Essay by Tanawat Luekr-u-suke
Riding my bike and walking have always been a way for me to clear my thoughts and improve my attitude. Over time, long walks and bike rides became meditation sessions for me, allowing me to boost my mental health simply by making time to engage in something that brings me joy.
During my childhood in New York City, my family and I would walk around eight miles every Saturday. These walks would start at 96th Street in Manhattan, and we would walk at our own pace all the way to Times Square through Central Park. Sometimes we would go to see sights in the park, which would reroute us in all kinds of funky ways.
Whether we were visiting the statue of Balto or Belvedere Castle, we walked to watch people and experience the area. These fleeting moments, tied to unique locations, gave us a different perspective on the world around us. This is where I first learned the value of walking to places and taking your time to absorb your surroundings.
Later, as a highly emotional teenager who had stopped walking with my family on weekends, I did not not have an outlet for my thoughts. Instead there was a lot of pent-up rage and sadness, unseen until the event of an outburst, wherepon they would spill out onto unsuspecting victims.
In my junior year of high school, a new friend convinced me to bike around the city. At first it was merely a way for me to get around and liberate myself. I had been previously tied down with a school-provided MetroCard that provided just three free daily trips. Two were to be used to commute to and from school and the third to get to an afterschool activity. With no money in my pocket, my only way to see more of the world was if someone took me. But now, with a bike, I was my only limiting factor.
Together, my friend and I explored the city by bike, and on foot too. The long journeys allowed me once again to reflect on myself and my surroundings. Typically, these reflections would then turn toward society, our city, the systems we interact with.
College was where I built the habit of commuting by bike, which I maintained as I transitioned into a working adult. Commuting by bike reduced my financial stress and still provided a way to see and experience the world with a greater sense of freedom than subway cars or packed buses offered. Eventually my commutes would be 10 miles long, from Washington Heights down to the East Village.
At my job, where I worked sometimes 60-hour weeks on a fixed salary, there were lots of expectations of what needed to get done, and the stress levels were high. My partner would note on weeks when I was too tired to commute by bike that my attitude and anger management would worsen. Prolonged absence from commuting by bike would hinder my ability to keep my impulsive thought processes in check.
These days, I have a short walk and even shorter bike ride to work. These commutes are long enough to be pleasant but not long enough to help me very much in maintaining my mental health. When I start to feel overly agitated, I ride out to the “cut” on the Colchester Causeway.
These rides provide me with some much needed time on the bike as well as exposure to the community that surrounds me. It is always interesting to see families who embark on bike rides with kiddos on the Island Line Trail. Instead of having a major park with loads of different sights and attractions, the bike path is the attraction. Sometimes people will tell me it is the only place they feel safe to have kids ride their bikes. At the end of the day, getting outdoors and onto the bike path along Lake Champlain seems to be the most common way for locals to unwind.