I had no way of knowing where I would end up when I decided to start riding a bike. And at this point, I’m not sure where it’s going to take me. But I know where I am now and that’s enough to keep me going.
Several years ago I started riding in an effort to get in shape. It helped. I started riding back and forth to work and over time I lost weight and felt healthier, but eventually I let other things take over. The weight came back on and the healthy results evaporated.
A few years later I relocated after taking a new job, and with the change of setting, I decided it was time to make a change of self. In the summer of 2005, just after Lance Armstrong won his 7th Tour de France, I went into a bike shop and bought a Trek 7500. It was a hybrid, otherwise known as a comfort bike, and I had it outfitted with racks, paniers, etc. I rode it a few times but I lived on some hilly terrain and I was so out of shape that I gave up for a while.
A couple of years later I decided to try again. I headed out for work one morning with renewed determination, and within two miles of the house my bike broke down. Turns out I was so fat I broke the crank. I had it replaced but the bike sat again for a while.
Ironically, it was the economic downturn that was the catalyst for what has become an enduring habit of cycling. When the economy started going backwards it meant budget cuts everywhere. In my school district that included transportation cuts that resulted in reducing the number of bus routes to my school. Most people probably don’t realize that the state of Washington only funds a fraction of the costs for student transportation which means local district have to make up the difference from their general fund or local levies, money which could be used in the classroom. It was important for us to keep money as close to the classroom as possible.
So with route reductions at least a hundred students who lived within a mile of the school were now going to be required to walk or ride a bike to school. Or worst case, their parents would have to drive them.
When you think about it, that decision probably should have been made long before and independently of budget cuts. It’s a good thing for kids, and adults, to walk or ride, even in rainy western Washington. And let’s face it, a mile really isn’t that far.
But I knew my phone would be ringing with parent concerns. They would be worried about how far their kids had to walk, what might happen to them, it would be dark in the morning, rainy most of the year, and so on. I have four kids and I appreciate their concerns. We all worry for our kids. But we also know that they are generally capable of more than what we expect of them.
I knew that being conciliatory wouldn’t resolve their worries. Neither would being defensive. And I certainly couldn’t reverse the decision. Even if I had the authority to do so, I wouldn’t. It was a good decision economically, environmentally, and from a healthy living perspective.
If I’ve learned anything over the years of functioning in leadership roles, it is that modeling your expectations is powerful. More powerful than the skill of persuasion.
So I decided that I would start riding my bike to work, and if riding didn’t work out, I’d walk. I live about three miles from school so it was a doable distance, and it was farther than we were asking anyone else to walk. My rationale was, if the fattest guy on campus could walk or ride to school, surely any kid in our middle school could do it.
In full disclosure, the idea also appealed greatly to me because it gave me a reason to get moving again, and because I would be publicly accountable I figured I would be more likely to stick with it.
And I have stuck with it. A year and a half and over 5,000 miles later, I’m still riding. Every day, almost everywhere I go. To work, to church, and just for fun. What started off as an effort to get in shape and be an example has become a way of life.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I have begun to discover myself on the bike. I’ve learned what I’m made of, what I’m capable of, and who I can become. And when I ride, I feel great. There is something about being on the move, taking flight, under my own power that instantly shifts my mood, my perspective, my state of mind.
I didn’t know what the bike would do for me when I started really riding, and I look forward to where it’s going to take me. And right now, I love where I am.