Sligo Creek fuels my body and soul every time I’m there. I’m even starting to find connections between cranking out miles on the bike and cranking out words on the page. The more I ride, the more I write.
It’s not a coincidence that EyeOnSligoCreek itself was born during a big uptick in the amount of time I spend on my beloved Trek bike — launching many of my rides at the start of the Sligo Creek Trail in Wheaton, Maryland, and connecting with other branches of the Anacostia River Tributary Trail System. I’ll head out to Lake Artemesia one day, and to Bladensburg Waterfront Park and the Anacostia River Trail the next — and oftentimes all of them on the same ride. The enorphins really start popping on those 50-mile-plus-milers.
My mind relaxes; I unplug from the world. Biking is one of the rare few things that give me total peace, the opportunity to recharge my batteries — especially when I’m rolling with Mother Nature. I say hello to great blue herons, admire gaggles of geese waddling by the water, and soak in rays of the sun throughout its day’s journey.
The more my mind unclenches, the more my creativity unleashes: Biking and writing work in tandem.
Enjoying a five-hour ride a few days ago, I thought of five specific connections I’ve found between cranking out miles on the bike and words on the page. I returned home and promptly wrote a blog piece for Medium and its The Writing Cooperative publication entitled “Huffing, Puffing … and Writing? 5 Ways Bicycling, Or Whatever Your Favorite Exercise May Be, Can Make You A Happier, Better Writer.” I hope that anyone looking for more inspiration to ride/exercise and engage the creative life may find some pearls of wisdom there.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s ok for me to go on shorter rides. Throughout my entire life of playing sports of all kinds, I didn’t want to bother leaving the house if I couldn’t be outside for at least three or four hours. I used to feel that anything less than a 30-mile ride to Lake Artemesia and back wasn’t enough of a workout to take on. I woke up one morning, though, and decided to try a short ride — just an hour — so that I could at least get in some exercise and then still have time to accomplish what I had to do at work that day. Gotta’ pay the bills.
My “power hours,” which I turned into high-intensity rides tackling all kinds of hills including Kemp Mill Road and Lamberton Drive, gave me opportunities to pump my heart, legs and lungs without making an all-day affair out of it. I started adding fun “side-hills,” as I call them — extra work — to the routine. I found Healy Street and decided to call that Hurt Me Street and Hurt Me Hill. It’s short but it packs a wallop. I worked in increasing numbers of hills and miles in the same hour, then expanded my routes to add in more soul-cleansing time on what I consider training rides.
Looking for ever-steeper hills within reach of my training rides, I recently found my latest loves in Takoma Park — Hilltop Road, Mississippi Avenue, Parkside Road, and Boulder Lane. Just the name “Boulder Lane” invites a challenge. They are absolute leg-shredders and I can’t get enough of them. I came within one revolution of the pedals of having to get off walk the last few feet of one of those climbs — but I leaned forward and fought my way to the summit.
When a ride is unfolding at its best, I reach a state of nirvana — conscious thoughts only occasionally invading my roll. I sometimes snap alert and realize I’ve found a solution to one of my life’s problems that was percolating through my subconscious. Sometimes I start writing essays and stories in my head, then crank them out when I get home. I did that recently when I wrote about the creative way I found to bring Walden Pond back to my living room here in Silver Spring. (I hope that piece sparks ideas that enable you to honor Sligo Creek or your other favorite wild places.) The last few pitches I’ve sent to national magazines all wrote themselves in my noggin while I was out huffing and puffing.
To be fair, nirvana on a bike became dangerous for me for the first time ever a few weeks ago while I was pedaling the Anacostia River Trail on a truly glorious afternoon. I should have been killed in a fatal auto-on-bike collision with an SUV but I survived. I don’t know why.
Moments like that, though, are mercifully infrequent.
My normal rides fill my body with strength, my mind with clarity, and my soul with stories to tell.