I woke up the morning after Bike to the Beach DC a little tired and not entirely certain where I was headed. I rode out past the White House…

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Into Virginia…
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And to the start of the W&OD Trail

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A series of phone calls and texts only further confused me – I couldn’t find the starting line. Eventually, I gave up and headed out on the trail alone.

It was a gray day, and I felt like a failure: the perfect mindset for a suicide awareness ride.

My mind didn’t wander, it was fixed on remembering friends and acquaintances who took their own lives. I mourned the loss of people who really did make my world a better place, I wallowed in self-pity. I sympathized with the people who were truly close to the departed. Finally, I despaired at the impossibility of saving someone who truly wishes to destroy him or herself.

The impulse isn’t a mystery to me, but the ability to act on that impulse is.

Still, even in miserable conditions, it’s hard for me to be unhappy when I’m on a bicycle. The concept of the sufferfest eludes me. At one point, I had the temerity to pursue the thought train that physical activity was the cure for depression.

Then my brain caught up with me, reminded me of a terrible time in my life. I would go to the pool to do a hundred laps, trying to keep my head above the swamp of misery that would mire me in bed every morning. I frequently ran into a friend there, but was so busy with my own (really trivial) drama that I had no time for anyone else’s. I felt bad when I heard that someone had broken into her locker and stolen her things, stranding her at the gym. I knew she was having a hard time, but I didn’t know how bad until I heard about her death.

How arrogant of me to think that a little physical activity could have saved her! Or that, if I’d been a little less self-centered, I could have made a difference! And yet, we cannot just shrug and say, “nothing I do will make a difference, so I will do nothing.”

So I ride. I ride for myself, I ride for things I believe in. I don’t know if the only difference I’m making is some selfish self-gratification, the sense that doing something is better than doing nothing, no matter how futile the gesture.

I was wrapped up in my own thoughts when I saw some riders headed the other way in Tour de SAVE jerseys. I called out, then turned around, and chased them down. I’d found my ride! I joined them, and talked all the way back. Some of the conversations were mournful: we were all riding because we’d lost someone we loved. Some were joyful: bikes and bike paths are conducive to happiness. Some were concerned: a rider went down hard on the edge of a path.

The personal connections helped. I don’t know how much of a difference the few hundred dollars we raised will make. I can’t bring anyone back. But at the end of the ride, the world seemed a better place.

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