it rained pretty much all week here in Northern California.
This is a good thing — a very, very good thing. We desperately need the rain here, but I can’t help feeling a little bit down when the sky cries and I know I need to head outside to go about my day. Rainy days on the West Coast, much like snowy days on the East Coast, activate a very basic urge to roll over, curl up and double down on my sleep while I contemplate whether I will use the big mug or the small mug for tea later.
Unfortunately, that’s not what my schedule has in store for me ... ever. Instead, I am driven by the urgent call of my alarm to wake up, lurch out of bed and give my bike a long, hard stare. It looks back at me, and I could almost swear it hates the idea of being dragged out in the rain as much as I do. There are definite upsides to not having a car, but biking to where you need to be in the rain isn’t one of them. Or is it?
I used to hate biking in the rain. My brakes were soggy, so I’d hold my breath a little every time I stopped at a red light or stop sign, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t go hurtling into oncoming traffic. Brake early, I’d whisper to myself until I got close to a light at which point, I’d start shrieking to myself, Now! Now! Now! Brake now you fool!!!
It was a stressful few months in the early years of my bike commuting life.
I’d also feel stiff in my rain coat and rain pants — trapping my body sweat inside my coat in exchange for shelter from the rain outside. Then, when I finally got to my destination, I’d have the chore of removing layers of gear — soggy, slightly dirty coat, boots and pants. Finally I had to figure out where to put the gear and making sure it didn’t drench my phone or laptop.
Here’s the miraculous part: I still have to do all of those things when I bike in the rain, but I actually really like them now. All it took was a mindset shift. Rather than tell myself “I hate biking in the rain”, I started telling myself, “I love biking in the rain”.
Seriously, it's that basic.
After all, there are fewer bikers on the road when it rains, and if I leave early enough, there are fewer cars. There’s the challenge of making sure you have the right gear and the right gear to contain the gear. I’ve mentioned Mafia bags here before. They have a lifetime guarantee and they’re waterproof. I also have come to love my Cloudveil red rain coat (which I got at the discount clothing store Marshalls. I highly recommend hunting for discounts when it comes to gear like this.). I traded in my rain pants for quick-dry leggings. I also got a nice (albeit cheap), removable flap fender for my race bike. I’m still in the market for some good water-proof shoes, but I can make do with what I have for the season.
It’s not the gear that makes me feel amazing on the straightaways though, it’s what I am telling myself. Rather than admonish myself for not breaking sooner or whining about the cold and the wet, I relish the juxtaposition of warmth generated by working some of the largest muscle groups in my body with the chill of the rain hitting my face. I pump myself up, telling myself that I was made to bike in the rain and that this is living. I even go so far as to — cheesy as it may be — tell myself I am proud of me.
Now, this might all sound like fuzzy, ridiculous self-help garbage. Who knows? Maybe it is, but it works for me a lot better than the old approach. I spent years thinking that, if I put myself down, I would build strength and resilience in the face of criticism from others. So, I'd tell myself horrible things -- things I would never tell anyone else -- to toughen up against ... the criticism that never came. It was entirely backwards thinking, but I was younger then, and ignorance and youth walk hand in hand. It has since been a terribly difficult habit to break, however.
This week, though, as the sky cried, I hit a turning point. I used my soggy bike ride as an opportunity to change what I tell myself about what I am doing, how I am doing it and who I am in reference to it. I used to tell myself things such as:
Why are you being such a moron and biking in this weather? It’s not even safe. Turn around and go home. You’re no good at this. You're not prepared, and you look ridiculous.
Now I am telling myself:
I’m really proud of you for getting out there. This weather is a real challenge, but you’re taking it on and you’ll be better for the effort you’re putting into this ride; it will show in whatever else you choose to take on later.
Those are very different messages. Now, you might think your body won’t respond differently to one or the other, but it does. There are a slew of articles (here’s a selection from Psychology Today alone
) that outline the effects our self-talk can have on us. Here's how I think about my self-talk now: speak well and kindly of you … to you. Bring a smile to your own face when you talk to yourself. Maintain a friend in your head.
Does this always work for me? Of course not. Bad habits are hard to break, and sometimes the biting, cynical voice comes back. But I’ve learned that biking in the rain means letting go of that voice. If I don’t, I know I won’t get through the tail end of winter in Northern California … or much else for that matter.