Riding It Out

I got on my bike today for the second time in four years. The first time was two days ago. That may not sound odd unless you were once used to cycling upwards of 40 or 50 miles a day. I was, before I started my doctoral program.

I rode a measly 11 miles two days ago and I thought I would die. My quads were in shock and pretty much forgot their mission halfway up the first hill. My lungs forgot how to coordinate themselves with the thrust and pull of my feet on the pedals and I found myself panting on hills I could swear I’ve barely noticed before. Halfway through the ride, I suddenly understood why people drop out of exercising. Actually, I understood that *I* might be on the verge of being one of those drop outs. Not only was I miserable, I felt like an idiot. Had I really expected that bike riding down memory lane would have the same training effect as actual time in the saddle?

Naturally, I live on top of a significant hill in a landscape so rolling you could get seasick just looking at it. And, naturally, I pushed my bike up the final hill. Even that was hard.

WeeeeeeeWhat possessed me? Not my view of myself in the mirror, although you’d think that would be motivation enough. I think, in part, I missed myself. But in addition, I just returned from a month away– someone in my family became seriously ill about six weeks ago, and I was called on to help.

Let me tell you, the world of academia never looks more insignificant than when someone you love can no longer raise himself from a chair and walk across the room.

No. Let me be more accurate. Somewhere in the hours spent waiting– for test results, consults with specialists, surgery, then waiting in recovery rooms with families of other critically ill sons and mothers and brothers and aunts, and then waiting for reports and prognoses, and waiting still more for eyes to open and a beloved face to relax in recognition, and finally, waiting, praying that the heavy rattling intermittent breath will just be still– somewhere in those hours, you realize how petty, mean-spirited, and ego-driven the world of academia can be, and how profoundly it has fooled you.

Later, because of this, you will turn your back on your desk. You will silence the critical thinking that hasn’t let you rest. Not just because you are angry at the ugliness of the academy that hides under brilliant ideas and academic robes, although you are, and not because you have given up, although you are likely tempted. No, you will turn your back on your desk and your work and the foolishness of that world because the sun is shining and because, ultimately, you are just a girl who loves to ride her bicycle.

Photo: Weeeeeee © 2010 Aaron Collis/WickedVT via Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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