How Mountain Biking Boosted My Mental Health
- anonymous | 8-9-2021
Mental health is extremely unique, and no two people, situations, or stories are the same, but there is no denying that for me, getting outside, moving (in any way and at any pace), surrounding myself with nature, and focusing only on that next step, next pedal stroke, next hold, next turn, etc. is liberating. I do not always like to ride, but mountain biking helps me stay alive, love living, and appreciate life.
Mental health. It is a phrase that we are starting to hear almost every day as we continue to settle back into a sense of normalcy while simultaneously still processing what the last year held. Masks have slowly started to disappear, and the world is getting back to “normal”. But things will never be the same as they were before the COVID pandemic.
However, mental health has always been there – hiding beneath the surface, but so glaringly obvious to those who are suffering. The blend of a global pandemic, civil unrest, and a fiercely polarized presidential election has undoubtedly left its mark on us. Good, bad, evident, subtle, life-changing or confirming previous beliefs, we have all been impacted.
During the pandemic, I did not experience any of the common mental breakdowns, feelings of depression, overwhelming loneliness, or employment strains. However, 15 months after the world stopped and my state was put into quarantine, I am now feeling it.
In February of this year, I contracted Covid 19, and I got hit hard. Hard enough to debilitate me for 2 weeks but was fortunate to stay away from the hospital and ER. I literally could not do anything. Walking and breathing were a struggle. I had a severe migraine for 2 weeks. Binge watching shows and scrolling through social media got old fast. So, I was left alone with my thoughts. The space that was normally filled with work, family, and getting outdoors was left wide open for my thoughts to run wild with little to no distractions. Unexpected things found themselves creeping to the forefront of my mind. Lots of memories I had “forgotten” with the fresh perspective of their impact that has shaped who I am today. More specifically, highlighting all my faults and shortcomings. I found myself staring into the mirror and hating the person looking back. My life literally hit pause for 2 weeks.
Eventually I had to get back to life, and it was hard with these new lenses. Fast forward 4 months, and things have only weighed on my mind more, self-care has taken a back seat, and my depression has decided to put me in a choke hold. Why now? Why 15 months later? Things are getting back to “normal”.
The answer is so obvious now, it is ridiculous I did not see it before - Mountain biking. During the early quarantine orders, I lived in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and had 20 miles of trails in my backyard - literally. From shutting down my computer, getting dressed and packing my water/loading bikes, to get to the trailhead would take 20 minutes. I was riding four to five times a week in a State Park that I had all to myself for the entire mountain biking season.
Mountain biking is unquestionably my favorite go-to if I have free time. However, I do not always WANT to ride my bike. More often than not, I want to be lazy. Finding appealing excuses is easy. Last year I did not let myself fall into those traps. And let’s face it, I didn’t have “long days at work” and “it wasn’t getting late”. But more importantly, I knew that it was a cornerstone to managing my mental health and I prioritized it. The forest, mountains, and trails have always been a refuge and vital tool in keeping me grounded, even before I realized it.
In the past month, I have hopped on my saddle four times, and one of them was a disaster. And my mental health has been directly affected because I have failed to maintain my most important piece of self-care. Mental health is extremely unique, and no two people, situations, or stories are the same, but there is no denying that for me, getting outside, moving (in any way and at any pace), surrounding myself with nature, and focusing only on that next step, next pedal stroke, next hold, next turn, etc. is liberating. I do not always like to ride, but mountain biking helps me stay alive, love living, and appreciate life.