The Day Cycling in the City Broke My Will

And what I learned about life along the way.

It feels kinda cliché to say that life is a lot like riding a bike, but I guess in the case of navigating the challenges life throws before us, it can be.

But this isn’t a “getting back up when you fall down” or “magically remembering how to do something after years of not doing it” story.

It’s about something else entirely.

The day I biking broke my will.

It was a cool spring morning, the kind that gently kisses your face and makes you eager for summer. The sun’s early rays were peeking over the horizon, greeting my expectations for the journey I was about to embark on: a four-and-a-half mile bike ride to work.

Look, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but when you grew up riding bikes in the notoriously flat lands of Kansas and suddenly find yourself tucked in the center of the hilly metropolis of Atlanta, it’s far.

(Not to mention, I hadn’t ridden a bike in years).

I planned my route accordingly the night before, ensuring I stuck to as many bike-friendly roads as possible.

My path took me through the heart of Midtown, across Georgia Tech’s campus, and down a busy stretch of road in the opposite direction of morning traffic. My only big concern: the highway consistently buzzing with 18-wheelers and distracted Atlanta drivers. But there was no way around it.

So with birdsongs greeting me good morning, I tossed my leg over my bike and took off.

If you’re like me, then you’ve seen countless people riding their bikes on TV shows or on YouTube dodging cars and weaving seamlessly through traffic. They make it look so easy.

I assure you: it’s not that easy, at least when you’re just starting out.

Thankfully, it was 6:00 AM, so I didn’t have tons of morning traffic to deal with on the city streets. But something Google Maps failed to tell me was how many hills littered my bike route to work.

As an amateur cyclist, it was enough to break my will.

I eventually made it to work in about 45 minutes (yep — it took me that long to make it up some of the hills), and made a mental note that in order to get home, the first part of my journey would be a mile-long incline.

To be honest, no matter how perfect the morning weather was, my spirits were dampened.

I was a thirty-year-old adult who sucked at riding his bike.

My conversation with Eric.

A few weeks later, long after I decided to hang my bike commuting hat helmet up, I struck up a conversation with my friend Eric. He’s a strong, but unassuming, outdoorsy type.

I had seen him zippin’ around town on his bike before. It wasn’t one of those fancy bikes either, but a vintage, heavy steel road bike — just like mine. He didn’t seem phased by Atlanta traffic or its hilly terrain. I asked him for his secret.

“What? My secret?” he laughed and smiled, twirling his beer glass gently under his fingers.

“Yeah,” I said sheepishly, “how do make it around town so fast, undeterred by all of the hills?”

“There’s not really a secret. Just find a rhythm you’re comfortable with and do whatever you can to keep the tempo.”

It seemed too simple, but he assured me that if I did it, I would find myself flying up all these Atlanta hills in no time.

Inspired by the possibility of actually becoming a confident urban cyclist, I decided to put his advice into practice.

The day I finally did it.

A few days later, I aired up the tires on my road bike, determined to burn rubber up every hill that taunted me.

I planned a leisurely ride through Midtown, making sure I included several long inclines or hills to test the merits of Eric’s advice.

I found a cadence I was comfortable with–not too fast, not too slow. When I rolled up to my first hill, I kept pedaling in rhythm, switching gears to keep tempo. Before I knew it, I was at the top of the hill!

Breathing hard? Of course.
Incredibly proud of myself? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT.

That was at least six years ago. Since then, I’ve become a confident road cyclist. I ride several times a week, zip in and out of traffic like the dudes on YouTube, and don’t think twice about routes with too many hills.

Not to mention, I know the city much better now since riding my bike regularly than I ever did while driving my car.

Eric’s advice is invaluable, and believe it or not, it applies to life too.

Life can be overwhelming sometimes. Work projects pile on your plate, deadlines loom on the calendar, and your responsibilities stack up until it feels like you’re going to suffocate.

I mean, I get it. I’m a freelancer — this happens to me all the time.

But instead of allowing myself to become paralyzed by the “overwhelm,” I take a step back, breathe, and commit myself to a comfortable rhythm. Then I do everything I can in my power to not break that cadence.

It usually means blocking off time on my calendar to work on specific things (i.e. early mornings for writing projects, late mornings for exercise, Wednesday afternoons for client meetings).

Having a set schedule helps me create a rhythm to get through my day, to successfully navigate client projects, and overall, make it sustainably through with confidence.

You can do the same thing, even if you work a typical 9–5 job.

Find your cadence (a routine) that sets a comfortable and confidence-inducing rhythm into your day/week.

Trust me, it will make a difference.

See? Maybe life is like riding a bike after all.

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