Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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I Want To Ride My Bicycle

For the longest time in life I haven't had A Thing. You know, the thing I do that is mine that I love that I look forward to that motivates me to get out of bed or finish a work day or defines who I am or how others might describe me in a small way. I guess writing is kind of my thing but it's also how I make a living and so it kind of stopped counting as A Thing. I was jealous of other people and their things because for the past several years my thing has been being a mom and surviving those crazy-ass first years of your childrens' lives where keeping them alive is priority one and after that; sleep. Please for the love of God, go to fucking bed so I can sleep too! Don't you realize how awesome sleep is, goddammit?!

So there was not time for A Thing beyond the things that kept my kids alive and mostly happy and the things that made the money that helped keep the kids alive and mostly happy. And then I suddenly found myself without my children half of the time. Granted, most of the time I'm not with my kids I'm working full-time and most of the time when I'm not working full-time I'm writing for three different websites but when I'm not with my kids, not at work and finished writing - I finally have A Thing. The thing, it's changed my life.

When's the last time you rode a bike? For me, until last month, it was maybe when I was a teenager. Oh, there was the one-off here and there; goofing around at someone's house who maybe had a bike laying around and I vaguely remember vacationing with a boyfriend in my twenties and deciding renting bikes and riding along the beach would surely be a scene out of a fucking Nicholas Sparks novel but, as is the way with most seemingly romantic things - sex in bathtubs/cars being other seemingly romantic/sexy things that suck in actuality - the novelty wore off ten sweaty minutes into the ride. The last time I used a bike with any seriousness or true enjoyment was in my early teens to get to my friend's house or just riding around exploring the city I called home.

But now, 25 years after my serious biking career came to an end, I'm riding almost every day and with joy and determination that would shame my 12-year-old ass. Brace yourselves because I'm about to make a bold statement that is truer than the package of hot dogs that is now my forehead when I raise my eyebrows: other than giving birth to Charlie in my living room the most powerful I've ever felt in my adult life is lately when I'm riding my bike. Not when producing a newscast in New York City featuring Barbara Walters (and, incidentally, telling Babs to wrap it up she was running long) not when manning the control room of FOX news during our 9/11 broadcast - I feel most powerful and alive when riding my bike.

A year ago I really tried to get into running. Everyone and their neighbor and their neighbor's cousin and the cousin's ex-boyfriend all seemed to be into running marathons. They all can't be wrong about running, I reasoned with myself. I'll just give it another go even though I've never really enjoyed jogging.

Turns out, they're all really wrong!

Running totally fucking sucks. And it's really hard on your body. But I wanted to get outside and do something active. Hiking's okay but somehow - dudes and their ridiculous, in yo face Spandex bulges aside - cycling caught my attention. Wait. Maybe the ridiculous in yo face Spandex bulges are why it caught my attention. I can't be sure. Then I got knocked up with Charlie so I put it off. But, after working off the last of the baby weight in June, I finally pulled the trigger on this bad boy about a month ago: Maybe the best thing I've done in years. It's the next best thing to flying, I swear. Sometimes I'll be hauling ass down some gorgeous country road and I catch myself grinning like a lunatic. Giggling, even! There was a bit of a learning curve at first. Any serious cyclist wants to clip in to their bike with special shoes that have cleats on the bottom that clip right onto the pedals. It sounds scary to be attached to your bike but it's really the only way to go. After a couple days clipping in you realize how natural it feels, how much more energy you're able to get out of each pedal rotation. Although initially I did have to tape a note to my bike reminding myself to clip out or swiftly meet the pavement in a most ungraceful manner should I forget. And, of course, I ate it in spectacular fashion at a busy intersection near my home when a light changed and I couldn't clip out in time. It was a tiny scratch but to just fall over on your bike like a 5-year-old riding without training wheels for the first time is pretty embarrassing. But crashing because you're clipped in to a bike is a rite of passage so I'm glad to have the story and gladder still that it's behind me.

For the past month I've been slowly increasing my miles and yesterday after work I managed to finish 30 miles.A horse's ass celebrating 30 miles with a horse's ass. While I like pushing myself to see how far and hard I can go, I think my favorite part - aside from seeing how fast I dare let myself go down hills (37 mph so far!) - is just being close to the road and the land, wind whipping all around me, seeing and hearing things I wouldn't from a car. Often I stop for a drink of water and just stand there listening: crickets, birds, distant cars, cows, airplanes droning overhead. I'll stop and talk to animals occasionally as well which reminds me - holy shit did you see this video from one of my bike rides that I posted on my Facebook page?

Maybe it sounds stupid but I can't tell you how happy, strong and powerful I feel whenever I'm on my bike. And yeah, the health benefit is amazing too. Not only am I damn near high on endorphins when a ride is over, I'm burning as much as 800 calories on some of these longer treks, but I'm seeing the gorgeous Pennsylvania countryside that I call home in a much more intimate way than I otherwise would. Riding my bike has solved so many problems for me. When I feel sadness creeping I get on my bike. Instead of working out at a gym I ride my bike. It's done wonders for my health, fitness, state of mind and my self-esteem. And hey. It looks like I'm not the only addict in the family. Setting a positive example for my kids is worth all the other benefits combined.
Ladies and gentlemen... QUEEN.

Reader Comments (10)

I love this post…and so happy for you that you're loving the road! You sound good, Monica - very glad that you found "your thing"!!!

August 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

Awesome Monica, what a great testimony to the power of cycling!

Congratulations on finding Your Thang! If I lived out in the country, with all those roads to be ridden, I'd be all over them on my bike. When I didn't live in a ci-tay, I started riding seriously when I was training for triathlons, and I found the the pedaling action complemented the 'pounding' my legs took from running (though running is My Thang).

The fresh air, Nature, and of course the -flying- aspect of it all. I liked to cycle solo, but one of my favorite memories is biking with my boyfriend, stopping half-way at a park to drink some water, and playing Charades in our bike shoes. We were clomping around like horses, and laughed till we fell over.

Bike on!!!!

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

You're an amazing, resilient girl! Always have been, always will be! Pedal on!

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermama

Pedal on my friend. Good for you. My thing is not so healthy but it is fun!! Whiskey!!

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJust Jill

This post made me tear up. Freshly separated with two kids, 3 and 1, I feel like your recent posts are ripped straight from my life and this one is no exception. I live in Oregon and everyone here rides bikes, so I've been considering getting one, too. I lived in New Orleans in my 20s and rode everywhere, but haven't put my ass on a bike in years and I miss it. The desire to have "a thing" has been burning in me for a long time, but as you pointed out, keeping babies alive and stealing sleep whenever possible always trumped having productive "me" time. But now, fuck it. I'm going to do it. There are no fewer than 3 bikes shops within walking distance of my work and I'm headed over to one today. Thanks for sealing the deal on a nagging desire.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

Oh thank GOD! For years I have been reading your blog and have always thought as I read some of your sadder and despondent posts - "this girl needs to start doing something that brings her joy." SO freaking glad you have found something - and the bike is amazing isn't it? It's the feeling of freedom of it for me. OMG. So happy for you. I am a movement junkie - and over the last 20 years of adulthood, I've moved from hiking to running to cycling to even long walking to doing yoga and then back again - movement has healed my soul and helped me get through many a difficult time. So glad you have dialed into finding joy and meaning. its awesome to witness.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Monica, I TOTALLY get this!!! When life's walls crush in on you on every side, riding your bike relieves the pressure. I know. It has brought me sanity in an insane world. And to see things that hardly anyone sees. Like a boy trotting his pony around the perimeter of his house. Or a mom pulling a wagon with one of her daughters in the wagon (two other kids walking beside), and the daughter holding onto her pet goat in the wagon...or having four goats come up to you and let you take pictures of them (ALLL on the same ride!) Or to ride in a place you've never seen before, or see something familiar with someone who has never ridden it or seen it, because its new to them. Oh, the natural highs! Love it!!!! Keep! It! Up!!!

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

The giant pisser about all of this new-found joy is that it comes by using the time when you don't have your kids. I know more than one couple that shares custody and has time and space to pursue interests. It is a somewhat sad commentary on family life that you couldn't find the time to do this sort of thing when you had two parents in the house and the kids around.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

lovely ode to cycling. not sure what it's like back east but maybe check out a cycling club or women's cycling club. I learned how to be a stronger and safer cyclist by joining my team here in Austin.

September 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commentervanessa

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