No doubt we’ve all had those days. Simply getting to your desk on a Monday morning feels like an arduous, month-long expedition. It’s just barely 9:00am and you’re not sure you’ve got the motivation to make it to lunch let alone through the rest of the day. It was particularly difficult after this past weekend. The daily news cycle and my social media channels were an unrelenting tsunami of toxic waste. A cesspool of anger and entitlement. Police against civilians, black versus white, left against right, urban battling rural, Boomers lashing out at Millennials and vice versa. It was emotionally exhausting. Staying focused on the task at hand just wasn’t in the cards when it felt like the walls were closing in around me.
We’ve all dreamed of a magical day when you blow off work to spend the day riding instead. This past Monday morning was particularly challenging given that the sun was shining through the office window and the thermometer read 18C outside where a 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 650 happened to be sitting. Rather than fight the urge to pack it in and go riding, I closed my laptop and grabbed my gear. I set my phone to Airplane mode, put on my sunglasses and bid the office adieu.
With a tank full of fuel and no particular destination in mind, I just started riding. Frustrated first with the congestion of the city then with the monotony of the highway, I exited onto a sideroad once I got beyond the city limits. I stopped paying attention to street names or directions. I merely turned one way or another, or not at all, based purely on the impulse at the time. Traffic lightened up and traffic lights became less frequent. The air wafting through my helmet became less metropolitan; replaced with the welcome springtime scents of budding trees, blooming flowers and freshly cut grass.
Taking roads I’d never previously turned down lead me through small towns I never knew existed. I passed old farmsteads, schoolhouses and churches. Constructed years ago, but long since abandoned, they now sat empty amid overgrowth. Thoughts of pandemics and riots were slowly replaced with childhood memories of exploration; climbing trees, skipping rocks, and riding the wheels off our bicycles with reckless abandon. My blood pressure lowered, my anxiety decreased, and my shoulders began to relax. The corners of my mouth slowly but surely started to curve up into something resembling a smile.
I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere since I didn’t even know where I was going. My riding pace was no longer determined by the speed limit, but the rhythm of the road’s gentle curves. Without the distraction of a screen or music, my mind began to wander to the aforementioned issues that were weighing on my mind. My success in life has largely been achieved by hard work and the support of my family, but it would be naïve, ignorant, and incorrect to assume that the colour of my skin has not afforded me certain advantages. The possibility of getting pulled over for a speeding infraction may conjure the fear of a monetary fine, but it’s never crossed my mind that my life could be at stake. Because it simply never has.
I came upon a sign for a Greenbelt Route that I followed for a while, then abandoned for more interesting looking curves. Riding alone and not stopping to talk to anyone suited me just fine. It afforded me some much-needed peace and distanced from the current troubles we’re facing. Aside from waving at other riders, some of whom didn’t wave back presumably because I wasn’t riding their brand of cruiser, the only human interaction I had was with a tricked-out Street Bob rider who pulled up beside me at a stoplight. “Nice looking bike,” he said, pointing at the Ninja as I gave him a thumbs up. “It’s sure not for me, but I bet she handles well and goes like stink.” I lifted my tinted visor and we engaged in conversation about bikes until the lights changed colour. With a nod and a wave, we went our separate ways. It occurred to me that it was possibly the most enjoyable interaction I’d experienced in weeks and it was with a perfect stranger with whom I likely had very little in common. It didn’t matter what colour our skin was, or that he could have been from that small town while I live in the city. It didn’t matter that I was riding an upright Japanese sportbike while he was riding a custom American chopper. Empathy and mutual respect can go a long way.
Not to minimize or oversimplify mental health challenges in any way, but there’s a saying that goes, “You never see a motorcycle outside a therapist’s office.” I think that there is merit to that. Enjoying the privilege of escaping the world’s troubles for a day and safely staying out after dark without curfew were not lost on me for a second. Many people are facing unemployment or juggling both work and familial duties, while others are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders as their cities burn to the ground. Having the opportunity to unplug for the day allowed for some much-needed relaxation and perspective on what really matters. I’m not suggesting I have the answer for world peace. I just know that we’d all be better off if we took a moment to relax and treated those around us a little better whether we’re alike or not. In fact, especially if we aren’t.
Regardless of age, the bike we ride, our political affiliation, or the colour of our skin, we’re all in this together. And we can all do better.