Everyone has a thing. Some people write songs, prose or poetry. Some find peace in a weekly yoga class. Others are happy just to join friends and colleagues for happy hour a few times a week. For me, growing up, that thing was music. My parents started me on the piano before I’d even learned to read. I played in all the school bands, won awards in solo competitions and everyone thought that one day I’d join the TSO.
When the time came to choose a university all the excitement of moving away from home, being on my own, and defining myself caught up with me. Something changed. I chose a school based on whether or not they had a good athletics program — not a good music program. And that became my thing.
I’m four years out of university and while I do miss music sometimes, I know that I’ll always be able to come back to it — like riding a bike. For now, I’m most happy … well … riding a bike.
I devote a lot of time pursuing the things that will help me be a better bike racer: nutrition, fitness, rest, technical knowledge. People I meet for the first time always ask the same thing. Why?
It’s true that being a bike racer isn’t without hardship. There are long hours of training, sore muscles, injuries, expenses, disappointments. It’s true sometimes I think about how much time and money I’d have if I gave it all up. I wonder what I’d do with it, and just end up chasing my tail thinking about all the gear I’d be able to afford and the places I’d have time to ride. Once the season hits, there isn’t time for much else so I miss camping trips with friends, lazy days at the cottage or even Friday night beers on the patio after work.
But there’s also the thrill of competition. There are the good feelings you get when you know you’re doing something healthy for your body. There are the amazing people you meet. And above all, there’s the ride.
What could compare to that feeling you get when you first get rolling after a winter cooped up on your trainer or in spin class? The smell of dirt in the spring? The taste of dust in the summer? Or giving in to getting good and muddy?
When I’m on a trail, and it’s just me and the bike, I’m myself. There are no roles to play, no responsibilities to weigh me down except the simple code of the trail. I can take the difficult path or the easy one. I find my centre the way a pianist does when they find they can play a piece at tempo that only a week before they had to feel out one hand at a time. Or the way a yogi feels after they reach that quiet place in the middle of the storm of their thoughts.
On a ride, nothing else matters except for the curve of the trail, the whir of the chain and the thump of my heart. The sun makes puddles of light through the treetops and all the crap that happened at work that day falls away. The everyday stresses of life — relationships, bills, commitments — it all waits on the back burner until the glow of the ride fades.
I mountain bike because unlike a lot of stuff in life, I get out of it exactly what I put into it. The harder I push the more rewards I reap. I mountain bike because by having something that’s all mine, I’m a more solid person. We bring in what we put out, so if I’m happier and more confident on the inside, that’s what shows on the outside. That’s what I bring to work every day. It’s what’s reflected in the people that I spend my time with — on and off bikes.
That’s why I mountain bike. Why do you?