I unexpectedly found myself walking on a bike trail in southern Minnesota a week ago. As I crossed a bridge over the Zumbro River, memories of one of the last bike rides taken with my family came flooding forward. The ride occurred in 2010, back when going for long bike rides and planning summer activities with my husband and teenage daughter and teenage son had been a regular occurrence. At the time, I thought those days would last forever. Now, just six years later, they’re the “good old days.”
Life had been really stressful for my family that summer, so I decided to have the four of us do something fun one August day to help us decompress. So I suggested that we go on a 25 mile bike trip to someplace new.
As we drove to our destination in Pine Island, a little less than an hour south from our home, I looked forward to a leisurely ride through an area of Minnesota we hadn’t yet explored together. I anticipated that we would all come back home feeling more connected, relaxed and energized from the workout and the new adventure. I was proud of myself for seizing the day on behalf of all four of us and I decided I would do that to the best of my ability for the remainder of that summer.
The adventure ended up involving driving in lost circles trying to find the bike trail parking area by an old cheese factory; motion sickness; two flat tires on our bikes; heat; humidity; mosquitoes; dehydration; hunger; going slow; waiting; looking back; being reminded of how out of shape my thighs are; helmet hair . . . pretty much all of the elements in my idea of hell – minus the migraine headache and my 11th grade chemistry teacher.
Around mile fourteen I challenged myself to push out all of the negative thoughts that were running through my head and replace them with positive thoughts of gratitude for . . . it was difficult to come up with anything I was grateful for at that moment. I desperately tried to come up with something: The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the grass is green and I’m able to see it . . . I have two arms and two legs that allow me to go for a bike ride . . . I have two wonderful kids, who would rather be at home on Facebook instead of spending their Sunday afternoon with me . . . My positive thoughts weren’t making me feel any better, especially when I told myself to shut up and I called myself a loser. I reminded myself of how my plans seemed to have a habit of backfiring and told myself that I should just give up on planning and expecting something to be fun. In my dehydrated delirium I wondered if I had been cursed and was some kind of target for things not working out as I’d hoped. I pictured a little voodoo doll of me wearing a bike helmet, being tossed around and stomped on.
Then my daughter drove over a dead rat and screamed, and I thought about how the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. This didn’t make me feel any better really, but it made me feel like less of a target to recognize that Robert Burns, who first wrote the mouse poem, and John Steinbeck, who wrote a novel based on the poem’s concept, and the dead rat on the bike path – that had gotten run over repeatedly – probably would have understood how I was feeling. The message that Burns was trying to communicate in his poem was that, like mice, we should stop looking to the future and expecting anything from it and just live in the moment.
Thinking about the moment I was in helped me relax a little for the remainder of the bike ride. I tried to just appreciate being able to breathe the air I was riding through. But, I also thought it would be nice, if I were to stop expecting good things to come from my plans in the future, if some enjoyable things could just happen to come my way, too, so that I could have some fun moments in life.
We made it to the end of the trail. I was feeling truly appreciative that none of the four of us died while carrying out my “fun” plan for the day, when an enjoyable moment drifted into my ears. I looked toward our car that was parked by the old cheese factory and it was surrounded by vehicles. While we were on the bike trail, old people in lawn chairs had gathered around the factory. The doors and windows of the cheese factory were opened wide and polka music was pouring out. The Polka Dots were playing music and I saw old people doing the polka inside of the old building. They were all smiling and living in the moment.
And I smiled as I lived in that moment, too.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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