The weak light of the sun filters through the clouds, radiating a soft glow on a grey November day. Soggy amber leaves thread the groove beneath the curb of the sidewalk. The road stretches clear and quiet ahead. A cool breeze rushes over my face, each breath reminding me how lucky I am to be alive, racing ahead with each rotation of the pedals.
This year has seen a resurgence of cyclists. The city I live in has mild winters and designated bike lanes that allow us to ride all year long. Every spring my husband and I talked about getting our bikes tuned up and back on the road, but time sped by and before we knew it, it was winter again. The pandemic this year put the brakes on our high-speed life, and we finally got our bikes tuned up in the fall of 2020.
Since the start of the pandemic our work life and home life changed. It disrupted our circadian rhythms and forced us to create new schedules for our daily life, including our exercise routine. It’s challenging enough for those of us with RA and other chronic conditions to find the time, resources and energy to exercise, but the pandemic made it even more difficult by closing down the facilities we depended on – indoor pools, group fitness classes and physiotherapy all succumbed to the virus. For a time, we lost those social connections from friends and colleagues to keep us motivated. Some of those things came back – but not all of us returned. We collectively fell off our exercise wagon and needed to find our own way to climb back on.
Every summer I swim. I am fortunate to live in a complex with a pool. The pool was open this summer, under tight restrictions, but I wasn’t confident enough to use it. With only one hour of adult time allotted each day and many families sharing our pool, I worried that social distance could be not enforced. To keep on with a regular exercise routine, I participated in online yoga sessions, created a stepping program with weights, and walked to and from work every day (one hour each way). My husband and I walked away the entire summer – to our jobs, around the neighbourhood, to parks, to beaches, and for grocery shopping. Public transit used to be our main source of transportation, but we haven’t used it since the start of the pandemic. It’s been nine months of walking – and now, we’re back on our bikes again.
The last time I got on a bike was 15 years ago. I used to ride my bike regularly around a local park until I was hit by a car (not while biking, while walking through a crosswalk). You never forget how to ride a bike but I’m not going to lie – it’s not easy riding a bike again. It starts with walking your bike up that slight incline, riding on the level, coasting down a small grade. The balance was easy – years of dance taught me that, but coordinating brakes and gear changes, and even controlling the steering took some time to get back. There are a few muscles I haven’t used in awhile and they are making themselves heard.
That first day back on my bike, I felt like a little kid all over again. Gliding along the road gives me a magical, almost invincible feeling. The weight of the world is left behind me and all I see is the road ahead. I can ride it as long and as far as I want. I can decide when to stop, when to rest, and when to start pedaling again. The road ahead will always be bumpy, there will always be hills to climb – it doesn’t matter how long it takes, at some point we’ll reach that crest and coast towards brighter days. It’s slow going, there will be setbacks and my joints won’t be happy about it in the beginning, but all that work will be worth it, because by the time summer rolls around again, I’m going to have a fantastic looking backside.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.