Rider: Thomas Genon. Photo: Dean Treml / Red Bull Content Pool

“Fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.” -Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Sometimes fear is healthy, and it keeps our bodies in one piece. Choosing not to huck our meat off that 15-foot cliff (or 40-foot cliff like the photo above) is generally a pretty good idea. But then at the same time, fear “is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life,” to quote Donald Miller.

Just last week I headed out for an after-work ride, and I planned to complete a roughly 16-mile out-and-back on a portion of trail I hadn’t ridden before. I anticipated it being very arduous, but when I had covered a grand total of three miles of trail, mostly on foot, in the first hour, I started to get concerned.The problem was, this ride wasn’t a clear, climb-to-the-top-of-the-mountain-and-bomb-back-down-in-20-minutes hike-a-bike. Rather, it was an up-and-down along a mountainside. I started doing the math and calculated that I could be out there in the woods for up to five hours, which would put me well after dark with no light. As I crested a knob and the trail began to turn back downhill, I stopped and decided to turn around.

I was afraid.

I was afraid of mundane things, like missing the time that I planned to be home. But I was afraid of other things—whether my feet would blister in the brand-new shoes I had never worn and would cripple me for the next two weeks of out-of-state travel. That I would run out of daylight and end up stranded on a sketchy, washed out, loose, ridiculously-remote motorcycle trail on the edge of a Wilderness area.

So I decided to cut my ride in half, doing a measly 7 miles in total.

But as I turned around to head back, it turned out that yes, while I had a little-hike-a-bike on the return, overall I had climbed much more on the way out, and the return trip was mostly downhill and much faster overall.

You know what? Maybe I made the right decision. I didn’t get stranded in the woods, and I made it back home when I said I would. But you know what else? I may have been able to complete my full route if I had put my mind to it.

In many senses, fear manipulated me into a boring evening.

One of the few sections of trail that was rideable in both directions.

This is just one small example, but fear manipulates us in many areas of our lives. We’re comfortable in our boring jobs, pulling in a reliable salary with good health insurance. We’re afraid of stepping out and pursuing our dreams, taking a risk, and losing our security.

Sometimes we fear offending people, and to avoid stepping on anybody’s toes, we make ourselves smaller and less honest to our own selves, so that everyone likes us (a false facade of ourself) and keeps smiling through the entire social event.

Here’s one that I always do: I’m afraid of hitting a long security line at the airport and missing my flight, so inevitably I end up at my gate two (or more) hours earlier than necessary. What more exciting things could I have done besides typing on my laptop at the airport?

Have you ever driven over 100mph in a car before? No? Fear. Boring. As a general rule, going fast is fun (and dangerous, and sometimes illegal).

Don’t let fear manipulate you. Tell that bastard to go pound sand, while you go out and live an interesting life!

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

# Comments

  • mongwolf

    Another great “Over a Beer” Greg. Thanks. Two thoughts about fear. First, preparation is a large factor in helping us step out and overcoming our fears. For example, having a head lamp, an extra jacket, matches helps us to overcome the fear of riding late in the evening. Or doing that 15 foot huck can be overcome with years of preparation building the skill to do so … … not that I can do it. =) Second, respect is a great replacement of fear. Respect that 15 foot huck, but don’t fear it. Respect other people, but fear no one.

    • Greg Heil

      Great way to flip the equation!

  • Franklin M Gauer III

    My wife and I are in our 50’s. Our activity of choice during the summers is biking. Over the last decade or two we’ve limited ourselves to paved trails and road bikes. This year we bought two crosstrail bikes and have been venturing out into hard packed gravel trails and now we occasionally veer off into very green single tracks. All along this process has been facing our fears. And you know, we’ve found out that we can do this! Indeed some of the single tracks we’ve had to turn around, we just don’t have the right equipment yet. But facing our fears, in our fifties has led us to signing up for Outerbike and we’re going to explore every possible full suspension option possible and buy our first set of mountain bikes this year (for those wonderful XC trails and green single tracks – lol). But yeah, facing down those reservations and getting off the relative ‘safety’ of payment has provided wonderful adrenaline, experiences, and endorphins for us in middle age. Honestly, we live in Colorado, and this kind of biking shows you a completely different state! I’m all about facing those fears now. Can’t talk it up enough. Thanks for this great article!

  • dpb1997

    I have been riding since 1989 and in this period I have had lots of crashes. Two standout. Feb 1995 an 20-Jun-17.

    As I have gotten older I have more disposable income so I have a great bike and equipment. As I have gotten old fear has diminished, strange, but true for me. I ride up and down the mountain trails as fast as I can. I have been lured into a false sense of security by thinking the equipment will not fail – that was my biggest fear – so I can push the limits. Last evening it result in a very bad accident of which now I am in great deal of pain and discomfort, and off work. Fortunately, Canada has a great social health care system that covered the excellent treatment I received.

    The fact is, people should ride within their limits and not worry what other people think or say because someone walks a steep trail for fear of crashing. The down side of not heeding your built in sense may result in a painful and costly accident. It’s just not worth it…

    I do not know exactly what happening last night as it was so quick. I can say my over confidence has had a significant negative consequence that has generated a renewed respect for the sport and has reminded me how quickly one could loose everything because suppressing fear.

    At 54 years old your body takes much longer to recover. That said, I cannot wait to get back on the same trail and ride it again, but with more respect.

    • highrocker1298

      I feel your pain – literally. I crashed hard 19 Jun, wrecked my ribs and now I cry in pain whenever I cough.
      I fully agree with your assessment of respecting limits and heeding your built in sense while on the trails.

      I felt a bit “off” with my riding and decided to dial it back a bit right up until the little road gap near the end of the ride. I’ve done that feature many times, but on that day I landed nose heavy and got a bit concussed.

      Being 56 years old and healing much slower, that one bit of bad decision making may mess up my entire summer of riding.

      Thanks for posting and I hope you heal up quick! No shame in respecting fear.

  • arkinet

    As I grow old, I’d call it being more cautious and responsible, knowing that my bones wont heal as quick and that I have a family and a major medical expense can be a big blow to our finances.
    So I ride within my limit.

  • mapski99

    I watch those kids flip through the air in CrankWorks slopestyle comp on Redbull TV. They have no fear. They also crash big and walk away…. because they are young. Like other commenters here, I am well beyond quick recovery age. It’s a tough balance between riding scared and riding too aggressively, while soaking up as much adrenaline as possible.

  • SlimL

    You know, for me, boring is relative. I can have fun just riding some double track around the campground. Spending the night out in the woods doesn’t scare me; I have done it before. Walking my bike over a scketchy section isn’t boring for me; like you said it can make so that I can ride another day. The fear that I have, as an old slow guy, is that crash where I can’t get back on my bike. Maybe ever again. I spent 1 1/2 weeks not hardly being able to walk, six weeks off my bike, from a jump gone wrong. So yeah, I will pass on that. Maybe it is the fact that I don’t ride for the thrill. My life is exciting enough. I ride for the gratitude of just being out there. That’s what I look for; Gratitude. And a short time from now I will be leaving my sticks and bricks house to travel around the country riding all those trails that I have always read about. Nope, ain’t going to take the chance of missing that.

  • Greg Lytton

    I’m 54 and I feel the same as the other old guys. I don’t fear the ride. I don’t even fear the wreck. I fear the friggin’ recovery from the wreck. While you don’t always break bones in a wreck, when you do at our age it’s a much longer healing process it seems. That’s my fear while riding singletrack. It does not stop me or even slow me down much (can’t get much slower haha) but when my butt is heading over the bars into a rock garden it’s not the fear of the landing (yeah it’s gonna hurt) its the fear of recovery! Anyone who has ever coughed or tried to get out of a bed with broken ribs knows exactly what I mean. Sleeping in a recliner for six weeks is no fun.

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