Without being willing to go it alone, I would have missed out on literally hundreds of great scenes like this one in Montana's rarely visited Tobacco Root Mountains.

Without being willing to go it alone, I would have missed out on literally hundreds of great scenes, like this one in Montana’s rarely-visited Tobacco Root Mountains.

I am new to mountain biking.  I am neither fit nor skilled.  I am slow.  I walk many obstacles.  I crash.  It seems I spend more time off the bike than on it.  I am proud;  I don’t want to be seen failing.  I don’t like seeing only the backsides of other riders.  And so . . . I ride alone.

My skills have improved, my fitness has improved, my confidence has improved.  I have now discovered the epic mountain bike ride; the mind-clearing, soul-cleansing, exhausting but exhilarating and rejuvenating catharsis that comes from six or eight hours of turning cranks in remote areas.  My cycling friends are all content to do quick, one or two hour sprints, but I want more.  The wilderness teaches me how well mountain biking is suited to alone time.  So I ride alone.

I have been transferred.  I now live in a place with one second-rate local trail, a three-hour drive to the nearest great trail, and understandably no mountain biking culture.  Why would anyone want to spend their weekend riding a second-rate trail, or spending six hours round trip in a car, when there’s world class walleye fishing in the immediate area?  And so, I continue to ride alone.

I have found a mountain bike race 2 1/2 hours from home.  I have not, nor will I ever have, great aerobic capacity.  I am built for sprints and one time shows of strength, not long forays into aerobic training zones.  When I think about it, it seems silly I have become obsessed with cycling, a very aerobic sport.  But obsessed I am, and I will ride, despite my natural limitations.  This time I will not only ride, but I will race.  I will meet others who are obsessed and as I ride against them, I will ride with them.  Amazingly I will find the podium (barely), thanks largely to a small field and the lack of a mountain biking culture.   But most of all, it was nice to not ride alone.

#31 trying to establish position on the pavement sprint before entering the singletrack. (photo: Lisa Fisch)

#31 trying to establish position on the pavement sprint before entering the singletrack. (photo: Lisa Fisch)

I have moved back to an area rich in quantity, quality, and variety of mountain biking trails.   I have met other cyclists.  We are well matched.  I still lag a bit aerobically, but compensate with a new explosion in technical skills.  But the togetherness is short-lived.  As I seek out more and more technical challenge, my riding partners prefer “buff” to “rad.”  A few rocks here and there are okay, but nonstop rock fests are not to their liking. But I am now obsessed with rocks.  Big rocks, small rocks, rollers, huckers, step ups, extended rock gardens.  I seek them like a drug sniffing dog working customs at a port of entry.  And so, once again I ride alone.

Why don't my friends want to ride this with me?

Why don’t my friends want to ride this with me?

I have found a group of riders much to my liking.  They share my mountain biking aesthetic.  While they are all fit and can pound out miles by the dozens, they’d rather head for the rocks, even stopping to session the best features, egging each other on to try new things and reveling in the shared joy of each others’ accomplishments.  Tonight we will hit our favorite features at night for an entirely new experience.  After sessioning a challenging rock garden, we pause at the top of a knife edge ridge overlooking the city to commune and . . . light up?  At once, the crisp, clean mountain air is annihilated by the stench of burning weed.  Off to the side, I sit alone . . . and tomorrow, I shall ride alone once more.

I have a new obsession: new trails!  I have always been a short attention span kind of guy and I am easily  bored with repetition and routine.  I must ride a new trail every chance I get.  My biking friends are happy to ride the same few trails over and over and over again.  I cannot abide this; I must seek out the new, even if the new may be a less impressive trail overall.  My riding buddies demand a guarantee that they will be able to complete their anticipated loop, while I am willing to take a chance a trail may dead end, prove unrideable, or otherwise fail to justify the effort required to get there.   And so I ride alone, often far from home.

An early father son ride on Spencer Mountain, Whitefish MT (photo: Lisa Fisch)

An early father son ride on Spencer Mountain, Whitefish MT (photo: Lisa Fisch)

I am teaching my son to ride, and he is really taking to the sport.  We ride together, but it will be years before he is able to keep up with me either physically or technically.  So, technically, we are riding “together,” but this is not riding time for me.  It is genuine-quality father and son time, which I cherish greatly, but not really riding time.  So for true riding time, I ride alone.

Junior has proven to be a chip off the ol’ block.  He loves to ride the rocks.  Climbs are accepted as a means to get to the downhill.  He wants to hit bigger rollers, as much chunk as possible, and he is quite literally starting to fly.  We are well-matched.  For a couple glorious seasons, we take biking vacations together to Moab, Sedona, St. George/Hurricane, Fruita and more.  We ride together.

It didn't take Junior long to start seeking out bigger challenges, and leave his old man behind.

It didn’t take Junior long to start seeking out bigger challenges, and leave his old man behind.

Well, that was quick.  In a brief period, Junior has surpassed me.  While I expected his teen years to show a rapid acceleration in aerobic power, blowing by me like a Porsche dropping a Renault on the autobahn, what has shocked me is an equally-impressive explosion in his technical skills.  I can no longer keep up with him, even on technical climbs, my forte.  And when the trail turns downhill?  It’s only a matter of seconds before his butt disappears, not to be seen again until the trail bottoms out and he waits, sometimes thousands of vertical feet below.  He waits for me . . . a lot.  Once again, even as we ride together, I ride alone.

A group ride with the Colorado Springs Mountain Bike Club was always a good time, whether hammering out singletrack or sitting around on a trailside viewpoint exchanging tall tales of great riding conquests.

A group ride with the Colorado Springs Mountain Bike Club was always a good time, whether hammering out singletrack or sitting around on a trailside viewpoint exchanging tall tales of great riding conquests.

Thanks to the Colorado Springs Mountain Biking Club, I will not always ride alone this year.  I still have my days of seeking new and obscure trials, but for after work and and some of my weekend rides, this meetup group has proven to be just the ticket.  Fitness and skills vary widely, age and experience is anything but constant, as are individual desires for fast and buff vs. rocky and technical, but there is one constant: everybody loves to turn cranks and everybody draws additional pleasure in sharing that joy, even if it is with someone who rides far better, worse, or different.  No matter the ride, even if it’s one not of my choosing, these riders always add nothing but positives to a shared ride.


My fitness has plummeted.  I am now on the high side of the half century mark, but the precipitous drop in my ability seems far beyond the mere ravages of middle age, especially as my equally (or more) mature riding buddies are suffering no such decrease in capacity.  Fatigue sets in within minutes of starting a ride.  Even when down aerobically, I could always count on exceptional leg strength to get me out of tight spots; even my once world-class leg power fails me.  The fatigue in turn kills confidence and renders my technical skills almost nonexistent.  The harder I train, the weaker I get.  Doctors have theories but no answers; treatments but no cure.  I have come full circle, so to speak, with regard to inability preventing me from group riding.  My riding buddies are exceptional in their understanding, but I cannot bring myself be comfortable for them waiting for me, no matter how genuine they are in their support and acceptance.  I will never stop pushing to find a way to break through my current malaise, but until I do, I will ride alone.

# Comments

  • Scott Cotter

    John, to me this is the beauty of mountain biking. Well, one of the many. I love the evolution of it. Of skills, of equipment, of fitness, the people who come in and out of our lives. And, of course, those who stick.

    I spend time alone riding because I like it. I have a set idea about what I want to do, the miles I want to cover, the intensity I want to achieve (or the lack thereof), and then I clamor for a group ride that covers a measly nine miles because all we do is stop and talk. I love those rides and I love those people. And then the next day I’m content to be alone for hours in the woods, nodding quickly at anyone I see and tossing out a quick “howya” before rolling on past.

    What a gift, eh?

    And you know where I am…come on out anytime and get some rocks. But hurry, will be back on the road in January exploring Arizona, Texas and southern California.

  • lawgs

    Very inspirational read for me! Thank you. Today I too will ride alone.

  • Seren

    Lovely read John. I too ride alone! Being female people think I’m mad and they worry about me, but I like to ride at my own pace and not be pushed or held back. My local club is too advanced/fast for me, and my friends can’t do the more technical stuff. So I too ride alone, and will continue to do so, it’s the one thing that’s mine!!

  • Nancy Anderson

    Good read, John. Life is nothing if not ever-changing. Hang in there & keep enjoying the big, beautiful outdoors in whatever way currently works for you!

  • bonkedagain

    Well John, now that you have slowed down, maybe me and my slow ass can keep up with you. If you want to do a ride or hit the slopes let me know.

    I’m working on Missing Link on Saturday. Will you be there?

    • John Fisch

      Thanks for the offer–We can have a race to see who bonks first!

      I waited too long to put my name in for the Missing Link crew this weekend and it was all full up by the time I tried to hop on. With today’s weather, it’ll be interesting to see if it still happens. Not much snow in town, but you can bet there’s more up high.

    • John Fisch

      They opened up 10 more slots today, so I’m in. Looking forward to seeing you and the rest of the crew!

  • Joel DH

    I have never ridden with another person, except for the occasional race. I also ride alone. Great read John.

  • Jack McCafferty

    I ride alone a few months I’ll be 77 years old and it’s hard to find young people to ride with it’s hard to find anyone at my age to ride with I still hit it hard still breaking bones when I fall I love the solitude the quiet times on the trail fresh air the mountains and I feel close to God I ride alone

  • marvinmartian

    I always prefer to ride alone. The solitude and freedom helps me make myself right

  • mongwolf

    Wow, cool write up John. IMO, there really is nothing like riding alone in big backcountry. However, there are so many cool dynamics of riding with others too, especially seeing and sharing in the enthusiasm of a new rider.

  • fsherfy

    I also ride alone. I’m 67 and like Jack above there aren’t to many riders my age or that would want to ride with an “old man”. But I usually rode alone 20 years ago. I enjoy it I usually just explore the area here and don’t usually ride to fast, alone I can go where I wish and if a trail is a dead end I don’t need to worry about it. Good read.

  • Twiddles

    Great read! But something you said stuck a chord with me. If your riding ability suddenly changed as in during a ride or between two rides and the symptoms involved sudden onset of fatigue as well as shortness of breath beyond what you would expect from what we do. It continues even as you train harder in fact seems to set in quicker now than when it first did. You may have something called exercise induced asthma. I never had it before mountain biking and it took my doctor and a bunch of testing to find. Scared the hell out of me at 49 I figured I would never be a great mountain biker and like you I ride alone for similar reasons. I wasnt ready to give up on something that so profoundly put me at peace.
    The good news for me and maybe for you is the doctor did find the answer and I now take BREO before each ride and it completely eliminated the issue on the very first ride. I would ask your doctor to check and I sincerely hope it helps you the same as it did me. Best of luck to you.

  • dohoagland

    I just turned 62 and moved to Tucson this past June. With absolutely no experience I decided to try mountain biking, got started riding and could not believe how stoked I was to be dodging chollas and prickly pears through this beautiful desert. And I always rode alone. I think maybe because it was 95+ degrees every day? I generally just rode until I was ready to pass out then turned around. It was just too great an experience to pass up on.

    Imagine my shock when I showed up at the 50 year rail the other day, 75 degrees and there was a dozen bikers at the trail head, argh! Truth is I prefer the solitude and peace of the desert by myself, I really like it alone.

    • fsherfy

      I’m north of Tucson also. I rode part of the 50 year Trail a while back. I usually ride the trails behind our development (Saddlebrooke Ranch) but have ridden the 24hr Trail and near the church off oracle. I think I need to try the 50 year Trail from the state park.
      Maybe I’ll see you out there sometime. Enjoy

  • lhzawd

    Great Story!
    I ride alone .Twice a year i have a friend that comes along and it becomes an annoying Strava game…..
    Fall solo mtb trip last week -great locations but the best was Mount St Marie Que.- no one else using the entire resort that day .
    At the top of the the mountain on a rock over looking the valley below…. there was absolute silence .
    It was amazing !
    I will continue to ride alone .. stopping of course to talk to flybys on occasion- briefly.

  • bikerboy13

    Great article John! Really good! I ride alone a lot too. But mostly because my friends don’t have as much time as me for riding.

  • stumpyfsr

    Another great article. I always enjoy reading your writing, John. Keep on riding and writing.

  • Wils

    Thank you John, great writing.
    I ride alone as well, I ride on trails that are here in Dallas TX. We don’t have a place to do like down-hill or any of that fancy and cool looking things I read and watch on here. But I go, I try each time to do better and I’m also newish at this. I have many things to learn and still some areas of the trails I ride that I have not yet accomplished. And all that’s ok too. I ride alone, cause most people are at work on the days I’m off, so I ride alone and love it.

  • Sean Bickford

    I have always ridden alone, until recently. I have been taking my stepson out with me because he has been wanting to try mountain biking for some time now. Turns out he loves it. It’s nice to have a riding partner, but I do miss it just being me and my bike out there in the woods. It helps me clear my head and ride out my frustrations. I had a rough week at work last week and needed to ride it out. So this weekend I rode alone. Sometimes riding alone is a must for me. It’s therapy.

  • rajflyboy

    You gotta make up your mind. Do you want to ride alone or not?

    Very thoughtful interesting article. Thanks for writing this.

  • Nobody

    Wow, John, Hope you find out what’s slowing you down. I’ll be 66 in a few months and also find it hard to keep up. The group I ride with like to take off and ride like Banshees the first half of the ride and then when they tire a bit I can usually keep up. But half the time I’m thinking why am I riding with these guys when they are way ahead and I’m pushing myself harder than I want to keep up. Kind of ruins my ride so I too have lately been going Lone Wolf, and I’ve been enjoying it a lot. I can totally understand your article. Thanks and hoping you get your strength back. Nobody

  • rmap01

    Love the article. I think many of us can relate. But most importantly, have you made any progress with the fatigue? I see where that could be very frustrating… and disconcerting. Pedal on Brother!

    • John Fisch

      I’m happy to report significant improvement this year. No final solution, but enough improvement I’m riding longer and harder again… and not always alone. But whether alone solo or accompanied, I’m enjoying it again. Rather than being a drudgery I force myself through, it is once again that silly toothy grin-inducing fun it was a decade ago. More improvement anticipated on the horizon.

    • rmap01

      Great to hear your situation has improved. Keep up the riding and the writing John!

  • automatic120

    I too, ride alone. I can set my own pace, distance and if I decide to stop and take pics, or not.
    Great read. Keep pedalin John.

  • Hobbes70

    Good writing. It is relatable. I bike six days a week but get no faster. I am west of 50. But it is ok because I love the experience and I bike for me

  • Andy Nourse

    I went from the first “I Ride Alone” to the last one without experiencing any of the states in between.
    There was some improvement in fitness over the years, most of which has been lost recently, but even at my best I was too slow. No skills either. Tried to learn and failed repeatedly.

    So I ride alone.

  • Cole_Walker

    I read this two years ago, and I read it again today. It popped up in my memories on Facebook as I had shared it two years ago. Just stopping by the say this is the best mountain bike article that I’ve ever read. It really hits home, and I really like it.

    Thanks for sharing.

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