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Biking Through the Years: Against Stress, Towards Freedom

Posted Sep 07 2008 2:22am

I don’t know about you, but I had the pink Huffy with the banana seat and the white basket in front that every other little girl in my neighborhood seemed to have back in the early 80s.

(Yes, I looked for an image and sadly no, I couldn’t find one!)

It was my first bike, and once the training wheels came off, it carried me everywhere my parents would let it go… (which usually just meant a couple laps around the cul-de-sac til I was about 10!)

Back then, my bike meant temporary freedom and independence. Without a care in the world back then, I didn’t see it as a fitness tool, an adventure-provider, a stress reliever … And surely I didn’t view it as a practical mode of transportation like I do now.

It was, quite simply, a way to escape from my “annoying” little siblings.

Oddly, I didn’t bike much in high school or college until my semester abroad in Argentina, when our whole group did a mountain biking excursion in Patagonia … and I literally had no choice but to get back on the saddle and ride.

Though not in the best shape back then, I was happy to learn I had no trouble at all. As the we traipsed through the Andes along the Chilean border, I couldn’t help but marvel at the stunning beauty around me: pristine lakes, untouched forests, dirt roads, and then there was that wild white horse that I snapped a pic of (that my dad has in a frame at home) … it was well worth the ride.

A few years later, I found myself on a six-hour bike-ride through the mountains of El Salvador with my husband. He was part of a biking club that did these monthly jaunts, and had been asking me to go along for the longest time. One Sunday, I finally took him up on the offer.

Once again, back on the saddle, it came naturally. Because I’d been taking Spinning classes, I was in much better shape than during my last ride.

But this was a lot tougher than the Patagonian terrain.

We started at sunrise and rode for hours through the Salvadoran mountains and countryside on rocky, dirt roads, sweating in the blazing Central American sun, stopping only for a serene photo-op at a vista overlooking Lago Cojutepeque, one of El Salvador’s largest lakes. Several times I had to stop to catch my breath, to soothe aching muscles. It was quite a challenge.

My husband usually rode at the front of the pack during these rides, but he stuck by my side the whole time. And though we were at the tail-end, I refused to give up and board one of the pick-ups that were following in case of an emergency.

We were the last two people to finish and arrive at the restaurant at the end, but I didn’t care; we did it–together. It was definitely a bonding experience, and we owe it to the wheels.

As the year went on, I developed a healthy obsession with Spinning as a fitness tool and stress-reliever, and took classes every day while teaching English in El Salvador.

And when I went home to the U.S., I resumed Spinning classes in D.C., focusing on toning and endurance-building. (Incidentally, during that time, some of my overexercising habits began…)

And when we moved to Michigan, one of the first things we did was buy bikes. Since we have a trail behind our house, we can (and do) ride often.

Usually it’s just for fun, or on my “day of rest” it’s sometimes my means of exercise. But lately the significance of biking has reverted back to my childhood need: freedom.

Last night I needed some alone-time after therapy to think about what Dr. G and I had discussed (namely, how to get through these next three weeks without poking someone’s eyes out).

So I took a solo ride on the trail, letting my mind wander and breathing in the late summer air, relishing the warmth that–in just a few weeks time–will be a distant memory here.

As someone who is learning to be less obsessive about the gym, learning tone down her workouts to be more sustainable, and learning to have a less disordered relationship with exercise … biking has truly been a saving grace. It’s exercise, but doesn’t feel like it. It’s cheap transportation for running errands. And it’s a way to “get away” in a healthy manner.

Biking has certainly evolved for me over the years since the days of my pink Huffy. And though its place in my life has ebbed and flowed, today, even moreso than running, biking is still, without a doubt, my “freedom.”

How about you? What physical activities do you enjoy for stress-relief?

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