Last February, in the grips of the pandemic before getting vaccinated, I took stock of my wellbeing, and things weren’t great. I felt depleted. I was slogging through that transitional “sandwich generation” space, which I’m smack in the middle of. Everyone, everything, seemed to signal rising levels of anxiety and stress.
The January 6 insurrection, mass COVID death—a few within my own circle of family and friends—took their toll. I wasn’t exactly “bouncing back.” I was sleeping poorly and starting each day pissed, sad, or numb. I needed a reset. Gratitude—a healing practice I believe in (my mom calls it “prayer”)—wasn’t enough. I craved something proactive.
I picked up a nerdy pandemic obsession—kelp harvesting—and buried myself in learning about seaweed’s rich history, feeling buoyed by its carbon-sequestering potential. I kept gravitating to the ocean and a salt marsh for long walks, searching for direction, and somewhere along the way, in my resetting of headspace, I decided I needed an ambitious, joyful goal. So I signed up for a biking fundraiser to support climate advocacy and reset my outlook. I chose a group to support, SeaTrees, whose mission is to restore coastal ecosystems. And I convinced a girlfriend to join me.
My friend is a school principal who knows that depression and anxiety among kids and teachers have spiked during the pandemic. She needed a recharge as well, so the two of us plunked down deposits and trained for the ride: four days and 273 miles along Maine’s coast. The fundraising was community-building, and I’m still volunteering, but biking a lot—committing to it—was the hard part.
“Do just one thing”—the wise words of Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a badass marine biologist and co-author of All We Can Save, a collection of musings by powerful women sharing stories and poems about how we can turn the tide on climate catastrophe. It’s as much a blueprint for change as a meditation on health and a racial justice primer that shows how much agency we all have when we lift each other up. My favorite observations about biking through the lens of Johnson’s insight:
Syncing with the rhythms of nature
After clocking almost 2,000 miles over seven months, I’m less inclined now to obsessively grab my phone, refresh my inbox, and scroll Twitter. Like the tides, our bodies have rhythms, so I pay closer attention to focusing my behavior for fewer interruptions. My bike paths reward me with a familiar flock of turkeys, “my dudes,” whom I’ve watched grow up into teenagers. I’ve seen their caruncles up close, deer trails on steep hills, a reservoir dry up, trees discolor too early from drought. I’ve seen turkey vultures drying their wings at sunrise. A coyote sunbathing. A meadow where jackrabbits play. I wave to my favorite madrone tree every time I pass her by. Like a swimmer timing ocean waves, I choose my routes to take the headwinds so I can flip around with winds at my back. And when I misread nature, another lesson awaits.
Take your time (if you can). The journey counts.
Biking awakens my senses: the sun on my cheeks, fog wetting me down. I’ve gotten cold, overheated, dehydrated, tired, but each brings a reminder: take time to feel, smell, and taste it all, and develop a new skill, like leaning into the turns and looking ahead.
I’m a lefty politically and handedly. Like most lefties, I tend to be more big-picture when it comes to problem-solving, but a few small modifications serve me well when biking—keeping my speed up, tucking into turns instead of hitting the brakes, with my body aligned to the road’s curves. Taking the turns, instead of being taken by them, is possible in areas of life beyond biking.
Finding your edges
Our esteemed colleague Jamilah King, upon leaving her MoJo family recently for exciting new challenges, gave us parting advice: Do something every now and then that scares you. For me, that’s hard to do. My reserves run low. So I’ve tried something similar: finding my edges. None of us know what we’re fully capable of until stepping into uncomfortable spaces, forced to rise to the occasion. The edges are usually farther out than we think.
Sleeping and eating have never felt so good
No joke: Bike a lot and your sleep will improve, and food is more delicious. Never has a PB&J felt more satisfying, squished up in my jersey pocket. By the time I pull it out midride, it looks like nothing much but it tastes like five Michelin stars.
Boosting endorphins by resting up and exercising is a nontoxic, sustainable way to improve my mood and mental health, and biking makes me breathe hard and deeply. Hope follows healing, and I understand now why sunflowers bend toward the sun.
I’m leaving this Recharge in my editor’s hands as I head out for a Climate Ride. I’m excited and a little scared—to ride and to write—in a way that’s as joyful as it is unsettling. I highly recommend choosing a personal recharge, just one that’s good for you and the planet. As Johnson suggests, “Do just one thing.” The momentum and connections can strengthen us all.
—Teri Carhart is Mother Jones’ director of leadership gifts. She’s just finished her first Climate Ride, biking 273 miles in four days to raise funds and awareness for the climate crisis. Send a wave to firstname.lastname@example.org.