Biking Through the Years: Against Stress, Towards Freedom

I don’t know about you, but I had the pink Huffy with the banana seat and the white basket in front that every other little girl in my neighborhood seemed to have back in the early 80s.

(Yes, I looked for an image and sadly no, I couldn’t find one!)

It was my first bike, and once the training wheels came off, it carried me everywhere my parents would let it go… (which usually just meant a couple laps around the cul-de-sac til I was about 10!)

Back then, my bike meant temporary freedom and independence. Without a care in the world back then, I didn’t see it as a fitness tool, an adventure-provider, a stress reliever … And surely I didn’t view it as a practical mode of transportation like I do now.

It was, quite simply, a way to escape from my “annoying” little siblings.

Oddly, I didn’t bike much in high school or college until my semester abroad in Argentina, when our whole group did a mountain biking excursion in Patagonia … and I literally had no choice but to get back on the saddle and ride.

Though not in the best shape back then, I was happy to learn I had no trouble at all. As the we traipsed through the Andes along the Chilean border, I couldn’t help but marvel at the stunning beauty around me: pristine lakes, untouched forests, dirt roads, and then there was that wild white horse that I snapped a pic of (that my dad has in a frame at home) … it was well worth the ride.

A few years later, I found myself on a six-hour bike-ride through the mountains of El Salvador with my husband. He was part of a biking club that did these monthly jaunts, and had been asking me to go along for the longest time. One Sunday, I finally took him up on the offer.

Once again, back on the saddle, it came naturally. Because I’d been taking Spinning classes, I was in much better shape than during my last ride.

But this was a lot tougher than the Patagonian terrain.

We started at sunrise and rode for hours through the Salvadoran mountains and countryside on rocky, dirt roads, sweating in the blazing Central American sun, stopping only for a serene photo-op at a vista overlooking Lago Cojutepeque, one of El Salvador’s largest lakes. Several times I had to stop to catch my breath, to soothe aching muscles. It was quite a challenge.

My husband usually rode at the front of the pack during these rides, but he stuck by my side the whole time. And though we were at the tail-end, I refused to give up and board one of the pick-ups that were following in case of an emergency.

We were the last two people to finish and arrive at the restaurant at the end, but I didn’t care; we did it–together. It was definitely a bonding experience, and we owe it to the wheels.

As the year went on, I developed a healthy obsession with Spinning as a fitness tool and stress-reliever, and took classes every day while teaching English in El Salvador.

And when I went home to the U.S., I resumed Spinning classes in D.C., focusing on toning and endurance-building. (Incidentally, during that time, some of my overexercising habits began…)

And when we moved to Michigan, one of the first things we did was buy bikes. Since we have a trail behind our house, we can (and do) ride often.

Usually it’s just for fun, or on my “day of rest” it’s sometimes my means of exercise. But lately the significance of biking has reverted back to my childhood need: freedom.

Last night I needed some alone-time after therapy to think about what Dr. G and I had discussed (namely, how to get through these next three weeks without poking someone’s eyes out).

So I took a solo ride on the trail, letting my mind wander and breathing in the late summer air, relishing the warmth that–in just a few weeks time–will be a distant memory here.

As someone who is learning to be less obsessive about the gym, learning tone down her workouts to be more sustainable, and learning to have a less disordered relationship with exercise … biking has truly been a saving grace. It’s exercise, but doesn’t feel like it. It’s cheap transportation for running errands. And it’s a way to “get away” in a healthy manner.

Biking has certainly evolved for me over the years since the days of my pink Huffy. And though its place in my life has ebbed and flowed, today, even moreso than running, biking is still, without a doubt, my “freedom.”

How about you? What physical activities do you enjoy for stress-relief?

8 thoughts on “Biking Through the Years: Against Stress, Towards Freedom

  1. I’ve recently starting biking with my boyfriend and we absolutely love it. I had a bike as a child, but I never rode anywhere other than my neighborhood development.

    The bf is doing a 40-mile ride next week, but I didn’t feel I had enough time to prepare for that. In October I’ll be doing a 30-mile ride throughout NYC. I’m not the biggest fan of spin class, but I’ve found that it truly depends on the instructor. Tomorrow we’ll go for a long ride to help prepare us for our events, I can’t wait!

    I love biking for the same reasons you do. You get to spend time outside, it’s exercise but doesn’t always feel like it, and you get to travel. When you’re riding by yourself – with or without ipod – it’s a chance to enjoy the alone time and thnk about things.

    I remember you said you used to live in north NJ – my boyfriend used to mountain bike at Mountain Creek. I’m not that adventurous, but I would like to tackle more trails the more we’re on the road. Have you ever biked around that area?

  2. Bikes scare me. Honestly – they do. I have a vivid memory of going tumbling head over heels over the front of one, and getting all scraped up. Maybe some day I’ll make myself get back on one – but I’m a little tentative.

    My own stress relief activity is dancing. I take hula classes, which are fun, but honestly the best is being alone at home with the iPod, shaking away.

  3. i remember loving to ride bikes when i was a kid. we’d ride all around the neighborhood and through the alley behind our house. there was one house at the end of the block where the alley driveway went uphill just enough that if you could get a good running start from the top, you could coast almost all the way to the end of the block. it was awesome!

    i’ve gotta say…my favorite stress-relief activity is sex. i’m never more relaxed than after a good roll in the hay!

  4. I haven’t biked in years, but tomorrow I’m leaving for France and plan to spend a few days biking through the Burgundy region. I am really looking forward to jumping back on the bike – like you, it was my freedom as a kid and i just loved zipping down the hills, wind in my hair. This bike trip will be a great way for me to see that I can still move my body for pleasure and not just as a means to burn calories. I can’t wait!

  5. I have to say that my biggest stress relief is cleaning – and I mean HARD cleaning – scrubbing, mopping and working up a sweat! It’s honestly the best way to relieve my stress, because I am working out my frustrations and worries, and the results (a clean house!) are great, too.

  6. I love to run! I got the crazy idea last fall to run a half-marathon in the spring—even though I never ran in high school I felt like I needed the challenge and it would help my weight loss. Well I found out that running was therapy for me. If I needed to clear my head of school, work, whatever–I could go for a run and feel so much less stressed when I got done. This summer I went through a period where I just didn’t feel like myself–and didn’t even want to run. I’d try but could barely pull my booty through one mile. I’m slowly getting back into running and feeling much better.

  7. Kristen, Waywayanda State Park is close to my parents’ house and has some awesome trails–I’ve biked there years and years ago!

    Susan, that sounds awfully scary but good thing you found dancing/hula hooping.

    CS have fun in France!

    LOL Auntie! 🙂

    Lauren, I totally know what you mean–sometimes a good scrubbing can brush off stress for sure!

    Krystyna, running is a great stress-reliever and source of therapy–that’s awesome you’re back to running!

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