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When you’re young, you can fly

We are young
Wandering the face of the earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we’re all immortal . . . for a limited time
from “Dreamline” by Rush (lyrics by Neil Peart)

Music is full of profound statements.  Sometimes a single short sentence or phrase stands out as particularly meaningful.  “. . .we’re all immortal. . .for a limited time.”  Wow, if that ain’t the truth!  As teens and twenty-somethings, we’re all 10 feet tall and bulletproof.  Somewhere in our 30s most of us start to get a glimpse of reality.   By our 40s, we come to understand that we now break a lot easier than we used to and, once broken, it takes longer to heal. Seeing the inevitable encroachment of time, we passively accept new limitations and expend what little energy we have left lamenting our loss or bragging about how good we were.  What a sad way to spend what for most of us will end up being the majority of our lives!  Why is it that so many choose to age passively, to rail in vain against the natural order of things, or worse, to say that since one’s best days are behind, why look forward?

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A little grey need not keep you off the bike! (photo:  BetterRide)

Hope I die before I get old
from “My Generation” by The Who (lyrics by Pete Townshend)

When The Who brought forth their great youthful anthem, they were railing against an attitude rather than a natural order.  The good news is that very little of one’s attitude need be driven by age.  We need not become those stodgy old characters, pining for the old days and criticizing the new.  Similarly, we need not passively accept age-related degradation.  While nobody has the same physical potential at 50 that they did at 20, the slide need not be quite so steep, and other aspects of age can help compensate.  Truly getting in tune with one’s body takes years and that understanding can be invaluable.  Developing mental stability and the ability to pace one’s self can lead to greater overall performance.  Above all, it takes most of us quite some time to settle into our own skin, and only then can we reach our own potential.

Two mountain bike encounters stand out for me ,and I keep them in the forefront of my mind whenever I feel like I’m “getting too old for this.”

  1. I attended a BetterRide mountain bike skills clinic in 2005.  At age 41, I was the second oldest of the seven students.  The oldest?  A retired college professor who was 63!  63 and taking a basic biking skills camp.  The camp was in Fruita and we spend a lot of time in the 18 Road area.  After drilling on proper cornering and wheelie technique, we headed up Prime Cut to the semi-infamous rock obstacle so many tourists insist on going around.  Only two of the seven campers cleaned the rock… me, and the 63-year-old retired professor.
  2. While badly sucking wind at 11,000 feet climbing the Searle Pass portion of the Colorado Trail above Copper Mountain, I was passed by what looked like Father Time himself.  Wrinkled, weathered, and a grey beard flowing almost down to his handlebars, this man breezed by me as if he was riding on a smooth, level trail at sea level.  As he passed, I shouted out “I wanna’ be you when I grow up!”  (I was 42 at the time).  He looked back at me over his shoulder and hollered back, “I’m never gonna grow up!”
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One of many features I’m happy to ride at 50 that I wouldn’t have considered at 35. On the “Lunch Line” trail in the Lunch Loops, Grand Junction CO.

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
From “Time” by Pink Floyd (lyrics by Roger Waters)

Baggage is bad.  Carrying baggage wastes time and energy, our two most precious resources.  Time in particular is a non-renewable resource.  Once it’s gone, there’s nothing we can do to regain it.  That’s why wasting time is so tragic.   That’s why we tend to agonize over things we should have done differently.  But that agonizing only perpetuates the process of wasting time.  As tragic as the loss of past time may be, the one thing even more tragic is wasting the time we have left.  Worrying about the past only prevents us from fully enjoying the present and preparing for the best possible tomorrow.  “Could’a,” “Should’a,” and “Would’a” ought’a be four letter words, as they add nothing to the joy of life.  Part of growing up is learning to shed baggage.  Those who keep dragging it around get old.  My relatively late entry into mountain biking brought with it both baggage as well as the wisdom to leave it behind.

I didn’t get my first bike until age 35, and the sport immediately provided me with a unique pleasure which literally transformed my life.  It made me both fitter and happier.  The benefits were physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  Having found such enjoyment, I soon began to lament the fact that I had waited until middle age to get started.  At 35, I had already peaked physically and knew I would never be the cyclist I could have been.  I found the situation intolerable.  How could I have denied myself this?  Just think of all the great experiences I could have had, all the great trails I could have ridden, had I started earlier!  Look at all I’ve missed!  But as I matured over the next few years, I realized all that negativity was impacting my ability to enjoy the wonder that was currently laid out before me, and I resolved to waste not one iota of thought or energy lamenting what could have been, but rather I exploited it in service of what is and what could be.

Hours are like diamonds, don’t let ‘em waste
Time waits for no one, no favors has he
Time waits for no one and he won’t wait for me
From “Time Waits for No One” by The Rolling Stones (lyrics by Mich Jagger and Keith Richards)

The concept of a mid-life crisis is very easy to understand.  Once halfway to the grave, a person finds out life isn’t what was expected or desired.  Then the person goes out and engages in extreme behavior in an attempt to regain and relive what was perceived as lost youth.  Maybe he buys a Harley or a red convertible, hooks up with a hottie half his age, and expects to find lost fulfillment.  I’ve not heard of any cases where this worked.  There are healthier ways to approach this, both physically and emotionally, and I can think of no better way than cycling.  It keeps a person fit, clears the mind, and lifts the spirit.  It is healthy in all the ways typical mid-life crises are unhealthy.

A quarter century from now, I plan to paraphrase the great bluesman, Buddy Guy, from his anthem in defiance of age, “74 Years Young,”
When it come to Riding (original lyric: when it come to Loving), I ain’t never done
I’m seventy four years young!

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# Comments

  • Jared13

    Nice job clearing the rock. I bet the other five campers were kicking themselves for not trying it!

    Father Time sounds a lot like I did when I was in college (freshman at 30): I may have to get older, but I’m never growing up!

  • Jeff Barber

    Here here! I take comfort in the fact that no matter how old I get, there’s always someone even older who can ride faster, farther, and better than me. I hate making (and hearing) excuses–it’s such a waste of energy.

    We all have obstacles that get in our way… Which reminds me of a MTB t-shirt I saw once: it shows a guy leaning back on his bike as he approaches a huge rock and it says “Get over it.” Perfect analogy.

  • Julie Hughey

    Awesome article John! Age is just a state of mind right? P.S. I hate that rock garden on Prime Cut 😉

  • Michael Paul

    I kept reading this thinking, “there ought to be a Viagra ad on the right side of the page”. 🙂

    Great article John…best your’ve ever written and one of the best I’ve ever read on Singletracks. I really enjoyed it, and adding lyrics from rock classics vulcanizes several of your points in the older generation. As I hit 40 last month, I had some of these realizations too. I found it interesting that had not, and likely will not, accomplish what I thought I would in my 20s. I’ve come further than I probably ever expected, but when you shoot for the moon I’ve become content landing in my own personal stratosphere.

    I have spent a lot of time reflecting on some of the better riders that I regulary ride with. Many of them are older than me, faster than me, and jump things I still envy. You are absolutely right about cycling nuturing the mind, lifting the spirit, maintaining the physical, and stablilizing the emotional. I feel so much better after a good ride, and often joke with friends that it is my Zoloft. I am sure I am not alone in this, but my wife will order me to go ride my bike if I have not been in a few days and start getting cranky.

    The best thing that comes from riding as you age is wisdom. You have a lot of time to think on climbs, and learn what you can, can’t, and shouldn’t do. I’m grateful for this wisdom, as it also translates into my professional and personal life.

    • John Fisch

      Michael,
      Thanks so much. I love your comment “but my wife will order me to go ride my bike if I have not been in a few days and start getting cranky.” I’ve heard that command from time to time in my house as well!

    • Jared13

      Hahahaha, I’m glad I’m not the only one that gets told to go ride my bike!

    • BigBri

      I was always told to “Go jump off a cliff!” so I would grab my bike and head out the door…

    • watusi512

      Hey, your name is Michael Paul? Mine is too! I’m a climbing guide from Joshua Tree and at 54 am riding harder than I ever have! Last season at Mt. Bachelor I completed all of their descents (Black included) in a day…

  • hproctor

    Bought my first bike just before turning 61; took a BetterRide camp 7 months later while traveling in Oregon. There were only 4 campers at Hood River last summer, ages 67,65,61 and 44. I would encourage folks of any age to take up the sport, there are trails thoroughout the country for all skill levels.

  • k2rider

    Neat story…a couple years back, I was riding on the shop ride with Over the Edge bike shop out in Hurricane, Utah. We car pooled and I drove out with an older guy (who looked about 60 max) and about half way thru the ride, some guy was getting tired and blamed it on his age. He said he was 54. The guy I was with, who was clearing 95% of all the obstacles but taking no extra chances, said “that’s not old, I’m 72”. I was super impressed and it made me realize (at age 48 at the time, 50 now) that I have 20+ years of riding left in me 🙂

    After we got back to the shop, the guy says “If you ever get up to Sun Valley, look me up, name’s Andy”. I asked “That’s it? Just Andy?” and said “everybody knows me”. When I got home, I Googled him and turns out, he’s Andy Andrews, a 2 time XC Marathon age group Nat’l Champion. Good guy. I looked him up tonight and saw he didn’t race this year. Hope he’s still out there riding.

  • mongwolf

    Great article John. For me, age is just a state of mind … … aaaaand a condition in my back, but you can’t let that stop you. The winter is starting to lighten up here a bit in Mongolia. It’s almost time for some early season riding on the south facing slopes. CAN’T WAIT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Franz Volpi

    Great article! I just turned 51 last month and bought myself a new Trek Fuel 29er!!

    Gave up motorcycle roadracing in `08 and thought my two wheel adventures were over. An aquaintance introduced me to mountainbiking about three years ago, and I can’t get enough!

  • sherri.jane

    I bought my first mountain bike in 2010 at 52. Not many women start this late. I love riding trails. I love the hard technical stuff. Not very good at it but still like it. Great article. Keep riding dirty.

  • SunSnowandWater

    Inspiring. I really don’t dwell on regrets in life, but I often think how I wish I would’ve been introduced to mountain biking earlier in life. I’m 40 and addicted. I get sad when I think my years may be limited, so I enjoyed this. I hope to be riding with long, grey braids in my hair. Uh, no facial hair hopefully.

  • LouD

    John,

    Great article. I bought my first mountain bike back in 1989 a Schwinn High Plains. I rode the heck out of that bike for several years and then life got in the way and I stopped cycling for quite a while. Fast forward to 2011 and I had turned into a lardo. My brother in-law challenged me to get a new mountain bike and lose some weight. Well here it is 50 lbs and three bikes later (I have a very understanding wife) and I am just having a blast. I will be 61 in April and don’t plan on stopping!

  • kenish

    Great article! I got into MTB at 50. A few regrets not getting into it sooner, though I’ve been an avid sportbike rider since college. I’m 57 now and still do a decent job keeping up with the young’uns. A bad crash (broken femur, artificial hip) hasn’t slowed me down though restoring confidence took longer than physical recovery.

    “You don’t stop doing stuff because you’re too old. You get too old when you stop doing stuff.”

  • RobertD

    60 and still loving it. Got a nice new fat bike to add to my stable and the addiction keeps growing.

  • erickson.ts

    Great article John.
    Now in my late 40’s, the boy inside me still wants to play hard, but the aging man has trouble handling the aftermath of those activities. Us old guys are single-handedly keeping the ibuprofen industry above water.

    Just one additional comment: I hate being nit-picky, but the Rush lyrics are incorrect.
    You quoted:
    “We are young
    Wandering the face of the earth
    Wondering what our dreams might be worth
    Learning that we’re all immortal . . . for a limited time”

    Whereas it actually is written:
    “When we are young
    Wandering the face of the Earth
    Wondering what our dreams might be worth
    Learning that we’re only immortal
    For a limited time”

    Big difference, especially for this Rush fan.

    • John Fisch

      Thanks for the correction–from one Rush fan to another. If fact, the correct wording is an even better illustration of my point.

  • Jetnjeff29r

    50 and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

    Great article

  • cptnpwdr@aol.com

    As a sidebar, that guy, Neil Peart, rides bicycles too. Having ridden with several people with more years than I, most say the secret to keeping at it is keeping at it.

  • bikerjames

    I’m ??years old right now and started 25 years ago when my son asked me to check it out with him in Boone, NC. Most of my contemporary buddies dropped out 10 years ago. Just got back from a 3 month tour from NC to Alberta, BC, Washington, MT, ND, etc. Some folks get frustrated because age adds handicap (coming down the back side of the parabolic curve). Counter any resentment with gratitude, pessimism with optimism, fear with fun. Ah heck, screw the philosophy and just go ride!

  • rick417

    Great article! I started mountain biking about a year ago at 48 when my legs and back told me that running wasn’t good for me. Never looked back, but have looked forward to every day spent on the trail. I’m now riding up and off things I never thought possible! And lots of other challenges almost within reach.

  • ed.oconnell

    I’m rolling down to the bottom of the Hidden Falls valley in Auburn, CA on one of the best-manicured, prettiest, 12 mile loop-de-loop single-track trails I’ve ever ridden. There’s a bunch of climbin’ ahead but I’m looking forward to it because after each climb there’s a rewardin’ downhill — a ride of pay-fors and pay-backs, not very technical but you’ve got to have endurance. When your done, you’ll have experienced the *other* mountain bike reward — the connection between you and nature. Now I’m looking forward to my first-ever Downieville downhill just up the road from where I live. I’m 72.

  • ChrisOmfH

    Great read! I’m 56 & just started biking. Got a decent entry level bike, rode my first single track tonight after a 15 yr gap from the last time I had a mountain bike. I’ll openly admit that I got my ass kicked – & half a mile in some expert that I neither heard, nor saw until he damn near hit me, then cussed me out. I THOUGHT trail etiquette was to let someone know you were about to pass – or even that close behind? One fall, some minor scrape and quite honestly, a couple of places where I walked it – but I’m hooked. Do I wonder if I’m too old for this? Sure, but I could have a road bike & do nothing wrong & have someone in a car not see me, or have one of those extremely thin tires/rims go out on me. Not looking to race or impress anyone – looking to get some exercise, be outdoors, take in some nature and have fun…while being careful! Thanks for the inspirational read!

  • winabego

    Love your stuff John! I think hitting a few trails with you would be a blast!

    I learned to ride in St. George, UT on Bear Claw (Green Valley Loop to you old timers) and Gooseberry while in college. I even ran Swens Cyclery for a while. Endless fun!

    But……….I picked up a fly rod one day and didn’t ride my bike for 15 years – oops. At 46 I recently repented and got back on my bike again! I have come to believe what many people say, “a bike is the fountain of youth”. I reap the benefits every single day. My skills aren’t just rusty – they are almost nonexistent : ), but I’m still loving every minute of it!

    Keep up the great writing!

  • lhzawd

    Biked everywhere as kid in the late 60’s and 70’s always searching for trails , 10 speeds through the fields of our farm in the 80’s, even tried my sisters folding bike because it had wider 20 inch wheels( still sucked) .Got back into trails in the mid 90’s and now close to 53 years and feel great – more addicted than . I am a solo rider and the trail is my escape from it all.
    Its great to have sites like this that you can see other bikers are up to ( no interest or time for facebook)
    I realize based on what i see and read and some riders i meet on the trails -i’m still young ….

    LHZ

  • Zoso

    The comments are on par with the article. Thanks to all. Stoked!

  • Shiltron

    I played pro soccer in my late teens until my mid to early thirties and was fortunate not to acquire any major, long term injuries. Tennis was next where I met some really good quality people. I then organized a 6v6 soccer league for local women which spread like wildfire. I built the goals, wrote the rules, lined the fields and guided the older, male guest players who accepted the fact that this unrefereed activity was primarily for women. Those who were too aggressive were asked to find somewhere else to play. The ladies took care of that part. Mountain Biking was next as I needed that huffing and puffing activity to remind me that physical workouts were really helpful and one of those recently acquired new friends knew someone at Yeti Cycles. The bike I have now cost more than my car, all because of the great people I met along the way. Be nice and nice things will happen.

  • gksnewfy

    John, I’ve only just found your article. Oh boy a man after my own heart. I bought my first mountain bike 18 months ago and I’ve just completed my first mountain bike race (Whaka25) here in New Zealand at age 63. I’m hoping to improve enough to do the Whaka50 next year and guess what the following year ……. the Whaka100 (one of the hardest races in the Southern hemisphere). Having said that I may have to ride with my 7 & 5 year old sons for the next year or two. So maybe I should be aiming at age 75 instead of 65.

  • Kex71

    Excellent job John,
    I Start college at 40, graduate at 42 in electronic engineer. I worked 5 years buiding my career. Now I just buy muy first bike at 47. Reading your article has me motivated to not consider my age, or my back pain.
    And yes, I also regret not to start earlie, but I will fallow your advice, not to waist time on regrets

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