I’ve accepted the fact that when I’m on my bicycle I’m doing more prayerful work than I am exercise. When I do get to it, I maintain the same distance, about 18 miles, and even pedal within the same time frame, approximately 1.5 hours. But I’m pretty sure that I get more spiritually out of cycling than I do physically.
Of course, I also resist such artificial splits. I think physical exercise is spiritual. I think God relates to us through our physical frames. God made those bodies, knows them well, and wouldn’t have us detaching our selves from them. I’ve written about this in pieces before, but the more I think of it, the more riding becomes a time of prayer.
The other day I wasn’t riding as well. The wind was against me. It was, at least, in my face. I resolved that there was a difference. After about four miles, I conked out, slowed down, got off the bike, and walked for a minute. Then I turned around, got back on the bike, and rode home.
I was frustrated. I wasn’t tired. But I didn’t have the normal course in me that morning. I listened to my body. It wasn’t saying much. My legs felt heavy. The air around me was loud. I heard myself during all those similar days when I felt the same way, back when I would mutter a mantra like, “Keep pedaling.” Or, “You can slow down, but don’t turn around.”
I’m not good at turning around. I’m not good at changing course. I’m excellent at seeing an end and getting to it. Detours, changes, adaptations, and enhancements–terrible things they are–though I’ve learned how to do them with some facility, are not what I’m naturally constituted for. I am the person who gets to the destination. With screaming feet or aching legs or a throbbing head, I don’t turn away from the path.
So, on those days when I’ve quit, I’ve bemoaned such failures. That’s what they are to me, failures. Because I tell myself, when I begin, what the day’s ride will be. The minimum is always what I did last time. I don’t make allowances for weakness, for less sleep, for crankiness, or for the weight of the two dozen things I’m thinking through while I ride.
The other morning, I rode back and felt the wind gently pushing behind me. It was as if I was finally riding in the right direction. When I trailed around the Point, I stopped at sat in a circle of rocks and listened to the water lapping against the stones, trading claps with green leaves overhead. The wind and water sang to the tunes of the birds flapping around the area. I stretched my legs and took an unnecessary breath. I told myself that I hadn’t quite earned a seat. I had more riding to do. The message coming inside the wind said to me quickly, almost sharply, that there are things that I can’t do.
I got up, hardly motivated to listen to more than that. It was an answer to many things. I didn’t need to hear the voice of the wind. I didn’t want to hear the voice of the Spirit. I had heard enough. And I didn’t have to travel my normal course for it.