(Or, "Why I Ride, Redux")
Yesterday's Mileage Total
Miles Remaining This Week
69.70 (after this morning's ride)
Every morning, I arrive at work wide awake and ready to face the world — even when I might otherwise be fighting a Tylenol-PM hangover (sleep-inducing medications and antihistamines in general knock me out, hard). While my co-workers are still sipping coffee and waking up, I'm bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to roll (it's possible that I offset this morning productivity boost by spending the last hour or so of the day anticipating my ride home, though!).
This hasn't always been the case. I'm something of a night owl, but my company expects me to be at my desk by 8:00 AM. That means being asleep by 11:00 at the latest, which can be a challenge when your biological clock insists that a 2:00 is a much more natural time to nod off.
Even when I was a little kid — 3 or 4 years old — I was often awake until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. My parents, concerned with my inability to sleep at night, took me to a sleep specialist, who determined that I had that whole delayed sleep phase thing going on. In an effort to help reconfigure my circadian rhythms, he suggested (among other things) that I be exempted from my nursery school's afternoon nap (not that I ever slept at naptime, to begin with). I was, which seemed pretty cool to me, but I still didn't get to sleep any earlier.
During my embarassingly-long hiatus from daily bike commuting, I really struggled to sleep at night. I also fought hard to wake up in the morning. I wasn't usually really awake until 10:00, though I was faithfully at my desk by 8:00. That meant two hours of every day were pretty much wasted, and I was often a sleep-deprived wreck.
I'm also pretty hyperactive by nature: not in the cliche sense, but in the literally-can't-sit-still sense. I'm the guy at the conference table who never stops moving — you may not notice it, but chances are good that my feet are dancing a jig under the table. I try not to be obnoxious about it — it's my problem, and shouldn't be anyone else's — but, for me, sitting still is not only seriously uncomfortable, but seriously impossible.
Self-discipline helps, but ultimately, the nature of the raw material remains the same. I have made a point of training myself to stay in one place and focus, but I can really only do it for so long. I don't see it as a disability — more like a mismatch between primary wage-earning skill set (computer programming) and native suitability (anything that doesn't involve sitting down all the time!). I am someone who should, by nature, be up on his feet, moving around, doing things. The best jobs I've had have been exactly that kind.
Cycling helps in both areas. I arrive at work alert from my ride and having already burned off some of my excess energy, which means I'm a little more able to sit down (I won't say 'sit still,' that would be a lie) and focus. I sleep a little better at night because riding hill repeats on my way home tires me out. I still stay up a little later than I should, but I try harder to get to bed at a reasonable hour because every night, I'm looking forward to the next morning's ride.
More than one avid cyclist has observed that if Americans are going to adopt cycling as a mode of trasport, they must enjoy it. For new cyclists, that often means having places to ride where they are protected from traffic. To enjoy the ride, they need to feel safe. While I definitely believe in pushing to extend your comfort zones, I also understand that different people do so at different rates. That's why I'm glad I live in a city that has a good number of fairly well-considered bike routes, lanes, and paths. Every time I see a new rider, it makes me glad.
At this point, I enjoy every ride I take (even when my bike gets totally coated in mud and tires explode). Even the high-intensity sprinting-in-traffic rides have their pleasures (and I make a point of doing them regularly, to maintain my riding-in-traffic skills: besides, riding in traffic is one heck of a good workout).
I don't know that I would continue to cycle if I didn't enjoy it so much. I don't really see the point in wasting time on something you don't enjoy, unless you really must do it. My work provides me with a gym membership, but I almost never go because I don't particularly enjoy it, and I already get plenty of exercise just riding my bike. I really enjoyed my Muay Thai classes (I'm a combative little son of a gun, anyway), including the million and twenty-five pushups we did every single day, but if I was doing the equivalent of those million and twenty-five pushups on a machine in a gym, I wouldn't have any fun.
I don't see much point in saddling ourselves with more work. Riding bikes should be fun (at least, most of the time). Exercise should be fun. It's easier for me than most people, because as long as I'm moving, I'm usually enjoying myself (I worked at Amazon.com over a winter break once, picking orders — most of the time, I had a blast).
My life is good, because every morning and every evening, I get to enjoy the ride.