In the time between collecting cost estimates for my broken car air conditioner and deciding to hold off on getting it repaired immediately, I did something that I do quite well, I avoided making a decision.
I planned to take my car back in to the repair shop on Monday, but it just occurred to me that I might have to choose between cold air and a camping trip to Yellow Stone and the Grand Canyon with my sisters. Shoot. So I set the whole situation aside and went on a bike ride.
The most scenic parkway in the South —a cyclist’s dream—passes about four miles from my house. But, when I think of wrestling the web of straps and black rubber hooks of the bike rack onto my car, and forcing ice cubes into the narrow necks of water bottles—all designed by people who obviously have time to carefully melt each ice cube down to a fourth its original size—my interest in cycling melts away faster than those ice cubes.
Instead, I take an eight-mile loop—off my driveway and down the highway, then create a horse shoe arc over several old country back roads, back on the highway and to my driveway. I risk blowing a tire every couple feet on pot holes and cracks but I’m developing my own little routes through the maze of deteriorating asphalt. The most comparable experience I know is walking a labyrinth, but for people who prefer moving a little faster and working their quads in the process.
My brain can only focus on one or two things at a time so the good spaces for thinking are the smooth sections, up three hills and past a corn field. On this day, as I zipped between acres of corn, I started thinking about the differences between humid air and crisp air.
I remembered skating down a frozen Alaskan river, and I thought about chilly mornings spent watching mist rise from a valley in Utah. Like the exciting anticipation that sweeps through during the Fall, in those moments I felt shivers of possibility. Something about crisp air makes me feel alive to dreams, change, and growth. It’s almost like magic.
The humid, sticky air is so different. I glanced down at my grimy forearm. Detoxing. This heat draws dirt from my pores, and the humid air leaves the gritty stuff stuck to my skin, as if to blatantly remind me how messy I am. It’s stifling. On these evening rides, the wind presses back against my effort to move forward, and I struggle to believe that there will ever be progress.
It leeches hope and anticipation from my daily life, also. I read once that looking at the sky causes your mind to automatically begin thinking about the future but focusing on the ground sends your mind recalling the past. As a kid, before iPhones, I regularly tested this theory in bathroom stalls.
Well, the air has a similar effect on me. In crisp air, I am eager to try the ideas that excite me. In hot, humid weather, I remember all the times I failed to finish well or the time someone said I could always get a job making goat cheese once I got tired of dreaming big dreams.
Gosh, I hate muggy southern summers.
That’s when I had a funny thought. What if I didn’t replace the air condition, and what if I spent a summer learning to commit to my goals and projects, no matter the weight and drag of this heavy feeling? What if, rather than driving around in a comfortable capsule of a car, what if I put down the windows and let the thick summer air swirl around me?
That, I thought, is a very stupid idea. Luckily, I passed the corn field so I tossed out that thought.
In the end, however, that’s what I chose. Not because it’s necessary to drive around without air condition to work toward goals—I’d take my car to the shop tonight if I had extra cash—but it is a different way of viewing my situation. I want to go on my camping trip and I’m learning to press into the grimy task of cycling training. Now, also, I can learn to preserve hope and stay my course, even when all I see is a sweaty, red face looking back in my rearview mirror.