Lee Likes Bikes

What are you Afraid Of?

Date Aug 25, 2020

Mountain biking gives us plenty of opportunities to face fears. Perhaps the most stark form of mountain biking is dirt jumping. The jump face looms ahead, tall and steep and imposing. You’re either going for it or you’re not.

After many years of trial and error (and a still-broken collarbone), I have grown to love dirt jumping. It’s physically so simple — just row though the takeoff and anti-row in the air — but emotionally … you have all the wrinkles of confidence and apprehension and faith and risk, plus there’s the DJ Paradox: You need strength and power, but it must be delivered through a supple and carefree body.


Valmont Bike Park here in Boulder, CO has some very nice dirt jumps. The lines go XS, S, M, L and XL. The XL is made of wood, so it can’t be scaled up, so the L line has been rebuilt into the XXL line. The lips are very steep, the distances are pretty big and the gaps are consequential. Last night I watched a bunch of young elite DJers sessioning the line. Wow. The air, the smoothness, the joy. So good.

I haven’t hit that line in two years, since the day my buddy Alex overshot #2 and I took him to the hospital. The line was in my head, then it got rebuilt bigger and badder. The other day I decided to ride it.

Today I met the same Alex out there. We rode the pump track and the M line, then I worked the XL. I wasn’t happy until all traces of tension were gone from my body. Dirt jumping like that — with a loose body and a sharp mind — is one of the greatest feelings in MTB, and probably in Life.


Time to step up to the XXL. I hit #1 perfectly. Then #1 and 2. Perfect. I got off my bike and looked at #3 and 4. They are built so well … just like #2. But I was afraid. As I rode back to the start hill, I considered my feelings. Is there anything about the jump I should be afraid of? Getting catapulted over the bars? No. I know how to pump a lip in perfect balance. Coming up short? No. I know how to absorb impacts. Looking bad? No. I’m way past that.

So why the fear? Two years ago I was diagnosed with severe depression — with a sprinkle of anxiety, self loathing and general shittiness. It’s been a hell of a challenge learning to 1) accept the diagnosis, 2) ride on the meds and 3) use riding as the Best Antidepressant Ever (while staying safe). I feel like my body and mind are compromised. So I’ve become more careful. But careful doesn’t lead to Flow, and a lack of Flow creates more depression, so around and around we go.


As I walked up the start hill, I realize something important; I’m not afraid of anything in particular. I’m just plain afraid. As much fun as I’m having, there’s a trace of malaise, of underlying shittiness, that has me feeling unconfident and worried. But, dude, I am not afraid of these jumps. And maybe part of living with depression is accepting that sometimes you feel shitty … but that you still need to do your thing.

So I rolled in.

#1 was perfect. I got a huge pump on the backside and sent #2 a bit too long. I threw in a pedal and there was #3: tall and vertical and imposing. It felt like a brick wall ahead of me. When I rowed up the lip, the bricks melted into a rainbow, and as I arced through the air I felt little eddies of happiness swirling around me. It was perfect! Number 4 was completely subconscious: a true Jedi moment.

Wow! Pure Flow. Joy.

I expected to break through a physical barrier, but this was purely mental. Emotional. Spiritual. If you know me, you know I see the bike as a teacher for Life. I pledge to, on the bike and at work and in my family, have faith in my abilities, acknowledge that sometimes things just feel shitty, then seek joy anyway.

How about you? What are you afraid of? Even better: Where are you seeking joy?

Lee McCormack is the author of 9 books on mountain biking, an active coach, and the inventor of the RipRow, a mountain biking strength and conditioning tool, to name just some of his production. You can track him down using the links below.




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Karl Fitzpatrick
1 year, 9 months ago
+3 Kerry Williams 4Runner1 Pete Roggeman

The older I get, the less I use my bike as an excuse for not being able to ride some of the lines I used to but then other days, you'd have to hold me back and I feel and ride better than I ever have. 

My joy comes as much from taking a deep breath before dropping into some sketchy tech and whooping and hollering on the exit as it does from watching my 5 year old stand up to climb or my 2 year old saying 'Go saster!' while she rides on my bike with me...

Also, I tried dirt jumping once ages ago and cracked a rib after a lack of subtlety haha. 

I've never heard it described as rowing and anti-rowing. I might have to give it another shot cheers.


Sean Chee
1 year, 9 months ago
+3 Kerry Williams Pete Roggeman Tremeer023

Man as someone who is naturally more nervous/cautious than most and has also recently encountered similar mental health challenges, I can say that you have articulated the situation brilliantly. 

Returning to mtb after a time away has also been part of my 'self medication'. Outdoor leisure has had such a positive impact on my mind. A DJ bike is already on order.

You are not alone and thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic.


1 year, 9 months ago

I would also like to thank the author for this article.  Having suffered from depression on and off for many years due to a mild autistic disorder (pretty sure), I also consider riding to be the best antidepressant.

Crashing my bike has almost ended my life in the past (ruptured spleen - nearly bled out in the woods), but in many ways riding has also kind of saved my life and is something I will always do as long as the body allows.


Andrew Bruce
1 year, 9 months ago
+2 Kerry Williams Pete Roggeman

What a great depiction of the struggle to push past your fears! I love a DJ too and hit some every ride. The fear is always there. Mostly I push past any doubts. Sometimes I listen to it, and come back another day.

I’m 44 and suffered a very bad wrist fracture last year (plates, lost movement, continued pain), and a not so bad one 4 years ago. I’m still riding everything, and getting better.

In both accidents I was riding well (ahem..) and had no doubts. Perversely, that’s leading me to do a better job of ignoring those doubt and focus on the technique.  

Maybe I’ve been over-dependent on the mental equation: “no doubts = everything will be fine” and that made me a little complacent about my technique...?🤨


Rob Gretchen
1 year, 9 months ago
+2 Kerry Williams Pete Roggeman

Great article and writing... ah the pursuit of joy is fleeting and rightfully so... as I get older I find these moments more difficult to ascertain and perhaps rationalize... riding a rowdy line with my kids is currently my zen moment.    Seeing their accomplishments is joyful.


Greg Bly
1 year, 9 months ago
+2 Kerry Williams Pete Roggeman

Know fear. I'm working on it.


John Keiffer
1 year, 9 months ago
+2 Pete Roggeman Kerry Williams

@Lee - I suck at jumping. Also lack places around me where I could practice. But I've had and continue to have similar Mental Health struggles. These three words are awesome. I want a tshirt!

"seek joy anyway"

My new Mantra. Thank you!


Kerry Williams
1 year, 9 months ago
+1 Pete Roggeman

Thanks for the honest story Lee.  Even if we don't all have the issues, a lot of us can relate.  For myself, even at 51, I'm still stoked when I get that confident loose feel on the bike.  The loose confidence doesn't happen every ride because of past injuries to myself and friends that can stick in the back of mind, but I love being outside and when the good feelings come, there's nothing better.  And, congrats on tackling the big line.


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