Throughout December, Evergreen is featuring essays, personal anecdotes, and portraits of Washington workers who have used mountain biking and access to trails as a tool for coping with the stresses of 2020.
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Read on for Patrick's story and to learn why trails are important to him:
Dr. Patrick Willauer
Photos by Ian Terry
The mountain bike has, for me, traditionally been a tool for having more fun.
I started by riding the dusty trails of the Columbia Basin where I grew up. I learned how to take my bike off jumps and drops in the Kittitas Valley while in college. I continued to ride and progress by exploring the best trails that Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana had to offer. The whole time my bike was there to get me outside, get exercise, be scared, thrilled, and most of all have good old-fashioned type I fun. As I got older and began to be more involved in academic interests and now my career as a general surgeon, my bike has become so much more to me. It is, to sound cliché, a place of Zen somewhere I go to clear my mind after a long day or a stressful week.
When the COVID pandemic started I was in the last half of my general surgery residency, in Upstate New York. We were lucky to not get hit as hard as New York City. I certainly had my experiences taking care of COVID patients. It was a stressful time and there was, and still is, so much unknown. It has been a unique beginning to a career in surgery, something that already comes with its own issues, now magnified by a global pandemic.
I am now finding more reasons than ever to get out on the trails. I’ve come to appreciate the long grinding climbs. It gives me time in my own head to work out tough cases, how things could’ve been done differently in the operating room, and how I may better approach future problems. When it comes time to go down it’s as if a switch flips and nothing else matters, your mind is free from all of the stressors and issues going on. All that matters is picking your way through a rock garden, predicting how your tires will grip a slippery root, or finding the fastest or most fun line on the trail. That is what I love about mountain biking and why I appreciate the work being done in our state to provide such diverse trails– from the desert where I grew up to the forest loam of Issaquah and Bellingham.
Biking has become a place, not just for fun and to turn my mind off, but where I can attain an almost meditative state. I can dive deep into thought and come up with plans, then point things downhill and come out energized, refreshed, and ready to tackle any new challenge.