Outriding stress

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There are a lot of criticisms of men on bikes, and I’m sure many are warranted. I probably have some blind spots to MAMILs (middle aged men in Lycra) as a 44 year old lifelong cyclist.

But a few things. <thread>

I’m a lifelong cycling commuter. Grew up in an upper middle class Toronto neighbourhood with a single mom. We lived under the poverty line. No car. I biked everywhere from grade 4-on.

My childhood best friend Gray Backus and I would follow the Martin Goodman trail out of the Beach area and sometimes end up as far west as Ontario Place while we were still in grade school. (As a parent now myself, I look back on those adventures and I’m terrified. As a kid, it was adventure, or a way to kill a boring summer afternoon.)

More often than not we hung around Ashbridge’s Bay reading comics and eating the raspberries that grew there.

  Late September ride along the Beach where I spent my days as a kid.

Late September ride along the Beach where I spent my days as a kid.

As a university student, I sometimes biked from the Beach to York University, and later from my coffee shop job in the Beach to my 1st apartment at Bathurst and Eglinton. (I was broke, and ate leftover low-fat café muffins and plain pasta for months. I was ripped. I don’t recommend the poor student fad diet though.)

In the last year and a half I’ve made a larger effort to go back to biking often for pleasure - going further and further distances, exploring trails and routes around Toronto.

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I have severe asthma. And what kicked off my cycling Renaissance was starting to take a biologic for eosinophilic asthma that allows me to push myself harder than I’ve been able to in years. So maybe that part is relatively unique to why I cycle.

But here’s where I start my possibly misguided defence of the Lycra-set. (For the record, I haven’t worn Lycra since I was younger and still had a six pack, but hey it’s comfortable).

Like a lot of people in their 40’s I’ve Lived a Bit and Seen Some Things. Had life experiences, and not all good. I’ve felt battered down. Had a rough couple of years financially and personally. You see some goals and dreams start to slip further away.

And so you hop on your bike and decide to go for a ride.

In my case, I went from the west end where I’ve lived for the past 20 years, back out to the Beach where I grew up. Cycling doesn’t clear your stress all away, but it allows for some abstract thinking, distracted focus on your worries.

Exercise is good for your mental health. Cycling was 2nd best in a recent study.

So when I’m chugging along on my mountain-road hybrid, and I see these fellow guys with salt-and-pepper stubble whipping by in their racing gear along the Lakeshore, I wonder if they’re trying to out-ride their stress too.

Maybe their job is stagnant. Maybe their home life is rocky right now. Maybe they screwed up financially. Maybe they’ve recently lost a friend. Maybe hopping on a bike and going as fast as possible feels like a kind of progress and escape at the same time.

Getting on my bike and cycling to the Beach and back reminds me of adventures I had with my friend Gray on our bikes as kids everyday in summer. I remember him and good times, and wish we kept in touch better before he passed away. Regrets and nostalgia on my ride.

Sometimes I walk my bike through the Glen Stewart ravine just to soak in the quiet greenness, still air, burbling stream and leaf decay. I walked my dog there every day as a teenager.

  Fragrant with memories. Glen Stewart Ravine in the Beach.

Fragrant with memories. Glen Stewart Ravine in the Beach.

Cycling from Little Italy to the Toronto Zoo and back on my 44th birthday in June was to push myself to go a distance that always seemed ridiculously far to me. I did 89 km that day, 83 for that trip, and 6 in the morning for my asthma medication injection. A good day.

  Arrival at the Toronto Zoo on my birthday. I didn’t go in. I took a rest for about 40 minutes, then headed home.

Arrival at the Toronto Zoo on my birthday. I didn’t go in. I took a rest for about 40 minutes, then headed home.

  Strava map of my birthday ride.

Strava map of my birthday ride.

Sometimes I ride to explore, like when I did the Humber-Beltline-Don Valley-Lakeshore 50km ride just to see what it would feel like.

  Sunrise over Lake Ontario at Cherry Beach on my way to Tommy Thompson Park.

Sunrise over Lake Ontario at Cherry Beach on my way to Tommy Thompson Park.

Other times, I wake up before dawn and go out to Tommy Thompson Park as the sun rises so I can try to leave my stress behind me as I ride, and come home to my family feeling refreshed and relaxed. Sometimes it works.

  Down at Tommy Thompson Park, formerly known as the Spit.

Down at Tommy Thompson Park, formerly known as the Spit.

Anyway. This is all to say that middle aged guys on bikes may behave like jackasses sometimes and I know that’s true. And some of the making-fun of the Lycra-wearers may be deserved.

But maybe some -many?- of these dudes are just trying to recapture a bit of childhood, and feel like they can outrace their problems for a little while.

Me? I’m going to keep going. Just bought a new Jamis Trail X to replace my old one. Took it on an inaugural ride along the Don Valley, Taylor Creek Park, and back to the Beach and Lakeshore. It feels really good, to ride and just keep on going.

Just keep on going. <end>

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(Adapted from a thread of my tweets, found here.)