Sometimes it’s hard to be positive.
With everything going on outside the comforts of my living room window, finding a sense of calm isn’t as easy as one would like these days.
My escape usually involves hopping on my bike and going for a ride, the pedals of my apparatus offering a chance to enter into a different state of mind.
A few weeks back, I was riding down Riverside Avenue in Minneapolis, taking a route I had already been on multiple times this year.
As I passed Soberfish, an Asian restaurant where I used to meet people off the internet, I put my head down and smiled, my mind now being teleported to the past.
When I looked up, a figure was standing in the bike lane.
“That’s weird,” I said to myself.
A second later my eyes caught a glimpse of the person’s face.
Most people have seen that look, the one where the person you’re looking at it is giving you a stare that sends a chill up your spine and turns on all the survival instincts in your brain.
The man and I are now twenty feet apart, and if nothing changes, we’re going to connect in a few seconds.
To my left is traffic.
To my right are parked cars.
Coming to a stop seems like a surefire way to incite a confrontation.
So I continue ahead, unsure of what I should do and in one of those headspaces where I suddenly feel like I have no control over my life’s trajectory.
The man is still walking toward me, and naturally I can’t understand why.
I slightly shift one foot to the right, the hope being we will narrowly miss each other.
He takes a step with me.
Yep, this guy is a prick, and I’m going to crash.
“Dude, what the hell?” I say as I we’re now within inches of each other.
He reaches his hand out and grabs hold of my shirt, but because I have all the momentum and a bike, we are both going down.
Just like that, I land on my shoulder and can feel the skin on my knee scraping against the pavement.
After a few blinks, I turn and see the man.
He has a full beard and is wearing a skirt.
He aggressively stands up, his eyes darting at my friend.
I’m not a fighter but if this guy pulls something shady, I’m going to have to change my principles really quick.
Just then the man turns to me, and his body language changes from hostile to meek.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” he says, all the fury from moments ago now removed from his eyes.
He begins walking away before I can respond.
I look at my friend.
“Your knee is bleeding,” she says.
Upon looking down, it’s like someone with a red paintbrush drew all over my kneecap.
“This is so fucked,” I say.
“Are you okay?” asks a man across the street.
I helplessly stand in the middle of the road, not quite sure what my reaction is supposed to be.
I’ve essentially just been tackled by a random dude in a sketchy part of town.
Part of me feels victimized. I want a police officer to arrive and sort out this situation, but after a few more seconds pass, it becomes clear the cavalry isn’t just going to show up.
I would need to call them.
“911. What’s your emergency?” are the words I imagine would be said if I made that phone call, and then my mind goes blank because I have no idea what I’d even say. What just happened might not even constitute an emergency.
The bike on my chain has fallen off, so my friend pops it back into place while I stand near the sidewalk and examine my knee.
“You’re fine,” she says after seeing my distress, but I don’t feel fine.
Her and I are look at each other like this has to be one the strangest things we’ve been through in a long time.
“What do you want to do?” she then asks.
“Let’s just go home,” I respond, now feeling ashamed and emasculated over the fact that a random person attacked me and I did nothing in retaliation except throw my hands in the air and wonder how this all came to be.
A few years ago, I almost had my skull eviscerated by a semi in Michigan.
I had fallen off my bike and landed in the lane of traffic, and when I looked up, my face was a few inches away from one of its eighteen wheels.
The rest of that day was a struggle, having never before come close enough to death to know what that really felt like.
Going through that was like being caught in an isolating web of emotions that most people will hopefully never experience.
“I did not want to have to make that call to your parents,” my buddy told me that day, but then a few minutes later he sped ahead and continued on as if nothing had happened.
To him, life was still going. We were still going to ride our bikes across the country.
Something like a little near-death experience certainly wasn’t going to make us stop.
If he was okay with it, perhaps I should have been as well.
When people ask me why I love cycling, it’s simple:
Nothing else makes reality disappear for a few hours.
Not booze. Not sex. Not even a small edible from the great Alaskan frontier.
Instead, the best prescription is the monotony of repeating the same pedal stroke 13,654 times.
Perhaps people don’t understand why I love cycling because they only see the end game when I put a photo up on Instagram.
To them, they only see the final result, and not the hours it took to arrive at that point.
When they then learn how much time it actually took to ride 60-odd miles, it’s then that words like “crazy,” “unbelievable,” and “insane” come streaming from their mouths.
I used to love that attention, the idea of being different than other people.
But over time my ego feels less and less stroked by their compliments.
Now it almost feels like an annoyance, especially when I try to tell them they could do the same exact thing if only they were willing to commit the time.
“I just don’t think I could ever do something like that,” is the common sentiment I hear.
No longer possessing the energy to convince them otherwise, I then retreat into a state of pride, thankful that I don’t let my mind convince me that I can’t do things.
I tell people all the time that if it weren’t for cycling, I would likely not be in the position I am now, one where I’m always willing to push boundaries and worry less about the final result and focus more on the labor of simply attempting said feat.
It’s why I will likely continue to ride for years to come, a part of me scared that if I ever stop riding, I’ll stop being motivated in other aspects of life.
That’s a day I hope never comes.
After getting pummeled by the bearded man in a skirt and cutting up my knee, I went home.
I tried crying, but that failed.
I attempted to call people in the hopes of receiving sympathy, but no one answered.
It was one of those thought processes where I could feel myself slipping into a state of victimhood. I felt I had been wronged and that people needed to know I had been wronged, or else my life would never feel whole.
But after turning on Netflix and letting a 1990’s Matt Damon movie sink in, I started to feel better, losing myself inside a story that wasn’t mine.
By the third act, I no longer wanted to be a victim. I didn’t want that random guy in a skirt to get the joy of ruining my happiness.
Later that night, after a round of Neosporin and a quick hobble to my bedroom, I was able to go to sleep after finding a comfortable position where my knee couldn’t rub against any fabric. There was a certain peace in knowing there was nothing I could have done to change the events of that day.
I was meant to cross paths with that disturbed individual.
I might never know.
But what is clear is that life is good.
There is still another ride to take, another path toward the unknown that calls my name.
And I still get to wake up tomorrow after 7 ½ hours of sleep.
With reality changing every day, that feels like a win.
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