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KCUR's Gina Kaufmann brings you personal essays about how we're all adapting to a very different world.

'I'm Grateful Just To Be Able To Do This': Riding A Bike Keeps A Pandemic Job Seeker Going

Kim Horgan sees her bike as her partner. The two have been inseparable through the pandemic in Kansas City, even though the city isn't particularly bike friendly.
Kim Horgan
Kim Horgan sees her bike as her partner. The two have been inseparable through the pandemic in Kansas City.

Kim Horgan's bike got her through a divorce. Now it's getting her through being jobless in a pandemic. Here's her story — and her advice on staying on a bike through the winter.

A few weeks ago, Kim Horgan was getting bleary-eyed from sitting on her couch, submitting job applications. She'd just been laid off from an administrative job at a law firm, and trying to cram her story into the response fields of various online forms wasn't uplifting to begin with. Looking on LinkedIn to see how many hundreds of others were applying for the same entry-level jobs in Kansas City made the whole experience even more daunting.

"It'll be like a receptionist job or an administrative assistant job, and you'll have, you know, three hundred people applying," Horgan explains. "It's so frustrating. It just feels like I could apply or not apply and still get the same results."

She decided she needed a break. So she took herself on a trip to Rocheport, Missouri, where she got on the Katy Trail and rode her bike.

She arrived with one thought in her head: Ride far.

That's exactly what she did. It was great for the first few hours, when the wind was at her back. But when she turned around, that same wind became a wall of resistance, making the ride back much longer and harder than anticipated. She had to cycle hard to finish riding before dark. And that meant no stopping.

"I was like, 'I'm so tired. My legs hurt. I'm covered with dirt, I'm starving.' And then I thought, 'Yeah. That's exactly what I wanted to feel.'"

Riding a bike has been more than a hobby. It's been her stability and strength. At a time when so much feels out of control, Horgan says, "I can still do this. I can still get from here to there."

Kim Horgan

Horgan has a significant following in the bikes-of-Instagram world, which grew exponentially a year ago when she was sponsored by Amtrack to ride around the country for a month with her bike, stopping along the way for scenic adventures to be chronicled on social media. She posts photos of her trusty bicycle out in the world, with captions that range from irreverent ("don’t fall so fast you little a##holes, or the trees will be bare," she says of fall leaves) to the poetic and even relatably straightforward ("Things are crazy. Bike rides help.").

She takes pictures of her bike the way less solitary travelers take snapshots of their traveling companions.

"The bike is just this partner in it," she says. "It's like your adventure partner and unlike people, who can disappoint you, your bike is just always there."

But when Horgan first started riding, there was nothing picturesque about it.

"I was in the process of getting a divorce," says the mother of three, recalling the strangeness of being without her kids while they were spending time with their dad. "For the first time, I ended up with free time, which I was not used to."

She filled that time with a used bike off of Craigslist.

"I would just ride around the neighborhood," Horgan says, noting she didn't have any special biking gear or equipment. "It was a big deal for me."

As she started going on longer rides, Horgan noticed that something about being alone on a bike, outdoors, was deeply therapeutic. She'd get on the bike feeling really stressed out, and no matter what happened on the ride, she'd hop off again with an underlying sense of okayness, despite all of her problems still needing to be solved.

"It's like therapy, xanax and exercise rolled into one," she says without the slightest hint that she might be joking.

This photograph appeared on Twitter and Instagram with this caption: "As an unemployed person, I’ve got to set goals and stick to a strict schedule to avoid accidentally ending up employed. Yesterday my goal was: ride back and forth across the bright, crunchy leaves."
Kim Horgan
This photograph appeared on Twitter and Instagram with this caption: "As an unemployed person, I’ve got to set goals and stick to a strict schedule to avoid accidentally ending up employed. Yesterday my goal was: ride back and forth across the bright, crunchy leaves."

Horgan's relied on those therapeutic benefits once again through the disruption of the pandemic. She'd been at a new job when the pandemic hit. After a few not-so-wonderful work experiences, this job, she says, had her "checking off all the boxes": nice coworkers at a good company, fulfilling assignments, everything she'd wanted. When the coronavirus started spreading, Horgan started working from home. Then she got furloughed.

She remained upbeat, riding her bike almost constantly while waiting to be called back to work. That's what she'd been expecting when her phone rang. She got the news that she'd been laid off instead.

"It's almost funny, it's so bad. Like, that's how this year has gone."

So giving up bike rides in the blustery months of winter isn't an option. It's just going to require being more strategic.

"Hardcore riders will say there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear," Horgan says. "I'm not hardcore. I have limits."

Horgan's wisdom should come in handy for all the newbies who started riding bikes as part of the pandemic biking boom.

"When I would be working fulltime the only thing that mattered to me was the weekend forecast. Like, can I ride, what's it look like on the weekend? So I still have that mentality and while I'm not working. I just scan the entire week to find my ride day."

In Kansas City, Horgan says, even when we get a cold stretch there's always that random warm day. She says she circles it in her mind. It's always waiting, as a reward.

"When you have like one nice day after another, you waste it. In the winter everyone's like, 'Oh my God, it's going to be 60, drop everything, go outside.' So that's what I look forward to."

Horgan says you have to start a little earlier in the wintertime because it gets dark earlier, or just go on shorter rides. As far as she's concerned, a short ride is better than no ride. You can stop and eat a snack. You can listen to loud music on your headphones. Whatever you want. The point is just to do it.

She'll keep applying for jobs, too. After weeks of sending in applications and hearing nothing back, she just got a flurry of interview requests.

"Today I heard from three places," she says.

In the meantime, she's grateful for her rides, which keep her going.

"No matter how much you like your job, I mean, you're, if you're working in an office, you know, you look out the window and you think, 'I wish I was outside.' I'm grateful just to be able to do this. I know it sounds kind of, you know, maybe wishy-washy or overly dramatic. But when I ride, I really think I'm grateful that I can do this. I am grateful for the ability to be out here. I'm just thankful to be outside."

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.
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