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Choosing to live in a small mountain town like Salida, CO requires a serious meta-level decision about the type of life that you want to lead. (Rider: Marcel Slootheer. Dog: Ezra. Photo: Greg Heil.)

Choosing to live in a small mountain town like Salida, CO requires a serious meta-level decision about the type of life that you want to lead.
(Rider: Marcel Slootheer. Dog: Ezra. Photo: Greg Heil.)

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.

At the end of every calendar year, many people look back on the previous 12 months and reflect on their life. “What challenges did I face in the past year? What were the highlights of the past year? What did I accomplish? What do I want to accomplish in the coming year?”

If this isn’t an exercise you partake in, I highly recommend it. It’s more than merely making a New Year’s Resolution–it’s an exercise of active reflection on who you are, based on what you’ve done.

I feel like I get a jump on the process every year thanks to having a birthday in early November. Not content to wait until the beginning of January, my reflection begins now, with the upshot being that by the time January rolls around, I’ve already determined what my primary goals will be for the upcoming year.

You need more than just New Year’s Eve to plan an entire year.

More than Just Goals

In the past, my reflection has focused on the goals that I’ve either accomplished in the past year, or failed to accomplish. And when looking forward, my focus has been deciding which goals I want to set my mind to achieving–what I want to see happen in the upcoming year.

To be sure, this isn’t a bad thing. But as I’ve delved deeper and deeper, I’ve had to ask myself: “Why am I setting this goal? What is my motivation for creating this goal? What do I hope to attain by accomplishing this specific thing?”

Oftentimes I tend to look at these goals and the actions that were required to achieve them in isolation. “Did I accomplish this? Yes or no.”

But when you step back a pace and look at the combined weight of those goals and achievements, or challenges overcome, you’re looking at your actions collectively. What you have done in the past year of life.

And actions, more than anything else, define who we are and what our character is.

Actions Show Your Character

Sure, words are important, and a quick Google search about action as defining our character can unearth articles arguing the opposite way. But especially in our age of social media, talk is cheap. People can spew hopes, dreams, and goals all over Facebook, with no possible chance of achieving any of them. Maybe talk isn’t even cheap, it can be even worse than cheap, when one’s claims to action end up falling flat on their faces.

Regardless of the value of talk or the lack thereof, when I look back on the bulk of my actions over the past year, those actions tell a story. They tell the story of my life.

The things I did, the things I didn’t do. How I handled adversity, or how I ran from it. How I set goals for myself and achieved them, or how I accomplished nothing. What I put value on, and what I didn’t deem worthy of investing in.

The actions tell the story.

Asking the Wrong Question

I think that over the years I may have been asking the wrong question at the beginning of every year. I’ve asked, “What do I want to accomplish? What do I want to do?” And as noted above, those actions based on those questions in turn have defined the person that I am.

But perhaps a better question to ask is: “What kind of life do I want to live?”

If you know the kind of life that you want to live, and have determined the most important priorities of your heart with 100% certainty, the objective of living that particular life can and should significantly impact the specific goals that you set for next year. When you know how you want to live, that informs which actions you take, and which you do not take.

This discussion is quite abstract right now, so let’s make it practical.

Thought Experiment 1: Possessions VS Experience

The $10,500 Specialized S-Works FSR Di2

The $10,500 Specialized S-Works FSR Di2

One of the most basic life-long value decisions you can make is whether or not you’ll spend your life amassing valuable possessions, or spend your life in the pursuit of epic experiences. In the outdoors culture in general, the obvious answer to this dilemma always is, “experience! Experience!” But in the world of mountain biking, while the answer may seem obvious, it’s not always quite that clear-cut.

Unlike some other outdoors activities, mountain biking can be a very expensive pursuit. With top-end mountain bikes costing $10,000-$12,000, not to mention accessories, additional gear, extra bikes for other types of riding, and the like, you could conceivably spend as much money as you desire on this sport. But unless you’re independently wealthy, have already spent decades amassing a fortune for yourself, or are generally really lucky, acquiring the money to spend on the bikes and accessories will take you some serious work.

Most of us lust after the latest technology, the continued advancements, the lightest carbon bikes, and wish we could own one of them–or indeed, take the step and figure out how to make the latest and greatest bike our steed for the year–every year. But is the amount of work required to earn that $10,000 and spend it on an uber-light bike worth it?

For ease of math, let’s say that a mountain biker makes make $20 an hour, and wants to buy a $10,000 mountain bike. Excluding calculations for income and sales taxes, it will take him 500 hours to earn that mountain bike. At 40 hours a week, that’s 12.5 weeks, or 3 full months of wages going toward that mountain bike.

So the question is: would this rider be happier spending 500 hours to earn a $10,000 mountain bike, or would he be happier spending 50 hours to earn a $1,000 mountain bike, and the other 450 hours actually out riding said mountain bike?

The answer depends on the kind of life that that rider decides he wants to live.

Thought Experiment 2: Adventure VS Fitness

On a true adventure ride in Scotland. Photo: Ross Bell

On a true adventure ride in Scotland. Photo: Ross Bell

When it comes to mountain biking and mountain bike goals, I see a major internal conflict that can be answered by first determining what kind of life you want to live. That conflict is adventure VS fitness.

In my experience, if one’s goal is to develop true top-end fitness–maximum speed and endurance–the pursuit of that max fitness often precludes having true adventures on the mountain bike. Note that I’m not talking about a general fitness level, or being generally able to go a decently long ways on a mountain bike, as those are often a baseline requirement for adventurous mountain bike rides. Rather, I’m talking about building to specific distance, building speed by doing intervals, focusing on specific techniques or heart rate zones–accomplishing these types of goals is nearly impossible when you’re riding in unfamiliar territory on trails you’ve never pedaled before.

The best place to achieve those types of fitness goals is on specific trails that you’ve ridden before that you already know will help you accomplish the specific goals that you wish to attain. Or, more realistically, the road bike is the best place to train, by controlling as many variables as possible so you can focus on pushing the limits on the key variables that you need to expand.

The adventurous mountain bike ride throws any other goals besides completing the adventure out the window. The trail may end up being shorter than you expected, limiting your endurance achievements. It may be significantly longer than expected, meaning you end up doing a long ride when you were supposed to be doing a short day. Instead of riding your bike at an expected speed or heart rate, you may end up carrying your bike for hours on end.

So what’s most important to you: living a life of adventure, or living a life of fitness? Answering that meta-level question will influence many decisions that you make for yourself.

Thought Experiment 3: Travel VS Community

Channeling my inner nomad--exploring the Pyrenees Mountains. Rider: Jordi Bonet. Photo: Greg Heil.

Channeling my inner nomad–exploring the Pyrenees Mountains. Rider: Jordi Bonet. Photo: Greg Heil.

Another conflict based on life choices that I observe in the outdoors community at large, and the mountain bike community in particular, is determining the value of travel versus the value of community. Again, this is a meta-level question, and must first be determined by deciding what kind of life you want to live.

Right now, the hot thing on Outside Online is #VanLife, and anything that goes along with quitting your job, hitting the open road, and roaming freely from place to place. Bonus points if you pack your bags, hop a one-way flight to Europe, and pedal around with no return visit in sight.

But in my experience, what you rarely read about as people set off on these “grand adventures” is how lonely life on the road can be. Sure, you get to meet great people along the way and forge new friendships. I’ve met some amazing people while traveling that I’ve stayed in touch with for years afterwards. But no matter how many people you meet along the way, it’s impossible over the course of a couple of beers to build a relationship as deep and lasting as the ones you can build if you live in the same town and interact with the same people, month after month, year after year, and decade after decade.

True community is nearly impossible to achieve when living a nomadic lifestyle. So what kind of life do you want to live: one of deep and lasting friendships and community, or a solitary existence seeing the most beautiful places imaginable, spending hours upon hours on the back of your mountain bike, and gaining a breadth of experience that few can match?

Final Thoughts

As 2016 draws to a close, I challenge you to ask yourself: “What kind of life do I want to live?” I’m not attempting to give you the answers to the example questions above or to your life in general in this column, although maybe my personal choices are obvious. I’ll save the convincing for another time.

Instead, I encourage you to decide what you personally value in life, and what you want the grand narrative of your life to read like. Based on those decisions, you’ll be more equipped than ever to choose goals for yourself that are meaningful, and you’ll value the accomplishments once they are completed. And hopefully, you’ll live a fuller, richer, and happier life as a result.

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# Comments

  • mongwolf

    Wow, right on Greg. Great thoughts. The big picture and priorities based on the big picture is where it is at. I would add one more piece to your viewpoint/model. You have eluded to it in various ways. That piece is values. Values help one define the big picture and the specific priorities. The three together bring a measure of meaning and wholeness. Having spent the last 20 years working in another culture, and much of that time in influential positions, the one thing I learned early on is that I should not/must not determine things for others. It is their life and their country. However, I can help them critically think through their lives and decisions. I found that values are the most powerful tool I have to help them do such, especially as an “outsider”. From a set of self-established values, they can determine their way of life, career direction, set priorities, make tough decisions between work, family and personal interests (like mountain biking), etc. etc.

  • Aaron Chamberlain

    Nice one Greg. This year was all about Thought Experiment #2 for me. I spent the winter and spring getting in the best bike shape I’ve ever been in. It was a shit ton of work and while I enjoyed the training, it did get lonely at times. Friends would want to ride with me, but when you’re doing intervals, that’s not very appealing. However, every good training plan should include some long, fun rides that are less structured. When you’re really fit, those are even more fun!

    I largely accomplished what I wanted to (particularly at the Trans-Sylvania Epic, less so at ORAMM) by the summer, so the second half of the year has been all about having fun and “adventure” riding. It’s tough because while I really enjoy the fun riding, I do miss the speed I had as well.

    • Greg Heil

      What I didn’t get a chance to discuss in this column is the idea of doing different things and focusing on different priorities during different seasons of life–but the problem with the fitness one is that–I find at least–that I lose fitness so quickly if I stop paying attention to it! Like you said, after a half-year of adventure riding, speed aspects begin to suffer.

      Ah well, I guess that’s why there’s no easy answers 🙂

    • mongwolf

      I have no speed, so no loss for me there. =)

    • mongwolf

      Aaron, I remember you expressing your decision to get a personal trainer etc. this year. Big commitment — I was impressed. It seems to have paid off big in a variety of ways. Though I may never pursue intervals on my mtb =) (I did enough of those in my younger years of running), I find myself wavering between the fitness vs adventure question too. Deep down in I want mountain biking to be about the adventure, but as you know and as Greg has said, the adventure requires a level of fitness. Truly the more fitness, the greater the adventure. So Greg’s question looms large … at least for me. Immediately for this month of December while I’m in the States, I have committed to train with my youngest son as he gets ready to enter the military. That should provide some all around improved fitness for my aging body. Hopefully, nothing breaks. =) Plus, we will include riding every other day for fitness and fun. Baby steps, but a step in the right direction I hope.

    • Aaron Chamberlain

      Thanks mongwolf! Being fit does open the door to even bigger adventures, so there’s balance you have to strike. Having a 30 mile ride that turns into a 50 mile ride is much more manageable when you’re in shape.

      My endurance is still great, partly from the training, but also just from years of riding. It’s the top-end speed I’m lacking now. It makes it difficult to really turn the screws on my buddies.

  • mongwolf

    And great thought questions (“experiments”) too Greg. I really like how those encourage reflection. For me, the biggest things in my life have always been the outdoors (primarily expressed in forest management and education), people in general, my wife and family, and faith in Christ. But in the past few years mountain biking has DEFINITELY pushed its way into that mix. I love how I can mix mountain biking into the others. As you have mentioned, it’s about time to do some reflection and soul-searching about the coming year. Thanks for the thought provoking stimulus.

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks for the thoughts Floyd! So glad this could inspire some introspection for you 🙂

  • mongwolf

    I think one of the big fitness issues/challenges for mountain biking at least in many climates is the winter layoff and losing the biking fitness gains of the previous year. Of course that loss can be alleviated some now with a fat bike. I hope to start having stronger winters on the bike, so I’m not starting over on bike specific fitness the next year.

  • Scott Cotter

    Greg, your on point, man. As someone who recently jumped into the #vanlife, leaving a job that would’ve taken good care of me likely for the rest of my life, I can say it was a tough decision to go for what my friends called “lifestyle over living.”

    When it comes down to the end and I’m thinking about the life I’ve lived (if I’m allowed that opportunity), I’ll be far more pleased with the adventures I’ve had vs. the things I could buy. And don’t get me wrong, I like nice bikes and have one that would’ve cost me a ton without a team deal, but it’s a means to and end really. Could I still ride Amassa Back on a crap bike? My beat to hell singlespeed, for instance? Sure. Not as fast and certainly walking more. But the experience would have been as memorable if not more. And the experience is why I’m doing it.

    In terms of community, what you describe is accurate. My life on the road has put me in a position to hit trails all over the place but I found myself missing the great people with whom I have shared many adventures with over the years. Sometimes it seems folks don’t think about that when they consider a life on the road. But rest assured, it can and does get lonely when the only conversations you have with others, except your spouse, are fairly superficial. Or non-existent when you’re off the grid. And if you’re not given to naturally inserting yourself into conversations … you get the picture.

    I think coming home for the holidays had me more excited than just about anything over the last few months, with the exception of meeting/interviewing Ned. I just couldn’t wait to get back and ride with the guys who have been by my side for the last decade or two.

    Leaving again soon but now with a much greater appreciation of the people I have in my life every day. It’s easy to get wrapped up in a busy world … but the folks and experiences you have are the very essence of the good life.

    • Greg Heil

      Wow, thanks for the insights Scott! I think I need to mull this over for a while…

  • Caren Villaroman

    Working as an icu nurse made me realize everyday that life is so short and very unpredictable so anything that you can and want to do right now don’t hesitate and just enjoy every minute of it. I have plans and goals in my life too but I’m gonna have fun on my way.. I hope to ride more new trails in Colorado, Utah, Arizona,Idaho, Oregon and Lake Tahoe area this year.. I enjoy reading the articles great job Greg and the rest of the Singletracks staff!!

    • Greg Heil

      Wow, I’m sure that would definitely help put things in perspective!

      Thanks for the thoughts & the kind words, Caren!

    • paulonius

      Hey Caren,

      i’m an ER Nurse in Vancouver BC and get the same appreciation from treating patients as you do. Especially as many of them are sports trauma from crashing in our North Shore mountains.

      It sounds like you do Travel assignments. me too, in Canada and the US. I’ve done some riding in Washington, Oregon, Utah and plan on doing another assignment near Asheville, North Carolina next year.
      If you are in Oregon, try to go to Bend. it’s got some great riding!

      I’m especially inspired when I see anyone older than me still riding even if they do come in with a shattered shoulder or broken limbs. (Maybe you have to be a NUrse to be inspired by injury but I sincerely mean it…it reminds me to keep pushing even if I do learn from other riders mistakes/injuries and don’t get as much air as I used to (whihc was never very much anyway!)

  • vjeran

    Two months ago I have decided to quit boring top managment well paid corporate job after 12 years.
    My idea at that time was to start own outdoor MTB agency. So, to earn money on my passion. Not to get rich, just to have enough for decent life ( well, I don’t need 10000$ carbon bike at all).
    Two months ago I only knew what I want to do. Now I know how.
    Bottom line if you’re going after change, you’ll need only 3 things:
    to decide, to have support from your family and to belive in your success.
    Simple as that.
    If you’re doubting or missing any of those 3, better don’t go after any change yet.
    You’re not ready.

    • paulonius

      With all due respect vjeran,
      May I assume by family you mean spouse and kids? (Because I’m still single, by family I still mean parents and siblings.)
      My parents have always been very uncomfortable with change and with my life decisions and they usually overtly challenge and criticize any plan that does not adhere to the; get married, buy a car, buy a house, work full-time at one job til you retire lifestyle….while I have always (not wildly but with purpose) gone against the grain in my professional and travel pursuits.
      If I waited for the support of my family before I made any life decisions, i wouldn’t have done half the amazing adventures I’ve been on.

    • vjeran

      My family: wife, daughter (8), and dog.

      We all are having two options: to build other peoples dreams, or to live our own.
      For last 23 years I was builiding other peoples dreams, now is time for me to live my own.
      And with support of my family I see no limits.

      As you said, what parents or your community or whoever is expecting is at the end not relevant. What you want, in the other hand is.

      Peace & keep on riding!

  • Kimcork

    Excellent piece! I especially appreciate the concrete examples… and that it generated such great commentary from fellow readers.

  • Morgan L.

    Robert Hunter was right when he penned Box of Rain, ‘Such a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there.’ Your experience in this life is short and once it’s over, it is forever. This is a very sobering perspective. My primary goal is to be present in every moment. To live an examined and thoughtful life. Because these short moments are all I have. Everything else is just noise.

  • Fanbelt

    great post greg
    its true that mountain biking is expencive i have no job as i am still in school and upgrading my mtb witha monthly allowance will take me atleast 4 years of saving just for a fork upgrade so for now ill have to stick with my exploded views of my forks and home maintenance on everything
    also a valuable skill to know for mountain biking is maintenance if u cant maintain it dont buy / ride it

    • Greg Heil

      “if u cant maintain it dont buy / ride it”

      Honestly, this bit here is pretty much hogwash. How many people can maintain every aspect of their car? Very few. How many people does that stop from owning and driving cars? Zero.

      Same thing applies to a high-end mountain bike. While admittedly my mechanic skills aren’t the best, even if I do get better at wrenching someday I’ll probably never get to the point where I feel comfortable pulling my rear shock apart and servicing the internals. But that’s ok–that’s why we have bike mechanics!

    • Fanbelt

      sorry to hear that greg
      im not finished with school and im already learning panel beating spraypainting timing and basic maintenance
      its yrue that there are bicycle mechanics and i admit i still wont go as far as rebuilding my wheels of my mtb but there are multiple factors like community ad mentioned in ur post
      my community has only 2 bycycle shops within 100km of my home so i rather fix my bike myself

  • bikerboy13

    Great article! I really want to try and hit even more trails next year. Surprisingly speed hasn’t bothered me much. Just enough to be able to keep g0ing and not lag! 🙂

  • paulonius

    Inspiring read.

    i’m currently struggling with the fact that i live in mountain biking mecca Vancouver, BC where the riding is great, albeit very technical and as I am entering my 50’s I am tending towards slightly less technical riding….and the fact that Vancouver is exceedingly expensive, decreases the frequency with which I am able to take trips and travel to other great mountain biking/cycling areas.

    It might sound insane to bike riders but I’m thinking of moving nearer to family back in Southern Ontario where I can better afford to live (and still ride less technical trails with my brother and a few friends)…but where there’s a lower cost of living and I can more easily save to take bike trips.
    Thoughts?

  • Dr Sweets

    Solid points Greg. I plan and have goals, but I remain flexible on matters and enjoy the ride wherever I end up. I have a costly carbon bike for the first time in my life, but that was not planned and like many enjoyable things in my life was a happy accident. Having been in healthcare for over 30 years death, doom and less than great outcomes are simply part of the human experience. To borrow a cliche, we all die, but not everyone lives. Have fun wherever you land or crash.

    • Greg Heil

      “Have fun wherever you land or crash.”

      A great perspective! Thanks for sharing!

  • Pgoldsmith

    I must have missed this article last year. Reading this really made me reflect on my past and future decisions. Recently my wife and I went in search of the outdoor lifestyle and moved to Colorado. The sacrifice of community back east was huge and we are still feeling it. But we are equally enamored with the lifestyle out here. What gives my wife and I solace from those we miss back east is that we can always go back…or we can convince them to move here 🙂 I would be amiss to not mention how welcoming it has been out here in the mountain west and that we are steadily building a community here as well. What my wife and I asked ourselves prior to moving was, “Will we regret moving to Colorado or will we regret never going?” When put into words, the decision was obvious.

    Keep up the good work, Greg!

  • Plusbike Nerd

    I live in Durango CO. One of the best things about Durango is that I can do about 20 different trail rides starting right from my house. That doesn’t even include the many great road and gravel rides Durango has. Because of this easy accessibility, I ride 4-5 times weekly. There are very few towns in America where mountain biking is so accessible. Even though Durango is an expensive small mountain town with few amenities in the middle of nowhere, there are very few other places I would considering living because I live the biking lifestyle. I try to make every day the best day possible. A great day for me goes like this—eat healthy meals, do meaningful work, love and care for my family, take a bike ride.

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