Stress and Anxiety Got You Down? A Bike Ride Can Be Good Medicine

Bike rides have a way of helping clear out mental cobwebs, bringing enhanced clarity. Cardiovascular exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and that fluctuation often helps me think.

It also helps me not think.

Lately, I can’t decide which one is better. With everything going on – and not all of it positive – I’ve found myself – normally a pretty laid-back guy – in the grips of a gnawing anxiety.

Worried by the spreading virus, the upcoming election and a host of other factors, my mind has been clouded by doubt and, sad to say, a bit of dread. For me, these feelings manifest themselves in a kind of writer’s block, which can stymie my creative efforts.

Such was the case last week, when I was tasked with contributing to this blog on the Latitude 45 website. Usually the words flow rather freely, aided by my enjoyment of and enthusiasm for cycling.

But, last week I just couldn’t find any positive words. Seeking solace, I asked my boss, Christian Janssens, if I could perhaps clock out early and try to find some inspiration on a late-season ride. Thoughtful man that he is, Christian agreed.

Not only did he OK my early departure, he went a step further and suggested that I notes my before- and after-ride mental states and use the observations for a future blog post.

Hence, I did just that. As I donned my layers of clothing in preparation for a Petoskey-Charlevoix out-and-back along the Wheelway, I considered my feelings. Frustration, brought on by an uncertain and perhaps troubled future, were at the forefront. Worry for family and friends amid the pandemic compounded stress over contentious political developments.

Indeed, there is plenty to worry about these days. But, as I mounted my road bike and clipped in, I began to feel better – my mind turning to safe riding and the ever-important music choices I’d selected for my sojourn.

The short-sprint along U.S. 31 – my usual detour past the collapsed section of Wheelway between Magnus Park and East Park, went by in a blink, and I was on my way safely to Charlevoix.

A chilly southwest headwind hindered me in the open spots, but as I dipped back into the tree-sheltered areas the wind abated and wasn’t much of a factor.

Negative thoughts scattered out of my brain like the colorful leaves blowing around and beneath me. My speedometer indicated 30 mph as I dropped down from the trestle to the lake shore, blurring past late-blooming wild flowers tossed and turned by the fall winds.

Passing stretches of open shore I could see a few surfers here and there, riding the small waves, their colorful wet suits and boards cutting vivid figures against the dark blue water and cloudy gray sky.

In Charlevoix – only recently abandoned by the tourist hoards – I headed straight for the Bridge Street Tap Room, where a few pints and a deliciously fresh baked pretzel awaited.

By then, my troubles – which are relatively few and pleasingly minor – had faded. My outlook – quite dour only a few hours before – had improved dramatically. I even paid for my food and drink, and didn’t malign the friendly staff too badly.

Just kidding. The Tap Room is always a great, reliable stop for mid-ride nourishment.

The return ride to Petoskey was even more blissful than the outbound journey. The headwind I’d ridden into was now on my back, pushing me quickly toward home. Adding to the joy of the return ride was my selection of Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” album, which I’ve always enjoyed. Those songs soothe me almost as much as the exercise.

I could’ve reached for some medication or a bottle or any number of other things to combat my anxiety that day – one week ago. Some of those things may actually help. But, to me, none of that is a substitute for a simple bike ride. Now, that’s good medicine indeed.

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