My Dedication to Dedication*

So say it like you mean it boy
Be the seed in soil
Toil and reap
Keep the spoils
The road is steep
The pavement coils…

-from “Like You Mean It” by Sims/Doomtree Records

30 Days of Biking Kick-Off Ride: taking our places for the group photo
30 Days of Biking Kick-Off Ride: taking our places for the group photo

The hissing of sand dislodged from between pavement and rubber tires. Ka-thunk (my bike hits a crack)/ka-ching (my u-lock, dangling from the handlebars, jumps and falls back into place). Ka-thunk, ka-ching. The tink-tink-tink of the computer sensor counting every revolution of my front wheel. Always the rush of wind in my ears.

For April’s 30 Days of Biking, these were the sounds of dedication.

It is never easy to commit to a daily practice, whether that practice is meditation, yoga, taking a multivitamin or getting to work on time. April, famously the cruelest of months, makes the commitment to daily cycling particularly troublesome here in Minnesota. Our weather runs the gamut: winds from breezy to tornadic; temps from temperate to freezing-ass-cold; humidity from slightly damp to deluge-level rain with a little snow and a few “icy pellets of death” thrown in. Given these factors, I am proud to say I persevered, riding my bike with a deep willingness that conquered momentary weakness.

We biked through snow...
We biked through snow…
…basked in sunshine...
…we basked in sunshine…
…we layered up for cold and wet conditions!
…we layered up for cold and wet conditions!

…This is how we pull ourselves up
Overlook luck
Run til the tank spits dust
Cuz aint no spark thats bright like us
We do what we say say what we mean …

One of the main reasons I was able to maintain my dedication to 30 Days of Biking was community. Mike’s friend, Patrick Stephenson, whose warmth and joie de vivre are contagious, led us to 30 Days. Patrick, (aka @patiomensch on Twitter), co-founder, -creator and all-around-guru of 30 Days embodies the 30 Days tagline “community of joyful cyclists”. Through 30 Days, I’ve not only had the pleasure of getting to know Patrick, but also of meeting some other interesting, diverse, and genuinely amazing members of the local cycling community. Daily social media posts kept me apprised of what everyone was doing, where they were riding, and how they were meeting the challenge of April on two wheels. Knowing I was part of something bigger than myself injected the daily commitment with both more joy and a greater sense of obligation – not to the pledge I’d taken but to myself as an extension of that community.

Soaking wet, freezing cold, and fiercely joyful?!
Soaking wet, freezing cold, and fiercely joyful?!

 

Joy is a strange concept. In some ways, I’ve always thought of it as a feeling too big to be contained in an ordinary day. And I certainly never intentionally associated it with words like commitment or dedication. But cycling, over the past few years, has taught me that they can and do align. And during this 30 Days of Biking, I’ve felt the joy of follow-through that only comes after commitment. On days when no part of me wanted to get my bike out of the garage, the ride often took on an edge of fierce joy – as if my heart recognized something my brain was slow to comprehend. Namely, that fulfilling my agreements when I am the only one who knows or cares is one way to feel really good in my own skin. Would anyone have judged me if I’d missed a day? Not at all! A joyful community is an accepting and inclusive one.

We do tend to judge ourselves harshly, though. So moments that remind us we are capable of overcoming laziness and inertia help to silence our inner critics.  We see that we can rise to meet challenges placed in our lives – whether they come to us through external forces or whether we willingly take them on in the form of 30-day challenges. It is an act of self-affirmation to put our butts where our mouths promised they would be – in this case on the saddle of my bike every day in April.

Has the world been changed because I did this? Perhaps in a small way, since my participation and minimal financial contribution add to the number of Free Bikes for Kidz being given away via 30 Days of Biking. But if I am truthful, not really. Have I been changed? I hope so. When we wish to “be the seed in soil”, we are wishing for growth. There is no growth without dedication and self-reflection. Riding a couple hundred miles in early spring offers the chance for plenty of self-reflection (once you get past the “dear lord, why am I doing this?” stage).

I have often heard that converts are the most zealous believers. In this case, as one newly converted to joyful commitment, to my “dedication to dedication”, I zealously wish the same for you!

Take it all the way
No in between
My dedication to dedication
I dedicate this to you

Easter Sunday #30DaysofBiking ride in Delmar, Iowa
Easter Sunday #30DaysofBiking ride in Delmar, Iowa

*Please note:  The title of this post and the lyrics posted throughout are from “Like You Mean It” by Sims/Doomtree. Please check out the link and listen to the whole song – Doomtree is a collective of friends who create and make music together here in Minneapolis. I discovered this song, serendipitously, on the final day of 30 Days of Biking when the link was tweeted by @Artcrank, another member of the MSP cycling community!

Before the Snow

“Fall colors are funny. They’re so bright and intense and beautiful. It’s like nature is trying to fill you up with color, to saturate you so you can stockpile it before winter turns everything muted and dreary.”
— Siobhan Vivian, “Same Difference”

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Before the snow, I headed out to walk along Minnehaha Creek. The weather reports had been unequivocal: “Winter (i.e. snow) is coming!” And even though I knew when I chose to come here that winter would be bigger living in the north, the reports surprisingly filled me with dread.

Lately, when I ‘ve needed air and movement, I have gravitated toward neighborhoods and city blocks where urban life fills me with its bustle and energy. New views of the skyline, new shops to gaze into, new places to order a large Americano and observe my fellow city dwellers. Or I have looped the lakes – spectacular in their poetic beauty, sailboats bobbing on waters silver or blue, glass-smooth or frothy, depending on the mercurial light and wind.

Somehow, I knew I needed a quieter landscape this time.

I had ridden the bike trail along Minnehaha twice, both times with Mike. First, in the high heat of August, on the home stretch of a fifty-mile circuit of the city. Then, its lush green shadows felt like an oasis. The second time, we rode on a cool night in mid-fall, with only our cheap (and not very illuminating) headlights to guide us. That time, the depth of its shadows filled me with terror and the short moonlit spans with wonder.  As I thought where I could go, the adjacent walking path which meanders alongside the bike trail, mostly between it and the creek, came to mind. Trees and shadows and hidden spots would do nicely.

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For most of my adult life, I had very little appreciation of nature – similar to the way I sometimes felt about humanity, I appreciated it in the abstract: individual people, and the actual outdoors, were not always my cup of tea. Now I find that being outdoors is the best way to clear and focus my mind, or, when necessary, to alter my mood. In this pause before the snow, I knew my thinking was jumbled and my emotions were all over the place. I just didn’t have clarity as to why. The moment I set my feet on the path, I felt I had come to the right place.

The afternoon was damp and gray, but the woods were glowing. I’ve always loved the special quality of yellow and gold in autumn woods and fields. On sunless days, these plants radiate light almost as if in the long days of summer they had stored the sun’s actual rays and now – just as we are beginning to keenly feel the sun’s loss to winter – they give it back to us. I walked along the paved path, pausing as I crossed the bridges to watch the creek flow over rocks and into still pools. Though I followed the markers for the walking trail, I came to end of the pavement.

As I stood, indecisively wondering if I should turn around or take the unpaved path that beckoned me forward, a woman and large shaggy dog walked up, nodded, and continued past me onto the unpaved trail. I stopped to take a picture with my phone, then took off after them, thinking I would catch up, but they had disappeared. The woods were beautiful, silent and still – and I was definitely alone.

Suddenly, I found this a little frightening. I was unfamiliar with the area, I didn’t know where the path was going, and I was in the woods alone. And in that moment I realized that the internal disquiet I had come here to parse out was just a new manifestation of familiar life issues: uncertainty and expectations. When I moved here, I thought I came without preconceived ideas of how things would go. I thought I was ready to live with and through the uncertainty of creating something new for my life. I stopped walking and stood quietly as the synapses in my brain fired. What I realized, listening to the soft sounds of the creek and the woods was this: I had un-articulated expectations, with an associated time frame, that weren’t being met.

Before the snow, I had expected to be employed. Perhaps not perfectly so, but enough so that the fear of utter failure and destitution would have been alleviated.

Before the snow, I had expected to be equipped to face the winter – appropriate attire, new snow tires, the ability to winterize my bike so I could keep riding. Without the employment expectation being met, the likelihood of meeting this expectation was diminished.

Before the snow, I had expected my new life to be enriched by new friends and the opportunity to take advantage of some of the non-free things this city has to offer (classes at the Center for the Book or The Literary Loft, for example).

But most importantly, I had apparently expected that, before the snow, I would have traversed the path through uncertainty and come out on the other side with a clarity of purpose and a more firm sense of my life here. Instead, I was lost – both figuratively and literally. Despite my best efforts. And the snow was upon me.

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Once I realized what had led to my disquiet, I found I could think more calmly about my physical location in the woods. I took several deep breaths and looked around. Bright yellow leaves were dropping like confetti from the branches of trees. They covered everything: the ground, fallen branches and boulders in a spectacular, mottled carpet.

Uncertainty and unexpected detours from the path sometimes take us to magical places almost in spite of ourselves. If I hadn’t felt panic at the impending storm, I wouldn’t have experienced exactly this configuration of light and color. Also, I may not have gained clarity of thinking to know why I was troubled. Most importantly, I might not have been able to put my fear in its proper perspective: uncertainty sucks but I’m moving through it, not standing still. And if I let go of expectations and remember to take one step forward at a time, I will find a path. It may not be easy, it may not lead anywhere I ever thought I’d go. But it will be MY path. And isn’t that what all this was about in the first place?

Postscript:

Mike and I had planned to meet for a late dinner that night at our favorite restaurant (we had a Living Social coupon that was about to expire). We sat at the bar, catching up on our days and sipping wine. I was warm, surrounded by candlelight and interesting people, anticipating a delicious meal. My seat was turned slightly toward Mike, which afforded me a view of the front wall – all windows – and the fat snow flakes falling outside. It was absolutely gorgeous, this first snowfall in my new home. And I felt not a smidge of panic.