Cycling as Therapy

Biking propelled me through a cold, dark, Covid winter. It was a life-changing gift.
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Tom Sommers on the Roosevelt Island bridge. Portrait by Tom Sandner Photography

I’m a summer guy, eager for heat and Birkenstocks, but last winter forever changed my perspective. I hopped on my bike, despite frigid temperatures, and had my best-ever cycling season.

Previously, I’d been a fair-weather, maybe-on-Sunday cyclist. The pandemic turned me into a full-bore fanatic. Winter streets and bikeways were vacant as I embarked on what would become an almost daily ritual, pedaling west from my home in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood to Arlington and back. There were no tourist or commuter buses and nary an idling vehicle on the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. Who could have predicted the opportunity for freewheeling down an empty K Street?

I soon found that biking was a balm for my pandemic angst and feelings of isolation. It was also a recipe for staving off the now infamous Covid-10 (pounds). My outings gave me a feeling of returning to normal—a sense that the world was still moving, even during lockdown.

As my body propelled my hybrid bike forward, my mind would grow more fluid, my intuition often nudging me toward a writing topic, a new work connection or an entrepreneurial idea to pursue. The sound of tire treads meeting asphalt signified progress—the antithesis of pandemic inertia.

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The Potomac at dusk in winter. Photo by Tom Sommers

Serenity and tranquility are words not typically associated with the D.C. area. This winter proved otherwise. Each time I pedaled toward the sunset, my worries melted away, along with the day’s stress. My bicycle became the ultimate freedom and exploration machine, edging me through cold, sun and rain as never before.

As Cherrydale cyclist Doug Berenson likes to say, quoting an oft-used Scandinavian expression, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” I learned how to layer. Even in 30-degree temps I was good to go.

Evenings are my favorite time to ride, and the colder months presented a stark kind of beauty. Pedaling along the Potomac at dusk, I noted the sounds of migrating geese and the silhouettes of crews rowing toward Rosslyn. The sunsets were often stunning—oranges and pinks—perhaps made even more brilliant by the temporary hiatus from air pollution. On Jan. 19, I was unnerved to glimpse the shadows of armed guards walking the Lincoln Memorial’s attic rim.


Categories: Health & Fitness