On Bike Riding and Mental Health

Updated: Feb 10

For my son’s 5th birthday, we bought him a bright yellow bicicleta with front and back brakes.

We were living on the west side of our southern Ecuadorian town at the time, while C’s international school was located less than a mile away on the east side. However, the main thoroughfare between the two locations was often busy with taxis, which is our town’s main means of transportation. Then, a month-long protest broke out over the ending of a decades-long, national gas subsidy bringing the transportation industry crashing to a halt. All the while, C was able to gain confidence and comfort on his new, hot wheels on relatively open roads. Months later, and as Burt’s health entered into crisis mode once more, I bought myself a used bicycle. I figured it would be good for C and I to be out of the house, clearing our heads of our family emergency while presenting ourselves to the moments at hand and bonding in a new way. Bike riding was exactly what we needed and, after Burt’s death, it continued to be a solace for me as I rode the flat trails along the Rio Chamba. I would cry, ride and gaze at the glistening hillsides surrounding me while I talked out loud to Burt in the clouds overhead. While quarantining ourselves at the home of dear friends in San Diego, C was gifted not just one but two, used bicycles. He chose the one he liked best and, of his own initiative and drive, performed a little maintenance, with screwdrivers and wrench in hand, by moving a bell from one bike to another. Then, we were off - headed north on our west coast road trip with his bike attached to the back of our van.

A few months later, in Washington, I decided to find a used bike for myself. I especially enjoyed riding around the scenic Fort Worden campus in Port Townsend where I had, a decade previously, visited 2x/year in order to complete an MFA program. I never imagined then that I would one day return as a widow and a lone Mother to a five-year old.

In Missoula, Montana, our van’s engine needed servicing. It was Labor Day week, so it took four days just to get it into a shop for a diagnostic. Thus, C and I ended up riding 50 miles around that bike-friendly town. After our first 10-mile day, C glowed with a sense of achievement. Since then, bike riding has been one of the ways we have maintained our sanity during this period of isolation and social distancing. Our bicycles helped us to enjoy and sink in more to the amazing landscapes found in: Tucson, Arizona; Austin, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; Huntsville, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; and Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Now, we find ourselves back in our beloved Ecuadorian town. This time last year, our little family posed for our final, Christmas card photo shoot along the Rio Chamba. I had sensed that I would want to return in order to mark the one-year anniversary of Burt’s passing. However, I recently realized that I wanted to spend this holiday season here once more - especially in order to build an altar on the river in memory of what once was on Christmas Eve. And, true to form, just yesterday I purchased C and I brand new bicycles for rolling through this next chapter of our new life.

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