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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:

1. Confidence

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Photo credit: Evan Gross

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.

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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.

Riding through an ice-covered field behind our old house---definitely a different perspective of a familiar place. Photo credit: Evan Gross.

Riding through an ice-covered field behind our old house—definitely a different perspective of a familiar place. Photo credit: Evan Gross

Discovering new lines with friends at Rattling Creek, PA.

Discovering new lines at Rattling Creek, PA.

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

Getting one of my best friends stoked about mountain biking.

Getting one of my best friends stoked about riding.

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?

Helping out with women's clinics at Dirt Rag's Dirt Fest.

Helping out with women’s clinics at Dirt Rag’s Dirt Fest.

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# Comments

  • Greg Heil

    This is so good, Helena! I normally don’t stop to consider the ways that mountain biking has made me a better person in the rest of my life, but you’re totally right: there are so many benefits in every aspect of our lives, thanks to this great sport!

  • Mike Yaz

    WOOO Central PA!
    I just got back into riding after an 8 year (or so) break too. I am looking for places to ride and people to ride with. I am not sure why I took such a long break, other than life obstacles, but looking back none of them were too insurmountable that I could not have been riding. I enjoy it, but am not nearly as confident or adept as I used to be. I get frustrated with the technical parts of trails, (and getting used to clipless pedals – falling over at slow speeds is frustrating) end up walking my bike frequently, but I get that sense of “AWESOME” if and when I make it through a rough section of trail.

    • Helena Kotala

      Mike, do you live in Central PA?

      I definitely understand the frustration of clipless pedals—I much prefer them over flats, but I’ve definitely had my share of slow-speed falls due to not unclipping in time.

      I don’t consider myself that great of a rider—I still have SO much to learn and master—but I’m better than I used to be, and that feels really good! The beginning is frustrating, but it’s those little moments of AWESOME that get you through it. Then, suddenly, you’ll be able to clean that rock garden that used to give you so much trouble, and you’ll realize how far you’ve come. 🙂

    • Mike Yaz

      I am from central pa! I will be traveling through the burgeoning metropolis of Mt. Union today for work!

  • NHatalla

    Great article, i can relate in so many ways coming back from not riding for 8 years, now i try to never miss a weekend weather permitting and ride to work everyday…. your group sounds like an awesome bunch, if you are ever headed south a lil and wouldn’t mind me tagging along let me know, i am in Harrisburg and would love to make some new friends

    -Nate

    • Mike Yaz

      Hey Nate!
      I work in the ‘burg, but commute quite a way. I have been looking for someone to go try out Swatara State park’s trails. Maybe we can meet up some weekend?

    • NHatalla

      i’m totally down, they have a pretty sweet mtb specific area there i’ve been wanting to check out for awhile, especially since i have been wanting to work on improving my technical skills, i have mostly been doing distance/speed XC style rides this season, i love to ride the stony creek area which runs from Dauphin to Lebanon and beside ft Indian town gap dunno if you are familiar. Not to be nosy but might i ask what you do in HBG for work? you must have an insane commute.

    • Mike Yaz

      NHatalla,
      Instead of hijacking the comments section of this cool article, shoot me a private message in the forums.

  • Ted Malone

    I just got back into MTB after about 15 years off. It’s been an amazing few months, feeling like a newbie all over again, but just taking it day by day and realizing that I get better after every ride. I live in Scottsdale, AZ, have more than 150 miles of trails within riding distance of the house, and have started riding with a crew from the local bike shop for their weekly night rides. My wife doesn’t quite understand my obsession with it, but fortunately she’s very supportive. Thanks for a great article!

  • Jeanette Gregersen

    Nice article. I have always felt that every lesson I learn on the trail can be applied to life- even if it’s just learning which trails I don’t want to go down again. I have my greatest ‘epiphany’ moments when I’m lost, hungry or hiding under a tree to escape the rain. I also learn to appreciate shelter, meals, a hot shower and a warm bed in a whole new way. It’s not about being the best rider or having the best equipment. It’s about learning new skills, and just relaxing into the ride, letting all your troubles and worries fall right off. It’s also about perspective and attitude, looking always at the trail in front of you and leaving the past behind…

  • John Fisch

    Excellent reflection.
    One more way mountain biking unites: politically. Arch enemies. uber conservative on one side, and flaming liberal on the other can turn cranks together and all those otherwise unforgivable differences dissipate like so much vapor. I’m convinced if we all rode together more often, we’d solve a lot of problems, or even realize many of them are only in our minds and don’t really exist in the first place.

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