This past year has been difficult in a lot of ways for almost everyone I know. From canceled travel plans and comic conventions to lost jobs and careers put on hold, there’s been no shortage of shitty news to go around. It’s been too easy to feel defeated. I consider myself luckier than most, I have job security and I can work from home. I have a supportive partner who looks out for me, and an apartment large enough to spread out when space is needed. I even try to look on the bright side of getting to spend more time with Coeus, my soon-to-be 15-year-old dog. But back in May, two months into quarantine and living at the epicenter of the US COVID-19 outbreak, I could feel my mental health starting to slip.
Naps with Coeus.
It wasn’t one thing in particular; it was more of a gradual decline. I found myself sleeping constantly. I could sleep for 12 hours at night and take another 3-hour nap mid-day. I was losing my ability to focus on anything substantive. I had lost any sense of routine. Dierre called me out on it, and I didn’t have a good answer. I didn’t really know what was happening. Every time I had been in a headspace like this before, it had been for specific reasons that I could wrap my head around. Managing a sense of existential dread and impending doom is a different beast altogether. I was stuck in a black hole of doom scrolling; the more guilty and helpless I felt, the worse it got.
There was no way to isolate a single cause for the state of my mental health, and that meant there was also no single solution for pulling myself out of the rut. I read plenty of books and comics, though not necessarily more than usual. It wasn’t always enough to hold my focus. I was surprised at how helpful video games turned out to be. I had fun with the acid trip that is Mario Odyssey, and I fell in love with the post-apocalyptic world of Hyrule while playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Group sessions of Mario Kart with friends from all over the country were an added bonus. They were escapes from the onslaught of shitty news and the ruthless incompetency of our federal government’s response to the pandemic.
While the games helped, the real shift in gears came from my bike. I had been out riding a few times since the early days of quarantine, but I was hardly consistent. The weather had been all over the place, and the uncertainty around what was safe and what was unsafe made it difficult to keep up. Thankfully that started to change around May. It’s only in retrospect that I can see the way it improved my mental health. Biking brings me joy like few other things do and it’s so easy to forget during a cold and rainy winter. It was only last summer while on a solo trip to Amsterdam that I fell back in love with biking in a new and unique way. It’s not like I’d ever fallen out of love, but I was inspired enough to log almost 300 miles in the month of July alone. Maybe it’s just one of those revelations that I’m doomed to repeat periodically until I die. If that’s the case, I’m OK with it.
Bikes along the canal in Amsterdam.
There are a lot of things that I love about biking. Yes, it’s a good way to exercise while getting where you need to around the city. But for me, it’s also an excuse to look cute in spandex, and I don’t care if I don’t have the traditional body type for it. I don’t often struggle with body image, but a chubby dude wearing tights in public was a special kind of hurdle I had to get over a few years ago. No opinions of a certain ex-boyfriend or the world at large is going to stop me from liking the way I look and the way they make me feel. Not to mention that bike seats suck and a full bike suit is comfortable as fuck. Maybe this year I’ll have the confidence to do a spandex-based leather jacket Superboy for Halloween. Maybe.
Me in my newest bike gear.
Last year I did a lot of biking to and from work, going along the West Side Greenway and listening to a variety of audiobooks. One of the best things to come quarantine has been biking with friends and planning out some long rides. Our Biker Bois group chat has been an excellent motivation for getting my ass out of my apartment. It’s given me goals to set and something to look forward to. It’s been a great, socially-distanced outdoor activity. The long rides have taken me to new places around the city that I had never been to, and it’s even lead to countless park hangouts with friends who don’t bike. Some of the highlights have been the 36-loop around the perimeter of Brooklyn with Seth, biking the Saratoga Battlefield with my Dad and Dierre, and of course the epic 59-mile ride with Seth, Josh, Tristan, Alex, and Dierre that took us from Staten Island to the George Washington Bridge and all the way back to Brooklyn.
On our 59-mile ride along the Hudson River.
My Brooklyn crew has inspired me to keep going. Typically, I hate winter biking. My nose runs like a faucet as soon as it drops below 50, and I hate feeling both cold and sweaty at the same time. But this year I think I’m going to have to keep my eye out for warmer afternoons and layer up the thermal gear. Because right now, we are on the cusp of a dark and dreary winter. I am already dreading it. I’ve taken some inspiration from my friend and creative partner Reed. He’s not only biked across the continental United States more than once, but he even put snow tires on his bike when he was living in Vermont. I don’t know that I’m quite that dedicated, but I’m inspired enough to keep this going. Because I don’t want to go back to where I was without it. It’s been a difficult year, and we are not out of yet by any measure.
Bikes in New York’s Battery Park.
The title of this post comes from the Bob Seger song “Roll Me Away.” Yes, I know the song is referencing a motorcycle, but the basic principles are still the same. “Roll Me Away” became a staple of my college years when I felt particularly lost and directionless. It’s a hopeful anthem rooted in uncertainty. It’s about embracing the things we can control and letting go of the things we can’t. It’s an ode to not having it all figured out but knowing you’re going to be OK. Joy might be a scarce commodity in these times, and when we do find it, it’s often fleeting. But it’s more important than ever to seek it wherever we can and cherish the moments we find.
Roll, roll me away
I’m gonna roll me away tonight
Gotta keep rollin’
Gotta keep ridin’
Keep searching till I find what’s right.
And as the sunset faded
I spoke to the faintest first starlight
And I said next time…
Next time we’ll get it right.