Cycling is my favorite way to connect to my surroundings. With every pedal stroke, I feel more grounded and in the moment. Each bump in the road beneath my wheels brings me closer to fully inhabiting a space.
I spent the last nearly two years living in England, enduring multiple strict lockdowns; commuting to and from work each day was a cherished part of my routine. I bought a cheap bike and rode seven miles each way, savoring the part of the ride where I could smell the sea and the part where I could watch two small foals grow by leaps and bounds each week.
These rides were really important for my mental health, especially during the peak of the pandemic. I could be outside, enjoy nature, and feel in control of something. I could appreciate England’s landscape and come to understand it more and more as the seasons changed. Cycling made me feel like I really lived there, which was sometimes a hard concept for me to grasp.
A few months before I came back to my home state of Vermont, though, that English bike was stolen. I really missed my rides and the sense of presence and peace of mind they gave me. I felt extra eager to have a bike again when I got home, so excited to get out and explore the roads and trails I grew up riding.
During my week of post-flight quarantine, I tore into the box of a long-lost Fuji Silhouette road bike, unearthed from my mom’s basement, and assembled it. During that week, I spent a lot of time staring at the bike and looking longingly out the window. I counted down the days until I could ride.
Once I was free, I began to pedal. I rode all my old favorite routes from when I was younger, rides I used to train for cross-country running and skiing. I rode new routes and found unexplored trails. Some things had changed but most things had stayed the same. I couldn’t get enough.
Focusing on nothing but the stroke of my pedals and the whir of wheels on pavement, I inhaled the intoxicating scent of pine forest and damp soil. I listened to the smooth shifting of gears and the cacophony of birdsong as I rode along country roads covered by canopies of trees.
I stopped and watched as a flock of wild turkeys crossed the road with their young in tow. I paused to stare at a huge hawk keeping watch atop a signpost. I got a face full of mud as a big truck roared by, and I huffed and puffed as I remembered what hills look like after my time spent living in a flat area of England.
I’ve always used outdoor recreation as a way to connect with place, whether that is a new area entirely or my home after years of being away. Cycling is a perfect blend of covering distance while still moving slow enough to be present and notice details along the way.
My rides feel extra special this time around. After the last two years we’ve all experienced, having the freedom to be home, be outside, and move unencumbered through my favorite places and the memories they bring up feels like such a gift.
Sometimes a bike is just a bike, but when I think about it, bikes have served so many different purposes for me over the years. When I’ve felt stuck or isolated, they’ve brought me freedom. When I’ve felt down or lonely, they’ve brought me joy and community. When I’ve felt disconnected, they’ve brought me presence and mindfulness.
Right now, that dusty Fuji Silhouette is my favorite spiritual tool. It is home on two wheels.