By Eric Diekhans
The alarm sounds at 5:30 am and I immediately roll out of bed. In summer, the sun is already bursting through the blinds; in spring and fall my bedroom is dark and sometimes cold. I pull on lycra shorts, jersey, gloves, and cleated shoes. When the weather get colder, I add a jacket, booties, lobster gloves, and sometimes a balaclava. My gear allows me to ride even when the temperature drops below freezing.
The world is mostly silent as I push my bike out the door and climb aboard. A few blocks later, I wave to a small gathering of cyclists also ready to roll out. They ride faster than my pace so I continue on solo. That’s the way I prefer it anyway.
I’ve been taking these morning rides for years, two or three times per week from mid March until November. The early start allows me time to get home, walk the dog, and get ready for work. During the pandemic, when I was working at home, I continued my ritual. The streets I ride on Chicago’s North Shore were mostly deserted. In a time of turmoil and uncertainty, my this stress-free hour offered me peace.
I roll north and spot other cyclists out for training rides. A few cars and delivery trucks add to the mix, but nothing like this road will see in an hour as the morning commute begins. Lake Michigan is off my right shoulder. I sense its magnificence even though I can’t see the water through the houses and parks along the route. Some mornings, I pause partway through my route to ride down a steep hill to a deserted beach. The sun rises over the lake and I take a few moments to contemplate the wonder of nature.
Riding back up the hill, I continue on even quieter streets. Birds sing to me overhead and occasionally I spot a deer ambling across the road. I turn and pick up the bike trail that runs along the commuter rail for my return trip. Occasionally I spot a runner or a train roars past, momentarily disturbing the peace.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6: 30-31)
I suspect that Jesus retreated to the desert or some quiet garden more often than reported in the gospels. Ministry is hard work and solitary contemplation is as important as engagement. As Christians, we need to be in fellowship in the pews, and in service outside the church doors. But we also need to connect with God in creation, and where better to find the Divine than in nature’s quiet embrace?
I reach the end of the trail and roll back onto city streets. The traffic is starting to pick up as the rest of the world begins its day. I’ve ridden these streets so many times I know every busy intersection and my mind continues to relax. When I arrive home, I’ll continue my own day in a state of grace thanks to the nourishment of the natural world. Hopefully, that feeling of peace will linger in my soul long after my ride has ended.
Eric Diekhans is an award-winning author, television, and podcast producer, and a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. If he’s not on his bike, you can find him at