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Photo by Sergio Barboni. Taken in Italy.

Photo by Sergio Barboni. Taken in Italy.

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.

My mind was wandering during my after work ride recently, and following some undirected self reflection I realized that I may be a bit of a humanist. Not a Humanist with a capital H and all of the religious connotations that go along with it (or rather, extreme secular connotations), but instead, I realized that I simply hold a belief that human beings are capable of achieving incredible things. Of pushing themselves to levels of physical, mental, and artistic accomplishments that might have seemed impossible even a decade ago.

Specifically, I find myself inspired by stories of great physical feats of human accomplishment. Stories like Mike Hall riding the Tour Divide in less than 14 days. Joe Grant conquering all of Colorado’s 14ers, under his own power, in 31 days. Alex Honnold free soloing epic big walls like El Sendero Luminoso. Andreu Lacondeguy, Brandon Semenuk, Kurt Sorge, and more bettering themselves every year by performing world-first feats at the Red Bull Rampage. Neil Beltchenko shattering bikepacking records left and right, including the Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, and more.

Photo: Brent Knepper

Photo: Brent Knepper

Some other people, when they read about these feats or watch videos of Honnold on the rock without a rope, skip over the inspiration part and instead say, “these people are crazy! I’ll never be able to do anything like that, and nobody else will either!”

But that’s simply not true. Maybe you’ll never break Mike Hall’s record on the Tour Divide, but could you go out and ride the Divide yourself? Heck yes! Could you hike all of Colorado’s 14ers? Of course! Could you climb El Sendero Luminoso? Well, maybe.

Instead of decrying these incredible athletes that are functioning on the edge of the unknown, tackling feats that others could never even dream of, as “insane,” “crazy,” or “simply not possible,” I choose to be inspired by these incredible athletes. Their achievements make me believe that I don’t need to settle. That I don’t have to merely be “average” and live my life according to a set of unwritten American guidelines—get a desk job; get married; buy a house; have 2.5 kids; spend every Sunday for the rest of your life sitting on the couch eating nachos, drinking Bud Light, and watching sports; retire so you can spend more time eating nachos and watching sports, or maybe sit on the beach and trade in the Bud Light for a piña colada every now and then.

Graham Agassiz at the Red Bull Rampage. Photo: Christian Pondella / Red Bull Content Pool

Graham Agassiz at the Red Bull Rampage. Photo: Christian Pondella / Red Bull Content Pool

The inspiration I draw from these incredible stories prompts me to dream of greatness. To push my body to my own personal limits, and then beyond as I redefine what those limits are. To realize that I don’t need to settle for the status quo. That I can, instead, live a life of adventure and exploration.

While I dream of greatness, that’s not to say that life is meaningless if we don’t or can’t personally ever become one of the heroes in a grandiose narrative. Rather, working to “merely” better ourselves and achieve feats that we never could do before is, I think, a goal worth pursuing. When you look back on an accomplishment and say, “wow, I didn’t know that I could do that,” or, “that was, hands down, the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” then you’ve achieved a level of greatness in your own life.

Consequently, the pursuit of greatness isn’t necessarily an effort to be better than everyone else. Rather, it’s a lifestyle choice. It’s a way of living that denies the status quo and the artificial limitations that society seeks to impose on us. A life that doesn’t settle for following the milling mass of Americans as they eat their way into a collective diabetic coma, plugged into their endless drip of digital affirmation.

When we seek greatness in our own lives, we shape the world around us into a better, more wholesome, existence. And that, my friends, is worth pursuing.

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# Comments

  • mongwolf

    GREAT write up Greg. For half the year this year, I gazed out the window of our flat in Ulaanbaatar at a complex set of big ridges that I wanted to ride but felt totally intimidated. Finally, I got the courage to “take on the mountain” … and do so alone … that’s the way I wanted it. The first day was pretty intimidating. Brutal hike-a-bikes? Yes. Lung busting climbs? Yes. Bike on the back? Yes. The steepest descents I’ve ridden yet? Yes. But now those ridges and that mountain are mine. I ride them as much as possible just to slip away from the all the demands and details of life to decompress in the beauty that is Mongolia and face the challenges it presents.

    My honest take on human beings’ quest … successful quests for ever-greater achievements is that this is the mark of God on the human spirit. I don’t want to push religion on this site or on anyone at any time actually (actually I don’t consider myself religious). I do think the quest for greater is one of the true outstanding qualities of the human spirit — that and a willingness to love and serve other people even in the smallest ways. Both imo are expressions of our very special creation as human beings.

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks for your insights Floyd!

  • barbonis

    On the mountain we feel the joy of life because we are closer to heaven.

    • mongwolf

      I guess that’s especially true for you Barbonis, considering the awesome terrain you get to ride everyday. Thanks for sharing all the cool pics with us.

    • Greg Heil

      I found this photo especially epic & fitting!!

    • Greg Heil

      Yeah it may be a bit of a stretch 🙂

    • mongwolf

      I don’t know Greg … and whose to say someone else’s definition of a humanist is better. I certainly like your far better. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • mongwolf

      I loved it too John. Thanks for pointing that out. I thought of it as I read through the article and then forgot it later as the remaining part of Greg’s thoughts got me thinking.

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks Helena! 🙂

  • old'scool

    Too funny! I was just talking about this similar topic with a coworker yesterday! I would add to this, that one of the greatest attributes of organized sports especially at the Jr high/high school level is for participants being pushed beyond what they think is possible for themselves. Regardless of the sport, I am grateful (more in retrospect) for those times that a coach lined us up for more windsprints when I knew i couldn’t take another step…and then I did.

    • mongwolf

      Wow, great comment old’scool. Where would I be in life if it were not for my high schools coaches? I had some great coaches. They all cared for the kids as much as they did for winning … which was a lot. They gave a wild lost kid some real discipline and accountability and more than a few helpful words about life.

  • crittenberry

    My deepest apologies. I’d rather criticisms be private but someone told me this weekend good on you for being out here. Fuck that, I’m just as capable as any one.

    “Consequently, the pursuit of greatness isn’t necessarily an effort to be better than everyone else. Rather, it’s a lifestyle choice. It’s a way of living that denies the status quo and the artificial limitations that society seeks to impose on us. A life that doesn’t settle for following the milling mass of Americans as they eat their way into a collective diabetic coma, plugged into their endless drip of digital affirmation.”

    I’m the diabetic on the trail stopping to crush a juice cause my sugar’s low. I’m the guy that’s gonna add 30 minutes to your time on the Enchilada because I have a disease I didn’t earn watching football. Diabetes is something you should be thankful you don’t carry on your rides. We all want to be stronger, some of us manage those challenges with a terminal disease.

    See also http://teamtype1.org/.

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