I watched Enough a lot growing up. An uncomfortable amount even, and when my parents would come in, they’d ask me if I was watching that Jennifer Lopez movie again, and without removing my eyes from the screen, I’d nod my head. I was transfixed because in a way, I understood Jennifer Lopez and what she was going through. Not the spousal abuse because I was like, 13 years old, BUT IN MY OWN WAY, I understood. I knew that one day I’d have my own journey. My own revenge to seek. My own moment that I would finally have enough.
My last check in was a year and a half ago… about six months into my fitness and health journey, just after I realized that if you stop eating entire large pizzas on a biweekly basis, you won’t die of heart failure at thirty years old. I had decided to start running gingerly, and on occasion I would pick up weights, particularly if they were in my way at the gym. But in all the progress I had made, I wasn’t prepared for the hellscape that was a free Soul Cycle class.
For those of you uninterested in reading my survivor’s account of taking said free Soul Cycle class, let me sum it up for you: imagine being strapped to a bike and being screamed motivational pick me ups amidst a bevy of grapefruit candles and guys named Bryce and girls named Nicole who absolutely “live for the high.” I was beaten down, bothered, beleaguered, and I couldn’t really walk the day after. The 50 pounds lost, the casual jogs I’d take, the dismissal of pizza… it meant nothing. While I may have made strides toward becoming a healthier person, in the eyes of Hot Garrett, all those Bryces and Nicoles, and the grapefruit candles, I was trash. Sweaty trash. And as I stood in the snowfall that January night, I promised myself I’d return. I promised myself that enough was finally enough.
In my eighteen month training period, I lost another 30 pounds, gained 20 of it back, and then lost 10, so it’s been a real Kirstie Alley kind of situation. I gave up Diet Coke and replaced it with black coffee. I ran a half marathon, and I started doing a high impact training class with a woman named Amy who combines exercising to techno music with the same inspirational verbiage you’d hear on a self-discovery episode of Oprah. The workouts involve pushups that resemble Magic Mike routines, but no matter how many times I denied cream or attempted a “weighted burpee,” I was plagued with the memory of that time I “clicked into a bike” and was forced to do something called a “tap back” on a bicycle seat, which only led to feeling like I’d been punched repeatedly in that strange area that exists between your hoo hah and your dun-dun-da-dun.
So on a lone Monday, I decided to attempt a spin class incognito at my gym. The results were similar, but there was something less aggressive about it… fewer candles, less screaming. It was a brief exercise (literally) in having everything about yourself ripped away from you and replaced with a bicycle seat entirely too small to actually sit on. And in my weakest moments, the spin teacher named Lisa gave us all the best advice I’d ever heard… advice Hot Garrett had failed to mention: I totally get if you feel like you’re going to throw up. Just adjust the resistance–here’s some Bowie.
So it wasn’t, like, super insightful, but it told me what I needed to know: I was never going to be ready to return to cult cycling, but I was ready to show up to prove myself with a stronger mind, spirit, and, um, between the legs region.
With all the growth I’d made from my last venture, I’d managed to remain as cheap today as I was then, so I waited for my opportunity to go to another cult-cycle class without having to pay for it. When I learned that a place called CycleBar would be opening up just around from my apartment, I locked in two free rides for me and a friend. I was never actually going to pay for it because similar to Jennifer, I had something to prove, but nothing really to gain. No stranger to the game, I chose another hot instructor, we’ll call him Hot Rob. Hot Rob didn’t have any insightful quotes to judge from, but he was from Texas, and he was very into “being in the family,” and I love being in a family. It’s why I go to Olive Garden, because when you’re there, you’re family.
So when Andrew and I walked into CycleBar NoMa, the situation wasn’t too far off from when I tried out SoulCycle—an extreme color scheme, lockers I can’t work, and a check-in station that assigned you shoes and a bike. I had already signed the safety waiver online, knowing that there was still a very real chance that I was going to die in that darkened room, and they’d not find my body until I was all tangled up in someone else’s pedals. Andrew had never spun before. He’d never risked his soul like I had, nor lived to tell the tale. Andrew is actually the kind of attractive, skinny person I’ve always resented. The type of person who uses “click into the bike” in a colloquial way because he was privy to fitness trends and working out and moving without having to catch your breath for as long as I’d known him. While I’d invited Liz along with me months earlier for support, I invited Andrew for the exact opposite reason. I was mad. I was angry and I was made and I didn’t want—nay, need any allies.
We went to the locker room area, and I grabbed a complimentary water bottle and wrote my name on it in silver sharpie in all caps. “JUSTIN” glared back at me in all its metallic pride, and in that moment I felt worried, but ready. This was what we had been working toward. This was my Camelot.
On the walls, there weren’t motivational messages like I’d seen at Soul Cycle. No “LOCATE YOUR BEAST” or “DETERMINED” just “FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM,” which I appreciate because let’s cut to the chase, you know? We strapped into our cycling shoes, which are like regular velcro shoes you wear before you know how to tie your shoes, but with tap dancing pieces on the bottom that lock you into your bike. A man asked if we were ready to enter, and I stood frozen in front of the doors. All this training, leading to another 45 minutes, broken down into another five distinctive categories:
Redemptive Anxiety (3 minutes)
I took a quick breath, said yes, and he opened the door, revealing another mirrored room, dimly lit with a red light that reflected in the mirrors around the studio. I felt like a whore, but like, a high end whore who has his own red-light window front and also a commemorative water bottle. He asked me if it was my first time, and nervously, I said yes. And in a way, that wasn’t a lie. How can you be the same person after such a long journey back? He told me he could show me how to lock into my pedals, but as I raised my foot, I immediately was able to lock the shoes in myself. A sensation ran through my body like the first hit of cocaine, or what I assume doing cocaine would be like… I have large nostrils and have always worried that if I ever did do cocaine, I’d immediately become addicted, so, you know, roll with me.
Arrogant Tomfoolery (12 minutes)
Andrew quickly began to fall apart, and I relished in it. In my first attempt, this was where I started finding a new appreciation for sitting on my couch, as all of my Soul Cycle colleagues began to die around me. But through my training, I was totally fine. Like an asshole, I leaned over and said, “What’s wrong?” knowing damn good and well what was wrong. He was dying. Andrew was falling apart at the seams because this CycleBar situation was just a stripped down, more urban-oriented Soul Cycle. And I was rolling in the satisfaction of knowing I was prepared, and he wasn’t. I had already adjusted my towel so that I could grab it without toppling over. Every move I made was calculated, like a jungle cat, and every time that Hot Rob made eye contact with me, I wanted him to know that I was staring at him like a panther ready to pounce. Hot Rob had no control over me because I was Hot Justin, more so literally than figuratively. Like, I was literally steaming, and that’s when it hit me that maybe I was too arrogant.
Devastation (22 minutes)
So, remember that point in Enough when Jennifer Lopez is fighting her husband and ends up standing over him with a marble cutting board about to crush his head in and then screams out in anguish because she’s realized that she’s above the revenge? And then she tries to call 911 and he clocks her in the head and knocks her out and her sage self-defense instructor says, “As sure as he’s a coward, he’ll will try and kick you.” Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. Right as I got confident, Hot Rob was like, “We’re going to do pushups on the bike!” and I was like, “Excuse the f**k out of me?” and then we did pushups on the bike, and the whole world started crashing around me. Hot Rob was telling us to let the rest of the week go, meanwhile, I was trying to determine if it was possible for me to use a stationary bike to recreate that scene from City of Angels where Meg Ryan crashes into a logging truck.
I decided to completely tune out the music and close my eyes, but when I did that, I almost lost balance and fell off my bike, so then I just stared at the girl’s butt in front of me. I imagined that might have been really comforting to a different kind of guy, but as a guy comparing his fate to Meg Ryan’s in City of Angels, I am decidedly not that kind of guy. Hot Rob told us about how this is the only moment that we have and that we’re not in control of everything in the world, and I kind of feel like I beg to differ. I didn’t have control in that moment either. He pointed at me and told me to “pull the string in my head up.” I still have no idea what this means.
The Waterfall (3 minutes)
Like most EDM/cycling music, I had very little understanding what was actually being played. I’m an Ingrid Michaelson kind of girl living in a Chainsmoker’s world. By this time, Andrew had died and his body had been removed from the studio Hunger Games-style. I was nearing my personal end, but in the distance, I heard Sia. You see, my entire fitness journey was kickstarted by Sia after I attempted to recreate her “Chandelier” music video, broke my foot, and gained 30 pounds because I couldn’t use crutches to move, so I just sat in my apartment for three months.
So when I heard her voice in “Waterfall” feat. the always underrated P!nk and some inevitably Caucasian man named “Stargate,” I channeled my inner demons, including the unhealthy obsession that drove me to return to the cycle studio, and I persevered. Savage in a way that Hot Garrett never thought of, Hot Rob told us that he was going to pull up a screen, and it would show how hard everyone was working in the class. The names flashed in front of us, and there I was, #2. After a 30 second sprint, the screens went black, and though they were in the distance, I could still vaguely see my reflection in it. I locked eyes with myself, and while it might have been nausea, I believe that I felt my soul cycle all over again. I know that’s very off brand for CycleBar, but the soul feels what it wants on the bike. The screens lit up for a second time, and my name had moved to the #1 spot, and then I blacked out.
Actual Nausea (7 minutes)
When I came to, I was still on the bike and somehow still pedaling, except now everything in my stomach was displaced. Hot Rob told us to find ourselves in the mirror and give ourselves a seductive look, which I decided was the surest way to make myself vomit. I kind of felt like if I looked in any one direction too quickly, my Cuban sandwich from lunch would land on that girl’s butt, and it doesn’t take a straight guy to know that is not how you get the girl. So instead of continuing, I just kind of stopped and waited for it all to come to an end. Hot Rob asked us if we felt like we had freed ourselves from the struggles of our lives, if for only 45 minutes, and I told him I had. It was a lie.
Just like the time before I couldn’t open my locker, so as Andrew went to take a shower, I begged a man to give me my shoes, and he unlocked my space locker and showed me how to work the dial. I ignored him, as any man fading in and out of consciousness would do. I sat on the bench as all the other cyclists filed out of the locker room, saying, “Wow, it’s really a workout that channels both your body and your mind!” I felt my shorts leaving a larger and larger sweat stain, so I decided to just sit there there until they all had left.
I made my way into the bathroom to change my shirt, having the forethought to bring one because I sweat an uncomfortably excessive amount. From the shower, I heard quick sharp moans, and I knew who it was—poor Andrew. I imagined his poor, unprepared body writhing on the floor, but instead, as he turned off the shower, he stuck his head out and said, “I hate you.” But after he got dressed and we left, we talked about our experiences, like two old buddies years after Vietnam. We’d talk about the battles we’d faced, and then we’d cry together. My phone buzzed, indicating I’d gotten a new email. The subject said “Your CycleStats Are In,” which is a subject line worth unpacking in a blog post of its own, but that’s not this one.
With my final bit of energy, I opened the email to reveal that the entire class had been ranked: 1-40 based on exertion and speed, and at the very top in the number one spot, I saw my name. And in that moment, I was free. Free from the chains of Hot Garrett and all those grapefruit candles. Free from all those windbreaker pants I wore in middle school. But mostly, free from the chains I’d tied myself up with eighteen months ago in a hot, dark cycle studio in West End Washington.