I almost threw up tonight. I thought about what I had for lunch–a spinach salad with a little bit of grilled chicken. And a cup of gumbo. Lord, the gumbo. I couldn’t imagine the gumbo, mostly because there was no where to go. Liz was on my right and this woman was on the left, and she was going so fast. And I was locked in. Trapped, even. There was no where to go, but I guess it will all make more sense if I told you how I got there.
Until the ground beneath my feet crumbles and the sidewalks eat my running shoes, I refuse to pay someone else for jogging around in circles. I’ve been lying to my coworker for months, telling her that I’m going to join her gym, when in reality, every time I consider starting a membership, I’m reminded of all the chicken wings I can eat for 92 dollars a month. Also my work has a gym downstairs in case I ever get the desire to run in place or lift a dumbbell or something insane like that. But free things? Man do I love free things.
Since my last post, I’ve lost over 50 pounds, which is great. When people ask me how it happened, I usually tell them that I only eat a cube of cheese a day, but in actuality, it comes from not eating every meal like I’ll never see food again and by vaguely exercising. With all that being said, it took me three months to convince myself that I should buy running shoes and six months before I felt like I should even consider a FitBit a viable accessory to own. So anything beyond that felt bonkers.
My friend Tammy posted a tweet that Soul Cycle had a new year deal. If you were a new rider who had never participated in the phenomenon that is Soul Cycle, you could join in the fun for free. On top of that, I was a big fan of the Kimmy Schmidt episode about it. Her tweet was a friendly call to action asking her friends to join her, but I’m not about that life. Tammy is good at too many things. No offense to Tammy, but Tammy is the last person I want to spin with. As the pepperonis were falling out of my mouth, I decided that I needed a companion who would be enthusiastic, but understanding. So I chose my friend Liz–partly because she’s supportive of any new adventure, but also because she recently ran into knee problems so, at best, she wouldn’t completely destroy me. Know your audience.
In preparation, we quickly decided that outside of the candlelit exercise vigil ambiance that we had heard about, the most important part of our experience would be the instructor. After some comparing and contrasting, we settled on a nice young man from Nashville named Garrett. His motto is “find the strength you’ve never seen.” That didn’t mean a lot to us, but we did love that his music taste bordered on the same kind of sad, mellow break up music that we liked to listen to. He also karaokes Gavin DeGraw. Okay, to be honest, it pretty much had to do with appearance. We chose Hot Garrett.
But the mirage of a fun night with Garrett slowly began to fade as I realized that I didn’t bring socks along with me to change into. Because I’m a disgusting person, I usually don’t wear socks when I run in my own shoes. But from what I had gathered, you wear special shoes at Soul Cycle, and I don’t care how many organic, gluten-free, non-GMO soaps that Soul Cycle regulars used, there was no way I was sticking my foot into someone else’s shoes. If I’m doing the science right, that’s how you contract ebola. I had also forgotten my water bottle, but after a Google image search, I deduced that only peasants bring water bottles to Soul Cycle. Everyone else has Smart Water, and if Regina was going to wear camo pants and flip flops, so was I.
When Liz and I walked into the West End Soul Cycle studio with our Smart Water, we were immediately embraced by the warm scent of grapefruit majesty–it’s very similar to the wildly underrated Crayola crayon “Purple Mountain Majesty,” but in smell form. And grapefruit. Though the ambiance was just delightful, the Soul Cycle patronage immediately appeared to be the opposite of the citrus flammables that they boasted. I don’t think I was trying to make friends or anything, but I also wasn’t against it, ya know? The front desk associates asked us to sign waivers (in case we died, or our souls got lost in the cycle).
After returning our waivers and receiving our shoes, the front desk associates asked if we wanted a Smart Water. There we were, lower-middle class fools who dared to imagine that the water would not be provided for us. Overwhelmed, Liz nearly set her waiver down in the grapefruit candle. Liz and I ventured into the locker room area, which is actually about the size of a college dormitory, except unlike your college dormitory, you’re not just sharing with one person. You’re sharing it with about 60, and all 6o of your roommates are more attractive than you. They are clearly regulars, draped in Lululemon and Nike and even SoulCycle apparel. Meanwhile, back at Target, I’m wearing Mossimo sweatpants and a Philadelphia Union tee shirt I bought when I was “doing soccer for a while.” I rolled my striped work socks down and put on my Soul Cycle shoes and prepared for the unknown.
Inside the studio is where the magic happens. There’re words on the wall like “OBSESSED”and “WARRIOR” and “JUSTIN GO HOME THE ONLY CORE YOU CARE ABOUT IS INSIDE A PINT OF BEN AND JERRY’S.” It’s all v. inspiring. Liz and I have to get help from Soul Cycle employees because adjusting the bike to fit you is a literal science. The other riders aren’t interested in your struggle, and at first, I thought it was all very rude, but after you experience Soul Cycle, you realize that they can’t help you with your journey because they’re all on their own journey. Ultimately, you don’t come to Soul Cycle to make friends. You come to Soul Cycle to make friends… with yourself. So from that moment on, I decided that Liz was hardly even a person to me. She was just another roadblock on my way to actualization.
In reality, the exercise is about 50 minutes, in my estimation. I’m not exactly sure if I can talk about the exercises, so instead, I will focus on my soul which, unless I signed the rights to it away in that waiver, is mine. That 50 minutes can be broken down into 5 very distinct stages:
Complete and Utter Mockery (4 minutes)
When you lock yourself into the bike, you get the same feeling you get when you feel the first jar of a roller coaster. You know it’s way too late to get off, but unlike a roller coaster, you are going to be on for 45 minutes. There is no leaving. We chose bikes in the back so that we would be out of harm’s way, but this is a rookie mistake. Those bikes make it most difficult to leave, and they’re also elevated above the rest, so everyone can see how lazy you are. I attempted to make fun of all the spandex in the room and how Garrett’s front row was being called on by name, but I ran out of breath.
Appreciation for couches, ice cream, etc. (6 minutes)
It only takes about 5 minutes before your comrades start dying around you. It’s very Saving Private Ryan. Select riders begin to slow down, and then you realize they stop doing the exercise at all. There’s a towel in front of you for you to wipe your face on, but unless you have the balance of an alley cat, you will literally tip over and knock all the riders over if you attempt to grab it. It was in this time that I started thinking about all the things I wanted out of life: namely a more comfortable couch, ice cream, pizza, and Netflix. I had no idea what the house music was, so I decided to focus on that. I managed, out of pure unadulterated stupor, to complete most of the bonus exercises on top of the cycling.
Devastation (28 minutes)
Tbh, this is the point that I let go of everything inside of me that judged these people because even if they did pay thirty dollars a class, and even if their workout wardrobe budget could pay my rent for a year, most of these people could bicycle over my entire body to the beat of EDM music and hardly realize I was there. The poor guy in front of me was hacking up a lung, which was impressive, because the music was so loud and Garrett (who was WAY nice when the lights were on) was screaming at everyone to push through their pain. He kept saying, “IT’S NOT MY JOURNEY, IT’S YOURS!!” which is not helpful when you are begging God to end your journey immediately.
You have to be careful what you ask for, because as I was silently crying out for release, that’s when the nauseous moment happened. With no where to throw up, and too much pity to throw up on the guy in front of me, I kept pushing through. But when I pushed harder, all the body heat and candle heat and soul heat had caught up to me. I felt myself begin to get lightheaded, and I thought, This is it. I’m going to die right here, locked into a stationary bicycle, drowning in the aesthetic of a trendy fitness class. Devastated, I rested for a moment. I spent the rest of the 28 minutes reading the waist band of the guy’s underwear in front of me over and over, who by that point, was laying on the handlebars of his bike. It comforted me.
Rebirth (7 minutes)
By rebirth, I meant that we got to sit down on the seat which was way nice because I literally thought I was going to rebreak my foot. I have no idea how FLOTUS does this literally all the time. In this time, I thought about all the minor weight lifting I had done in the past few months, and how I was strangely over-prepared to do cardio with tiny weights. At this point in the class, I like to believe that Garrett and I made hard eye contact, and then he made contact with my soul, and then our souls gently shook hands and thanked each other for existing.
Redemption (5 minutes)
In these final minutes, Garrett played a sexy song with a sick beat and then another song that I actually knew, and I knew that this was the last moment we’d ever have together. It was the final moment that I’d have to prove that I wasn’t just a joke book who showed up for a free class at Soul Cycle, even though that’s exactly what I was. I pedaled harder than I had all class and even managed to find the beat of a song once. And as the song ended, fear struck my body again (along with a cramp, but whatever). I realized that I didn’t know how to get my shoes unhooked, and neither did Liz. And as the lights came back up and the classroom emptied out, it was just Garrett, some groupies who just had to talk to Garrett, and Liz and me, stuck in our bikes. No one came to save us, so we just undid our shoes and left the class in [work] sock feet. My soul had cycled.
After class ended, everyone ran back to the locker dorm to fetch their stuff. A new crop of cyclists mingled amongst us–it wasn’t hard to tell us apart, because half of us were aloof and ready to begin our journey, and the other half of us lost our journey in the flood of human perspiration. Turns out there’s some kind of special combination on their space lockers, and I clearly wasn’t paying attention to mine, so as everyone left or filed into the showers, I had to wait for a front desk associate to open my locker with a key. It’s the Soul Cycle equivalent of your mom forgetting you at elementary school.
As I waited , I locked eyes with another guy who clearly wasn’t supposed to be there. In the light I barely knew him, but in the dark, I’d know his underwear waist strap anywhere. It was Hacky. He shook his head and smiled, and I obliged. Then he coughed so hard he almost threw up before disappearing into the shower. I wanted to follow, but I didn’t. In some circles, that’s called stalking. In others, it’s called a bathhouse, but in my smallest circle of just him and me, it was unnecessary. Like me and Hacky, or me and Garrett, we’re just two comets, passing in the night. Granted, one comet is faster and hasn’t eaten an unnecessary carb since 2006 and probably was pretty popular in high school, etc. but a comet nonetheless.
As Liz (who did way better than me) and I left, I stopped to snap a quick picture of the “Soul Etiquette.” As soon as I did, I saw that rule #1 is no cell phones or pictures, as it disturbs the spiritual journey of those around you. So just as quickly as I found myself cycled into a new soul, I nearly damned it. Drenched in our own nastiness and beleaguered by our inability to stand on a bicycle and do pushups, we walked outside to witness the first snow of the season. For a minute, I convinced myself that it was a sign from something up above. Then I remembered that the meteorologist had been calling for snow for a couple of days, so nah.
But I’ll never forget Garrett or what it meant to be a “WARRIOR” or that charming young man who nearly threw up because he coughed so much (in retrospect, there were a lot or mirrors there, so this person might just be me). And it’s a good thing I have those memories, because the next time I spend thirty dollars to make myself nearly throw up, it might just be on another cycle for my soul, but it’s probably going to be on Powerball tickers and gas station taquitos.