By Becky Furuta
In the last week, I have eaten all of my pandemic chocolates and finished my stash of emergency wine. Last night, I had to instruct my daughter that she could not, in fact, give her brother six times the normal dosage of melatonin, no matter how much he was annoying her. Yesterday, I told that same child to wash her hands, and she proceeded to LICK THEM. “I don’t have germs,” she said, “Because I am not a boy.”
On day one of this experiment in family togetherness, I swore I would use my time productively. By day two, I was eating Girl Scout cookies and crying in the shower. That was back when I was still showering. I might have done a quick rinse this morning or last Wednesday, who’s to say? We might never know.
As much as I appreciate the videos of happy people remaining connected despite social distancing, every time an old person rams their shopping cart into my leg in the during a scramble for the last carton of vegetable stock in the canned food aisle, I can’t help but think, I’m not singing from a balcony with any of you jerks.
Here’s the actual transcript from my last work-from-home conference call:
Michael: Can you hear me?
Joe: Yes, Michael, go ahead.
(Heavy breathing followed by awkward silence.)
Michael: So, looking at last quarter…
(Beeping sound followed by someone saying Uh, uh…wait…)
Michael: Oops, sorry. You go ahead.
Steven: Sorry, no you.
Woman’s Voice: Can you guys hear me? Is this working?
(Strange crunching sound, more awkward silence. Heavy breathing. Dog? panting.)
And I had to set a reminder on my Google calendar to clean out my freezer before the 2035 pandemic.
The truth is, this is tough. We’re all struggling to some measure – some of us maybe more, and some maybe less. There’s no right way to worry. Everywhere we turn, we are inundated by news of the virus and its social costs. We’ve all experienced the disappointment of lost opportunities and cancelled events. It’s easy and even understandable to fill every moment with stress and anxiety and sadness. Remember, though, that feelings come and go like the breeze, and there are things we can do today to ease the burden we feel. For me, that starts with riding my bike.
Exercise boosts your mood and it helps you stay healthy. Riding outside removes us from environments where we are immersed in worry and crisis management, and takes us into more relaxing spaces. It’s time when we can stop our racing minds and the frantic tending to of others in our lives.
Yesterday, my children started online school. With eight hours’ notice, my home became a remote doctor’s office, manufacturing center, sports management and training facility and fourth, sixth and eighth grade classroom WITH ONE PHONE LINE. After twenty minutes of trying to learn common core math, I gave up and had a margarita, and yelled things like, “I’M NOT DRAWING A PAROLLELOGRAM TO MULTIPLY TWO FRIGGING NUMBERS AND YOU’RE JUST GONNA LEARN HOW TO ‘CARRY THE ONE’ LIKE I DID!” My daughter’s violin teacher sent me sheet music. What, exactly, am I supposed to do with this? I certainly hope she doesn’t think I can, you know, READ it. By 10:00am, the girl had penned a journal entry on how much homeschool sucks and how “stressed out it’s making mom,” and the boy was freaking out about global sustainability and a news story he saw, showing empty shelves in grocery stores. Luckily, he has autism and likes to look in the darkened windows of the closed Lucky’s Grocery Store and count the number of abandoned carts for solace, so we packed up and took a field trip to a vacant lot so he could peer through the glass and calm down. No, I’m not kidding. By noon, I got on my bike.
I rode. For a long time. I realized that I could schedule worry, and likewise schedule time for mental freedom. I could do that for my kids, too. We could step away from home, get on our bikes, leave the stress of school or work and pandemic behind, and reorganize our thoughts. Instead of feeling “stuck inside,” we could feel free to slow life down a bit and create new rituals and routines that meet the needs of our family and the current global situation.
It’s time for us to do a different kind of riding.
Just two weeks ago, I was complaining that my European travel had been cancelled, and I was missing important races and events. Now? I don’t expect to race again this season. Maybe it will happen. Maybe there will be summer races that survive. Maybe I’ll have the training and the form. But I had to let go of those expectations in order to avoid feeling dejected by the current circumstances.
At first, training without goals felt impossible. Even now, I sometimes ask myself what, exactly, I am training for. Why get up and put in long miles or commit to intervals on a trainer when I might not pin on a number again this year?
I do it because I love my bike.
Long before I raced a bicycle, I rode one. I learned to love the steady cadence of turning pedals while living in isolation with my family. Poor and residing in a roadside motel, with no access to school and not knowing what tomorrow might bring, I got on my bike. I didn’t realize then that I was training for the future. I didn’t know that we would all find ourselves in this bizarre world of self-quarantine with so many unknowns, wondering how to fill the space between days. Here we are. While this is new to so many, I am practiced. Then, as in now, I fill the space by counting miles ridden instead of minutes passing.
I stopped formally training. Instead of focusing on watts and heart rate and data, I focused on doing rides I enjoy. I’ve meandered my way through backroads I have never seen before, climbed long stretches of tarmac at a comfortable pace, looked out from the tops of hills I never even considered riding toward. I ride as long as I want, and then go home when I’m mentally done. Instead of looking forward to a specific race or travel with my team, I look forward to tomorrow’s adventure.
Cycling gives me the chance to practice social distancing without physical isolation. When you’re out in the world, you pass by other people. You smile, nod, wave. There’s still a world outside, and you’re part of it, taking it all in.
I don’t miss group rides. I rarely do them, anyway, to be honest. The erratic wheels, the guys with big egos who insist on ramping up the pace and trying to shatter the group just to show off, the accordion of stop-and-go and the inability to predict pace and intensity were all incentive enough for me to find a few good wheels and head out with those friends, instead. More often still, I chose a direction and pedaled off alone. Now, those solo expeditions are the sum of my training, save the occasional indoor group ride on Zwift. It’s nice to decide where to go and how fast to ride without worrying that you’re pushing someone else to their limit or holding them back.
If you’re still struggling in the midst of this, know that it will pass. Nothing lasts forever.
In addition to finding solace on the bike, I’ve lifted my spirits by making a list of positives: I married a guy 17 years older than me, which means we now qualify for the special old people shopping hours at Kroger. We are first in line for the fresh stockpiles of TP and Sriracha. I got out of brunch with my dad and stepmother through June or forever. Restaurants in Colorado now serve liquor to-go. TO-GO, guys. I finally used that deep conditioning hair mask I’ve been hanging onto for a year or more.
Silver linings, for all the folks lacking the necessary dissociative skills to survive this apocalypse.
For now, the best we can do is to anchor ourselves by taking the necessary precautions to stay healthy, and remembering that we are doing our best. We can take comfort in limiting our exposure and acting responsibly to help ourselves and our families. And we can find small ways to make life easier and more enjoyable. Laugh at the craziness. Ride more, worry less. Take care of each other.