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.
In our teens and into our 20s, we often feel invincible. I know I did as a high schooler on downhill skis. No cliff was seemingly too big to huck my meat off even though, in Northern Wisconsin, we were usually hucking to ice sheets instead of powder landings.
I remember one day specifically when we had a dusting of an inch of fresh snow in the woods. We scraped together enough snow to build a one-foot-wide run-in that measured maybe 10 feet long, leading into a 10-foot cliff drop. The catch? There wasn’t enough snow for a landing. Instead, we were hucking to a leaf pile.
We were 15, semi-talented, and 100% fearless.
The thing is, if you play in the mountains long enough, injuries will catch up to you eventually.
“Dude, I’m in the torn ACL club,” a friend texted me recently.
“What?! Say it isn’t so!” I responded. “I hate that you have to go through this.” I had just had my second ACL surgery two weeks prior, so the pain was fresh in my mind.
“I grew up playing soccer, so I feel like it was a normal part of life that I thought I avoided,” my friend reflected. “But nope. It got me in adulthood.”
Every time we hold an essay contest or open the editorial team up for applications, one theme tends to emerge over all the others: injury. It could be stories of getting injured, stories of overcoming injury, or any number of possible permutations, but one thing is clear: mountain biking is dangerous. And it will bite you.
I remember one of the songs in high school that spoke to my general approach to life at that time was a newer tune from Ozzie Osborne’s recent foray into solo work. The chorus went something like this:
“All my life I’ve been over the top,
I don’t know what I’m doing, All I know is I don’t wanna stop.
All fired up I’m gonna go ’till I drop
You’re either in or in the way, don’t make me, I don’t wanna stop”
I feel like often times as mountain bikers, this is how we live. We don’t always know why we are so passionate about this sport, but we know we’re over the top, we’re going to keep riding, and we don’t want to stop. We go along this way, thinking we’re invincible, just like Ozzie:
“This thing that I found ain’t gonna bring me down
I’m like a junkie without an addiction
Mama, don’t cry, I just wanna stay high
I like playing with danger and fear”
We go along this way, but eventually, we do drop. The injury that we thought we were immune to hits, and we are forced to stop.
We all must, eventually, pay the gods of Pain and Suffering.
Not literal gods, obviously. But the pain, the suffering, the injury, is coming for all of us… or at least, it seems like it is.
Sometimes, there is a rare outlier who has ridden for decades but can’t claim to have paid the gods of pain and suffering. One of those riders is Rebecca Rusch. I’ve read her memoir, and while she discussed all kinds of challenges she overcame, she didn’t mention a single injury.
In a Q&A on Facebook, I asked her, “How do you deal with and overcome injuries?”
She responded that she cross trains religiously to avoid overuse injuries but that when it comes to traumatic injuries, she’s been pretty lucky.
Even Jeff, the co-founder of this website, when looking back on his decades of mountain biking can’t identify one injury that has kept him off the bike.
But these examples are rare. And while I don’t wish pain on anybody, I can’t help but think that maybe they just have not yet reached the barrier where the gatekeeper says, “you need to pay to pass.” Or perhaps they have paid the price already, just in some other way.
Is it worth it?
Is mountain biking really worth the sacrifice that Pain and Suffering require?
Like Ozzie, I think that some of us don’t actually have a choice in the matter. We’ve been over the top our entire lives, we don’t know what we’re doing, but we definitely don’t want to stop.
Maybe that’s a cop-out. We do have choices in life. But if we’re being honest, every choice leads to a pain of some kind. The only question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?”
As I’ve thought about this question, I’ve realized that I’m willing to sustain the pain of the occasional injury and the occasional surgery for the joy that I experience when exploring the mountains. While maybe I could avoid this one type of pain by keeping my ass securely connected to the sofa, I’d rather endure the pain of injury than the endless pain of boredom in front of the TV.
So when my time does come to pay Pain and Suffering, I’ll open my wallet and empty it out onto the ground. I might not do it willingly, but in the end, the payment will be worth it.