Over Labor Day weekend we went camping in Cuyuna MN. It was our second straight year camping with a lunatic bunch of misfits (kidding, great group of real outdoorsy folks), and it was an all out rockin great time.

Turns out Cuyuna is Minnesota’s best kept secret (unless you’re a big time biker, then you know all about it). The Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails boast 28 miles of one way, beautiful, fun, and dangerous trails winding through the woods and around multiple mine pit lakes.  When we went for the first time last year over Labor Day, all I could say that weekend was, “Where the hell has this been all my life?” With my extreme love for skiing, mountain biking is practically it’s summer cousin, and yet I’d never done it in my life. Pathetic. But not to dwell on the past, now I’m a big time biker. Actually I’ve only been there four times now, but in my mind I sure am a big time biker.

Alissa rockin a trail called “Bobsled”

While flying around the trails, hootin n hollerin and burning my legs, I realized there’s a lot of life lessons that can be learned from mountain biking.

The 1st: Don’t coast.
You encounter lots of ups and downs while biking the trails in Cuyuna, like literal inclines and declines. Bikes these days are made with about 100 gears, making it much easier to manage the hills once you know how to shift properly, but hills are still a challenging leg burner. Each time you finish a little, or big hill, and get to a flat or down, the first thing you want to do is give your legs a break and coast for a while. But what always comes after that nice flat or decline? You guessed it, another hill. And if you coast and give yourself a rest during those easier times, the next hill becomes so much more difficult.

The key is to shift to a higher gear and keep pedaling on the flats and declines to gain enough speed, enough momentum, to make that next incline a piece of cake, sometimes even launching up it as if it was hardly there.

Translation to life: when things are going well for you, when you’re in the flow and kickin ass, double down. Push harder, sprint past your finish line. Another hill is coming somewhere, but if you’ve sped up and pushed while things were going well, that hill won’t seem like much of a hill at all.
In Andy Andrew’s book The Noticer Returns, he talks about a phenomenon called a “Jubilee.” Where, at an unknown random time, all these fish and creatures – flounders, shrimp, crabs, whiting, etc – are all gathered in an area, literally making the water so thick with creatures you can’t walk in it. The characters in the book are filling up their nets as fast as possible, as these fish are valuable to the local seafood markets. And they know, just as quickly as this jubilee began, it will end, so while it’s going they’re working as hard as possible to take advantage of it.

When your jubilee is here, and everything is flowing from all angles of your life – health, wealth, friendships, opportunities – take advantage. Grab as many as you can, and that next hill might just end up feeling like a bump instead of a mountain.

The 2nd: Use your gears
Some people ride these trails on single speed bikes, which I think is insane. They’re probably doing it to get an even better leg workout, but it’s just too much for me to handle. Most people are going up and down their gears constantly, as the incline/decline is repeatedly changing. The goal is to always be pedaling at roughly the same cadence, and using your gears to help you do so. (That’s what official biker people tell me, anyways.)

To me, the gears on your bike are like the tools and people you surround yourself with. In different times of your life you’re going to need different people, different groups, to help you through. When times of great difficulty come; use your gears. Lean into the people and strategies who help make that time easier for you. Whether it be support groups, great friends who listen, meditation, yoga, whatever it is that you need during those times, use it. Don’t be afraid to shift down into those lower gears to help make it easier, it’s not cheating or wimping out, it’s the best thing you can do to preserve your energy and keep yourself going.

Big time bikers

Same can be said in times when everything is going great; use your gears. Shift into your higher gears and speed up! Maybe that’s getting a trainer/coach who pushes you to reach new heights, taking on more responsibilities at work, starting the business you’ve always wanted to. When it’s time to fly and reach new speeds, use your gears, and get going!

The 3rd: Stop and enjoy every once in a while
As mentioned before, the trails at Cuyuna are beautiful. They wrap around a few different lakes, leading to lots of beautiful lookout spots. But the thing is, while you’re flying through the trails trying not to hit a tree with your face, you don’t really have time to soak in the view. This is why they do a great job of having different spots you can pull over and sit on a bench and take it all in. It’s the perfect setup, while you’re on the trails you keep pedaling and remain focused on what’s in front of you, but when you get the opportunity, you take a little turn off, sit down, breathe, and soak in the scenery.

One of the beautiful overlooks

We often get so caught up in the hustle of life that we don’t take time to look at the beauty around us. As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” I know this may seem contradictory to my first point of pushing while things are good, but happiness is the true destination here. If grinding and never stopping to look around is what truly makes you happy, then keep going. But for most, there needs to be a time to slow down, stop, and take it all in. Enjoy the fruits of your labor, or in this case the views from your climbs.

I really believe in stopping to look around each day. Take time, whether it be in the morning, over lunch, in the evening, to stop and take in the beauty of life. Get off the trail. Smile, look around, and be grateful. And then get back to your crushing it. I don’t believe it’s an either/or type deal. Who said you can either make money or enjoy sunsets? That’s a bunch of crap. You can do it all, schedule your days with intention, building in time to look around and enjoy.

In the end, the number one lesson I learned from biking was this; just keep pedaling. No matter how steep the hill is, how far away from camp you are, or how shot your legs are, just keep pedaling. You’ll get there.

Be Awesome.

-Tom Spaniol

“Keep Swinging.” -Bob Karn