I was standing with my new mountain bike staring down a rocky, steep hill, certain that I would break every bone in my body if I dared to descend.
The last time I had gone biking was many years before, on the smooth, flat streets and boardwalk of Long Beach, Long Island. The most daring thing I’d ever done back then was cruise without holding my handlebars.
Now, I was facing possible pain and maybe even death. Who could really know. My riding mentor and founder of Israel-based mountain biking program Geerz, Nachum Wasosky uttered his mantra “lean back and just let your bike do its thing” and I safely rode down the hill. Since then, not only have I survived many treacherous trails, I’ve also learned and internalized the following life values:
It’s all in the head (well, mostly in the head)
Our perception of danger is generally helpful, as it helps us live life safely. However, our fears may tend to be blown out of proportion and as a result we miss out on amazing opportunities. Whether it’s experiencing something fun, meeting our life partner or pitching a business idea, we must not let unwarranted fear control our destiny.
When it comes to taking on your personal fear factor, mountain biking is a great way to hone your perception of real versus imaginary risk. After mastering a boulder or drop that you once perceived as impossible to navigate, you’ll discover that much of what’s holding you back is just in your imagination.
Breaking bad habits by building good ones
We all have our bad habits and vices that we wish we didn’t. But somehow, year after year, we find ourselves doing the same old things that we promised we’d stop doing ages ago.
King David wrote in Psalms 34:15 “Turn from evil and do good”. This can be understood to mean that the ideal way to turn away from evil is specifically by focusing on doing good.
When we engage in enjoyable, healthy, wholesome activities, we simply don’t have time or interest to engage in negative pastimes.
Mountain biking for me has been that perfect, positive activity that keeps me busy with good stuff. Although it is difficult to describe the full extent of positivity that mountain biking provides, here’s a short list of mountain biking goodness:
- You get a natural “high” from the endorphins your body produces during the intense cardio workout
- You get fresh air, great views and up-close with nature
- You get real satisfaction from your growing strength, stamina, and skills
- You acutely appreciate the little things (more on that later)
- You get to hang out with your friends and make new ones in a pressure-free environment.
- You are always busy with maintaining your bike and equipment and learning new tips and tricks for better performance
You. Can. Change.
When I first started riding, I could barely navigate a simple downhill. I had so little stamina that a ride that currently takes me under an hour, would take me close to three hours to complete.
By riding, I learned that growth and change are possible and I experienced growth and change in a tangible way. What was once nearly impossible is now a breeze.
To me, this may be the most important lesson mountain biking has to offer. We often feel stuck in our ways, our weight, our activities. But we can change. Completely. Mountain biking has proven this to me. All it takes is a little time and persistence.
Letting go of the little things (focusing on the good)
A few summers back, I was in a really tight financial situation and I was totally miserable. I knew I always felt better after riding, so I forced myself on my bike and started pedaling. The ride started out with me screaming my woes out to G-d and letting Him know how I was hurting inside. And incredibly, He answered me. No, I’m not a prophet or a nut job. But through the biking I gained a new perspective on life and my personal situation.
So what if my bank account was deep in overdraft. My legs were pedaling hard, my heart was pumping, my lungs sucked in fresh air, and my eyes beheld the beauty of the Judean Hills as I rode. I was encouraged that all was OK and that my personal situation would work out. I felt G-d’s love and his beneficence and I realized that my health, family and just being alive, made all the financial issues complete non-issues. The ride gave me the right emotional perspective and attitude towards my problems.
These days I work at Cloudyn, a fast paced Israeli startup where work is intense and at times it can take over my life. But all it takes is one hard ride; I let go of the little things, and the stress melts away.
Become the leader
It’s been said that to be a great general, you must first be a great soldier.To be a real leader in anything you first need to have hands-on experience. As you progress in mountain biking, you learn how to change flat tires, maintain your bike, and of course, how to ride extremely challenging terrain.
Mountain biking provides the cornerstones of leadership by building self-confidence in your abilities as well as empathy for others just starting out on the trail. Once you’ve acquired the ability to lead as a biker, you can take your leadership qualities anywhere in life.
Learning to trust
Trust is such an important part of any healthy relationship but often we find it hard to do.
When riding with more experienced bikers, I’d often get (and still do) many tips and encouragement. At first it was hard to trust my bike buddies. But after trying their suggestions and not dying in the process, I’ve found that my ability to trust them has grown. Learning to trust helped me with my trust in my family, friends, and even my trust in G-d.
Climbing to infinity
Bikers are known to ride light. Anything that is not absolutely necessary is left behind if you want to make it to the top of the mountain.This is an important lesson in life. If we want reach our goals, sometimes we’ll need to cut out the things that are holding us back and dragging us down – no matter how small.
King David sums this up in Psalms 24, when he asks “who will climb G-d’s mountain and who will stand in His holy place?” and answers so beautifully “he who is clean of hand and pure of heart…”.
Someone who has mastered the art of cleaning and purifying their thoughts and actions can climb the highest peaks all the way to infinity.
Incredibly, this lofty idea is so very tangible for those of us who have merited to ride. Start pedaling today. I promise you will not regret it.