The last year and a half has been tough for me. Break-ups, pain, sorrow, joy and love, guilt, loss, loneliness and elation. I’ve had the continuum of emotions that could see me through a life time, and i’m still not through to the other side yet.
Throughout this time mountain biking has been both my best friend but also my greatest enemy. It’s supported me at my lowest ebb but also dragged me down into darkness and taken control of my consciousness. In one sense mountain biking is a metaphor for life: you go up and down, have setbacks, mechanicals, get lost, you plan, sometimes you don’t but somehow you keep moving forward.
When your feeling pain, loss, sorrow or anger there is nothing that compares to getting out and doing something you love. For me jumping on a bike and riding so hard that you leave you present state of mind and zone-out is just how I deal with stuff. I like to get to the point in physical exertion where my body can only afford the energy to carry out the basic functions of survival, pumping oxygen to my vital organs, leaving everything else unnecessary by the wayside.
In my darkest days mountain biking has been a survival tool, something I can depend on for pleasure no matter what’s happened to me. When i’m at my most confident it provides me with vitality, strength and motivation to carry out my day.
But mountain biking, like any pleasure, also has a more sinister side, which can, if your not careful destroy your life or at least exacerbate your problems. There’s a distinct dichotomy between light and dark as there is between healthy and unhealthy mountain biking activities.
In the last two years without me even knowing it I used mountain biking as way of self-medication. I spent hours, weeks, and months out on the bike or digging new tracks, willing away and ignoring my underlying problems. Someone once said you never see an unhappy mountain biker, and it’s true. Instead of dealing with my problems I went riding, when things got too much, I went riding. I convinced myself my partner was fine with me digging tracks every night till ten, because I felt good, and ‘I wasn’t going out drinking, or gambling’! It wasn’t OK and she wasn’t OK, I was neglecting her.
The lesson here is not that riding is bad, it’s inherently good. The lesson here is that there are too many people pretending that everything is OK. Believe me, there’s always room for life improvement. It’s easy to hide behind a screen of mountain biking, or anything else for that matter and ignore your mental health, neglect your loved ones, or pretend your partner is fine with you spending 40 hours on a bike every week.
When it comes down to it your mental health, your life, your loved ones are all more important than your bike, without them biking doesn’t exist. Don’t forget it or it’ll have disastrous consequences.