A Mountain Bike Ride is the Perfect Way to Get Outdoors

A trail through the mountain stretches before me like a blank chapter of the next great adventure waiting to be written. I’m on my mountain bike, and I know what lies ahead. 

It could be a quick glide down a trail with my bike careening across the dirt like a snowboarder through the trees on a powder day, or it could be a leaden slog up a mountain, or possibly both. 

Mountain biking is a combination of indulgence and endurance, and so is this story. 

Many people don’t get it, won’t attempt it or can’t afford the type of bike that can climb an Idaho mountain trail and plummet down its rooty, rocky descents. 

I understand it well, so I spend too much money on bikes and too many hours mindlessly spinning pedals so I can experience those sublime moments in the mountains. Because true mountain biking—the kind that takes place in actual mountains—can be brutally unforgiving and gloriously fun, but it depends which side of the mountain you’re on. 

Let me explain further. 

Whether the experience is joyful or painful starts with me, because my legs are the only thing that makes one of these wheeled contraptions built from carbon fiber, steel and rubber go uphill. 

I have to grind uphill to make a big deposit of vertical feet in the bank of gravity so I can withdraw it when the wheels point downhill, and my focus funnels to a ribbon of brown dirt winding through the brush, trees and rocks. I may rail the trail like a bullet train, or crash down it like a plummeting, dislodged boulder, and the line between the two is often measured in millimeters and microseconds. 

First comes the climb, and I can’t bluff my way through it. Climbing a mountain requires payment in calories and watts, and the price is non-negotiable. The mountain doesn’t care if I was too busy to ride my bike before I arrived, nor does it care if my legs are weak or strong that day, or if my lungs can’t efficiently filter oxygen out of the thin mountain air.

If I didn’t put in the early season miles to get my lungs and legs in shape for the rigors of the mountains, I will be gasping on wobbly legs and cursing myself for skipping spring rides that build strength and stamina. 

Even if I grit through the climb on sheer will and anticipation of what lies over the crest, the mountain may turn my quads to mush, which makes descending on a bike feel like a bucking bronc intent on pile driving me into the dirt. 

But, if I adequately prepared, and Old Man Time turns a blind eye to my shenanigans, I become a seamless blend of muscle and machine carving the trail like a sledder on an Olympic luge run. 

It’s that moment I crave, when the bike, my body, the trail and gravity find fluidity, and I am rolling as effortlessly as water down the mountain. My brain is on autopilot, and it seems like something else is in control. I’m strapped to a rolling, guided missile that careens through corners, floats over rocks and bypasses tree trunks like fence pickets. 

At the bottom of the trail, I stop and inhale a deep breath, and my middle-aged brain is flush with a heady mix of endorphins, adrenaline and teenage bravado. I survived. Better yet, I let my instincts override my sense of self-preservation and danced on the edge of control, but managed to stay on the healthy side of it. The rest of my ride is like a victory lap. The forest smells dank and sweet, the meadows glow green with colorful sparks of wildflowers, and the sun bathes me in warmth rather than oppressive heat. I feel exhausted and invigorated. 

Thanks for indulging me on this wild ride, but I have to go. I hear the mountains calling, and it’s time to roll.