Over a Beer: Dreaming of Greatness – The Upper Echelon of Human Achievement

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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