I got back into mountain biking a little over two years ago after a 10-year hiatus. My return to the sport began because I thought fat bikes looked interesting, and I wanted to give it a try. I never thought that one early morning ride through the snow in the middle of winter would lead to my current obsession with two-wheeled adventures–and all the extras that have come along with it.
A few months ago, I watched a video that was posted here on Singletracks, “Thank You, Bicycle,” by Lars Veenstra. His depiction of how riding has impacted his life really hit home with me. Cycling has given me so much more than just a new hobby and great quads. Here are some of the other ways that it’s changed my life for the better:
There’s nothing like cleaning a nasty rock garden to make you feel like you can do anything. Mountain biking has given me a level of confidence that is apparent both on and off the bike. While I still doubt and second-guess myself around every turn, I also go for it a lot more than I used to–both on the trail and in the rest of life. Sometimes it seems as though progress is slow, but when I look back on how I rode two years ago, and all the hills that used to seem so difficult and all the obstacles I used to walk my bike over, I know that I’ve come a long way.
2. A Great Group of Friends
I’ve met a lot of really cool people through mountain biking–my significant other included. It’s funny to think that I used to be intimidated by all these fellow cyclists that have become my good friends, but there was a time when I thought they’d all scoff at me and my novice abilities when I was first starting out. I worried so much about keeping up, that I wouldn’t be fast enough or good enough, or have a fancy enough bike or gear to hang with them. But I quickly discovered that it didn’t matter, and that I was actually surrounding myself with some of the kindest, most accepting, and supportive people that I know–people with whom I’d eventually become very close. Now, I have a really awesome crew of friends–all of whom are in my life because of mountain biking, but who are so much more than just good riding buddies.
3. Something that Unites
I work at a bar in downtown Huntingdon, PA, a place with the same owners as the bike shop in town, so many mountain bikers stop by for a beer or several and some good grub before or after riding. I can tell them by their cycling clothing, or when I overhear their conversations about shredding some gnar out on the trails. I feel out the situation, and sometimes I don’t say a word, but more often than not, I chime in and introduce myself as a fellow rider. This then leads to a conversation with someone with whom normally my interactions would have remained limited to what they’d like to eat or drink. It’s very rewarding to be able to offer trail advice, or exchange stories and experiences of riding in the area, and it makes my job more fun.
4. A New Perspective of Familiar Places
I’ve lived in Central Pennsylvania my entire life. I’ve done a lot of hiking, camping, trail running, and exploring of its ridges and valleys. Since I’ve started mountain biking, I’ve revisited places I may have been a dozen times, but I’ve seen them with fresh eyes. I love traveling at the speed of the bicycle. It’s fast enough to cover a lot of ground, yet slow enough that I can appreciate my surroundings. I have time to notice each and every contour of the landscape, every rock and downed tree in my path, every subtle change in terrain and surface, and yet I can still cross many mountains in a single day and embrace the thrill of going fast.
5. …And a Different Reason to Visit New Ones
It’s not difficult for me to find a reason to travel and explore. Because of mountain biking, I have one more. I am continually thinking about new places I’d like to go ride, and how to integrate riding into every trip I take. Visiting family for the holidays? We’re definitely taking our mountain bikes. Want to see a cool band a few hours away, or go visit friends in another town? Let’s see where we can ride there and incorporate it into our trip. It adds yet another fun element of exploration into every trip I take.
6. The Ability to Share Something Awesome With Others
A couple years ago, my now-significant-other shared something awesome with me, and thus spurred on my love of the bicycle. In the time since, I’ve had the opportunity to share this great passion with others, which is a joy perhaps greater than discovering it myself. I’ve watched those who have gotten into the sport after me go from timid newbies who weren’t so sure what to think to experienced riders who caught the bug just as bad as I did. I’ve had the opportunity to encourage and teach other women and men alike, and it’s always rewarding to watch someone fall in love with riding, and to watch them improve and gain the same confidence that I did.
There are many ways the sport of cycling has changed my life–for me, it’s not just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. It’s amazing to me to think that for so many years I rarely rode a bike, except to commute across town every now and then. Now, I cannot imagine my life without bikes, and my life is definitely better because of it, both directly and indirectly. I am in better shape than I’ve ever been, have a wonderful group of riding buds, and a partner with whom I can get out and enjoy time on the trails, and I’ve been able to share my passion with others in a variety of ways, whether it’s in person or through writing such as this. So thank you, bicycle, for all that you’ve given me.
Your Turn: How has mountain biking improved YOUR life?