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.
Over the past three years I’ve been battling a series of seemingly never-ending injuries. Some of them have been more debilitating than others, but all have affected my ability to ride a bike to some degree. I’ve known this for a long time, but my injuries only continue to drive this point home: I need to ride and run and ski to live. I need to be active and on the move to be emotionally stable. In a very real way, physical motion begets emotional stability.
When I sit still, my temperament experiences a fundamental change. The anger begins to well up inside me from deep recesses that are scary to look down into. I get grumpy and frustrated with the people and the circumstances surrounding me. Motivation dwindles, my entire outlook on life takes a nose dive, and the parasitic tendrils of depression attach their ever-hungry maws on my brain, leaching out any happiness that attempts to make an appearance.
The less activity I have the time or ability to do, the more that deadly parasite digs deeper into my being. The darker my outlook on life becomes. The less I care about anything and everything around me.
But after I’ve completed a successful, liberating ride, the contentment seems to radiate off of me with the waves of heat from the physical exertion. The endorphins are coursing through my system, the brain’s own happy juice, giving my a high that no number of IPAs can match.
Sometimes it needs to be a good, long, hard effort to generate this feeling, and other times, a short romp on the pedals is enough–just getting outside in the open air and putting my body in motion is sufficient to break through the ho-hum doldrums of life: sitting behind a desk, doing dishes, folding laundry, paying bills.
For some of us, riding is a fun pastime, a great way to spend a Saturday.
For others of us, it’s not just a nice luxury. We don’t have the option of not riding and not being active.
Without the time to get out in the woods and pedal to our hearts content, life is dull, life is pale. And as we know from our time spent on the trails, what many people consider to be “real life” is a pallid substitute for the true life, the good life, the singletrack life.
And so, we ride to live.
We ride to put life in our days. We ride to experience happiness on a daily basis, to center our emotional lives and kill the parasite of depression, attacking it at the root. No matter what life may throw at us, whatever negativity we experience at work, at home, in life in general… when we can turn off the cell phone, fill the water bottles, and roll out and pedal for hours on end, life is suddenly a bright, happy place yet again!
We ride because we must, because we have no choice in the matter.
And we love every minute of it!
Greg, you have hit the nail on the head here. Riding and being physically active isn’t just a hobby for me; its a healthy way of life. I done almost every sport at one time or another, but only MTBing really satisfies me. Being alone in the woods, battling turns, climbs, obstacles and hills…its difficult, but in a satisfying way. There is something about pushing myself and my bike to new heights that is just awesome. Thanks for the insights.
Thanks for the kind words Joel!
You’ve hit the nail on the head too Joel. Well said. And don’t forget those hike-a-bike sections. =) As they say, if you ain’t hikin’, then you ain’t biking. I too am one who could hardly view my life without riding (or possibly some form of exercise in the mountains); I ran trails for years before getting on a mtb for the first time at age 49 … … instant addiction. =) I LOVE trail running, but biking is sooooooo much more FUN !!!!!!!!! I would go crazy without some connection to nature and one that is exerting and physically challenging. Though my life is sooooo much more than riding, riding is one of the icings on the cake. We are all very blessed to be able to do what we do. There truly are many people in this world in third world countries (or stuck in massive cities) who will never have opportunity to know and experience what we do. RIDE ON !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And give thanks for the health, spirit and opportunity to take on a mountain or enjoy nature each day.
It’s not easy to be honest, thanks Greg for sharing. Depression has it’s negative stigmatism that has many not wanting to admit out loud that they suffer from it. Most of us suffer from seasonal depression. I live in Anchorage, AK, in winter it’s get really dark, like sunrise at 9:30am and sunset at 4:00pm. You go to work in the dark, you go home in the dark. I bought a fat bike in 2013, our winters have been sucking and I was tired of unreliable ski conditions. Total game changer, suddenly I’m out riding 4 to 6 days / nights a week. What I once dreaded (smothering darkness) I now embrace. The darkest of days are some of my favorite. Night rides are at top of the fun list, throw in some snow falling during a night ride and you have the most amazing cycling experience! The SAD is gone, I’ve lost a lot of weight, I found a way to be happy and healthy during the most challenging time of the year.
SAD is a very real issue, even further south in the lower 48. It’s on my list of possible topic ideas… would love to delve much deeper into this!
Man Thub, you’re killin’ me with this thing about riding the bike at night with snow falling. I just love being in the snow at night in the forest. But I have not yet put that together with biking … it’s going to happen.
Man this is so true!! Much better than taken meds for feeling down or angry. I much rather ride than feel like a Zombie.
Greg, how very true!
Great Article. Nails the sentiment. Ride to live and live to ride.
Wow Greg. You really connected with a bunch of folks with this article. I’d have to say that your series, “Over a Beer” has been a huge success. I think it breathes the spirit of Singletracks.com — everyday riders sharing their real riding and riding-related experiences — and even life experiences — and not just the weight of their new 1×11 drive train — though that can be interesting too.
Thanks for the kind words Floyd! I really appreciate them!!
Greg, your words and experiences really resonated with me. Being on my bike in the woods significantly improves my mood, outlook and sense of well-being. Mountain biking has become my exercise, escape, adventure and stress relief all rolled into one.
I had dabbled in the sport sporadically over the years, but that changed in 2008 when I lost my 20-year-old son. After his death, I began riding regularly and quickly discovered that it helped me cope with the nearly overwhelming grief. Mountain biking didn’t magically take away the sadness and loss I felt, but I’m convinced that it helped me work through the long and difficult bereavement process.
Damn man, that’s heavy 🙁 But so glad to know that you had mountain biking there when you needed it! Ride on!
Wow Rivertrail, I can’t imagine. Thanks for sharing. Keep riding, exerting and challenging yourself. I haven’t had to deal with any tragedy like you have, and yet, I still find the constant need to be in the quietness and peace of nature — moments I maybe cherish most in life and connect to things far greater than myself.
Another great article Greg. It’s so refreshing to read OAB because your writing cuts right to what mountain biking is all about.
It’s not about all the stuff, it’s about being out there and doing something you love.
Thanks so much for the kind words! This column isn’t going anywhere–next week’s should be a doozy 😉
Great article Greg! Rubber on dirt equals happiness!
Man, you’re on it, Greg. Have fought the evil monster of despair and not being active helps it bubble to the surface. A good thrashing on a regular basis keeps me on even keel.
Also, thank you for using and the way you did. Having been at the business end of writing for a number of years, I’ve done things similar to that to add emphasis. And that’s exactly what that did for me … added emphasis. I like it a lot. Go for it. When you know the rules, as the old saying goes.
Bonus: You kept your cool when being called out by someone for being creative.
Cheers, buddy. Keep riding and writing.
Thanks Scott, always appreciate your input! Glad you appreciated the attempt, meager though at may have been, at some stylistic emphasis. One of my goals is to always continue pushing my boundaries, learning new things, and trying new techniques. Glad to know it wasn’t lost on everyone 🙂
Great sentiments Greg! Absolutely true for not only MTB but also for my other passion of 38 years, whitewater kayaking! Our modern world is so full of tedium, and we’re led to think that life should be without risk. But that risk and the opportunity to be in nature defines our lives!
Greg, in 2 years I’ve experienced a torn Labrum Slap, 2 broken ribs an enlarged prostate and cervical stenosis. Add onto that my ruptured Achilles in 2010 and I’m starting to feel like one unique dude for a guy of 54.
I’m still mt. biking aggressively – now accompanied by two of my teenage boys – and sincerely feel like a kid in the candy store, releasing life-saving spiritual endorphins each and every ride and hitting the single track rock like there is no tomorrow. Played college D1 lacrosse and was raised with the motto to give it one’s all.
A superb article Greg, and such an important message.
Hey Mongwolf, make it happen! Night rides on snow are amazing, the best is when the trails are already packed and it’s lightly snowing. I’ve pedaled through a few heavy snows, which is also a blast but you burn out faster if your packing trail. It’s why I love Anchorage, so many people on fat bikes up here that our trails get packed quickly. Exception being the hidden single track gems that get less traffic. It’s amazing how many new trails show up once the ground freezes and snow flies. Hope you find a snowy night ride soon.
You know I feel the same way 🙂
Great article Greg, and it’s always nice to know I’m not alone!
Even when feeling exhausted before hitting dirt, a few miles on the trail snaps me out of it. I really do come to life so to speak.
Long ago I used to worry I might be too tired to ride. I now know I’m only too tired NOT to.
I put mountain biking right up there with good food, good sex, and a good beer. That it also has so many health benefits—emotional, mental, and physical—is just icing on the cake. Without mountain biking, my life would be greatly diminished. Ride to live—Live to ride!