I hate riding my bike over the George Washington Bridge. Yet I do it every weekend at least once and often twice. I do it because once I get over the bridge and onto the other side, well after 10 or 15 more minutes of not so pleasant riding, I reach the wide shoulder on Route 9W and some delightful riding, the sweet center of the excursion. Trees on both sides of the wide road offer beauty, seasonal eye candy and plenty of oxygen. The terrain is varied and there’s plenty of room for everybody, even for vehicular traffic.
I share this city cycling exodus with hundreds, if not thousands, of New York City cyclists. The trek up Riverside Drive with cars and no shoulder; the climb up the narrow ramp, with a hairpin switchback, onto the bridge with crazy testosterone-pumped cyclists flying toward and around me; eight hairy negotiations around two stanchions, each with four right angle blind turns, and passage only wide enough for two abreast; dodging pedestrians, picture takers, inexperienced bikers, joggers and tourists, is all part of getting to the good stuff. Being a New Yorker and well-seasoned to putting up with inconveniences, I generally take such things in stride.
So I’ve come to accept the bad (the bridge) in order to have the good (the long, clear ride to the state line, about 30 miles round trip; or Piermont, NY, about 40 miles; or Nyack, NY, about 50 miles; or any number of backcountry-ish roads).
Every time I take this ride, and I’ve done it for years, I think about how much I dislike the bridge and count down in my mind the three worst parts so I can relax and breathe and begin to enjoy the ride.
On a recent ride I decided to stop hating the bridge. Just that. I didn’t decide to love it; I just decided not to hate it so much. Not to get upset at the crazies who get in my way or make me feel unsafe. Not to judge how others traverse the same expanse over the mighty Hudson River. Not to discount the first half hour of my ride—the necessary evil—but to embrace it, one breath, one pedal stroke at a time. And not to dread the worst sections of the ride before I reached them, which served to take me out of the moment, the place, the experience I was having along the way.
I decided to approach the ride, and my new commitment to not being negative, as I would a meditation. Stay in the moment, don’t project, watch what arises without judgment, don’t wish for it to be over; embrace the difficulty, the pain and the fear with a smile.
For the first time ever I did not hate the ride across the bridge. I did not take myself out of whatever moment I was in to think ahead to the hated sections and think: “Just two more to go and then I can enjoy this,” or “One more and it’ll be done.” In fact, such thoughts, once I made the decision to stop hating the bridge, never even arose. Since they were such regular passengers on my rides to New Jersey, I thought it might take more effort, more time to banish them. But simply by making the choice before I got to the bridge was enough.
Here’s what replaced the inner grumbling:
- I had more patience for myself as I walked up the ramp and did not judge my decision to do so. It felt safe and I was not in a race; nor did I have to impress anyone with my bike handling. This led to more patience with others.
- I noticed that many people were more tentative, rather than reckless, and less experienced than I: they weren’t at all crazy, just timid. I felt more compassionate and patient. I even smiled a few times.
- I inhabited every second of the trip across the bridge, paid attention to every person, every patch of rough terrain, every breeze floating up from the river.
On the way home I prepared my mind for the inevitable crossing—as I might prepare for a meditation session—and was so focused on each moment that the eight tight angle turns and the steep ramp off the bridge with its sharp switchback and its 90 degree turn at the bottom onto a narrow sidewalk bearing a metal plate and approaching cyclists became interesting rather than bothersome points in my journey. Then I found myself cruising down Riverside Drive toward home without the usual I’m-glad-that’s-over thought in my head. It had been replaced with “That was a great ride!”
Turns out it was my fastest time this season, maybe ever, to the State Line and back—not that I’m intent on breaking any speed records, but it was a nice surprise. And I can’t wait to do it again.
One thought that did occur to me somewhere in the middle of the bridge was: “I wonder if I’ll still be doing this when I’m 80.” Last week I would have said: “I doubt it.” This week I said: “I sure hope so.” Then I brought myself back to the moment.
I felt ageless, joyous and free. What a difference a little samadhi makes.
*Samadhi: a nondualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object. An abiding in which mind becomes very still but does not merge with the object of attention, and is thus able to observe and gain insight into the changing flow of experience. (Wikipedia)