Cycling as Therapy

Biking propelled me through a cold, dark, Covid winter. It was a life-changing gift.
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Rosslyn at sunset, as seen by bike. Photo by Tom Sommers

I loved the unexpected solitude of a snowy Jan. 31 on the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT) near Theodore Roosevelt Island. The hushed quiet of the landscape felt like being inside a Norman Rockwell painting, the lights of Rosslyn’s skyscrapers casting a rosy glow on pillowy clouds.

Sometimes cycling becomes meditative and my mind tells stories. One evening, as I rode the MVT toward Gravelly Point, feeling like Snow White in the dark forest, I rolled out from underneath the 14th Street Bridge and wondered if the gnarly tree branches would snatch me. Fortunately, brightly lit fellow athletes shined ahead. I’ve become part of a twilight community of trail riders who customarily nod hello. We don’t know each other’s names, but the faces are familiar.

Arlington offers great vantage points by bike. At the Iwo Jima memorial I had a déjà-vu moment, taking in the same view of the National Mall that, for decades, I’d seen on the opening sequence of Face the Nation. Looking south from the Key Bridge, you can spot the control tower at National Airport and the slate-blue glass of the MGM National Harbor Casino.

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Gravelly Point. Photo by Tom Sommers

The ride west on the Custis Trail from Rosslyn toward Courthouse is an uphill slog. I have been known to reward myself with a little treat for my efforts—a sub from Capriotti’s, a French patisserie from Eclairons, or a walnut brownie and a coffee from Tatte Bakery & Café in Dupont Circle (which is coming soon to Clarendon!).

Since January, I’ve logged more than 2,300 miles on my bike, and I’m not tired of it. The seasons, routes and neighborhoods continually offer new landscapes and new discoveries that keep me pedaling. Maybe it’s in my DNA. I recently turned 58. My dad, who is 93, and my mom, 85, collectively walked 40 miles this past March in cold Delaware, Ohio.

Right now it’s hard to beat the summertime weather. I’ve traded my layers and gloves for bike shorts, and have found plenty of tempting new food and drink stops along the water, between trailheads. But next winter, when the cold returns, I won’t hunker down inside. I’ll still be discovering all that the DMV has to offer on two wheels.

Tom Sommers is a D.C.-based writer and analyst, cyclist and LGBTQ and asylum-seeker advocate. Follow him @tomsommers1.


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Categories: Health & Fitness