.

 

When I arrive home, I am greeted by my best friend, Ruffy, who will always listen to my prattling. I feel different when I get back; dare I say joyful. After all, for however long the ride was, I was in a state of flow; fully in the moment. When I’m back, I’m a different person… I feel light, physically and mentally, with my brain spinning in double time. I’m awash with ideas, my mind is uncluttered, and I’m excited to create.

I use these Joy Rides to reflect and untangle the messy stuff lingering in the tissues of my legs and the tributaries of my brain. Some days, the knots slowly, knowingly undo themselves with the introduction of oxygen. Other days, it’s not until the end of the ride that I realize all the knurls, knars, and knots are gone; never realizing the moment they departed, only that they’re now miraculously gone.

This year has certainly challenged us in untold ways and at the beginning of the pandemic I wrote about the juxtaposition of riding on the road versus riding in the dirt. In short, the road is routine, and the dirt is unusual, where you have to adapt to the ever-changing terrain. A reminder that a quick jaunt off-road can so fully immerse you in the moment that the state of flow you escape into is the very filter through which the tension of real life is removed. This is one way of saying the dirt is a shortcut to a Joy Ride.

As a cyclist in my fifties, I have learned to appreciate every ride, dirty or not. (I used to worry about how aging would affect my riding, wondering at what point I’d have to give it up, or at least back off.) My share of broken backs and broken dreams have helped me arrive at this purview. Each set back has given me new appreciation for the art of Joy Riding. The rhythm of intensity over a long stretch, usually alone, testing new limits against the looming shadow of my former self offer clear and objective feedback, the likes of which don’t exist off the bike. These efforts give way more often now to Joy Riding.

There are plenty of takeaways from this year of Covid. The one that sticks out most for me is clear: Cycling is Transcendent.

This holiday season I will be pondering all the ways cycling has brought joy to the lives of so many around me and how Joy Riding has brought me to this place of transcendence, even if it is down in the dirt.