A few summers ago, I went through one of the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging experiences I have ever experienced in my life. Fortunately, it was positive, not based around sickness or suffering that I know many have had to or are in the midst of enduring. I do not pretend to put my experience on the same level as those I know who have lost loved ones or have endured great suffering. No, my great experience came through my foray into enduro style dirt biking.
Ok, so I set you up with a big idea of great suffering and then said it had to do with dirt biking. Yes on the outset it sounds rather trite to equate with real suffering that many go through each and every day. However, in the experience I had, I learned a lesson that started a change within that has been growing ever since to truly form me into the person I am and want to be.
It was the summer of 2004 when my brother, Kevin, and I decided to buy a couple dirt bikes and literally get on a crash course into the world of enduro dirt biking. It’s a sport that involves camping out in the wilderness and riding dirt bikes through forests, hills and sandy passes for around 100 miles a day. We set our adventure in Michigan where a thriving community of like minded riders set up weekends of dirt biking through the thick of the Michigan forests. My first time riding proved to have a very steep learning curve.
I had actually purchased a brand new bike for the trip (those of you who know my history know that as a kid I had an excess of money from a lawn care company and a lack of sense to not spend it). So this was my first real experience riding and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Sadly, the trails were not meant for people who didn’t have a clue what they were doing.
So I bumbled my way through the forest, crashing at a rate of about 1 crash per mile for the first 20-30 miles. It took a severe toll on my body and even broke the fender on my bike. Fortunately I had enough body protection rivaling that of a quarterback, so no major injuries were had. But flying head first over handlebars quite a few times makes one very sore, not to mention that dirt biking proved to be a much more physically challenging sport than I ever thought.
After what seemed to be hours of riding and crashing, Kevin and I made it to the two-thirds point of the trail ride where we stopped to refuel and have some lunch. I was exhausted, bruised, battered and just plain worn out. We refueled and found the best food the gas station had to offer. Ending up sitting on a curb to rest and eat, I began to really feel the weight of all the trees I had hit after flying off my out of control bike. Every muscle hurt as if I had both worked them out to the max and been in a boxing match at the same time. I didn’t think I could go on.
Being at a stopping point, there was an option to stay there and simply wait for Kevin to complete the trail and come back for me with our truck to pick up my bike and me. That would have meant hours of waiting alone at a gas station with no idea of when I would be picked up. It also meant quitting. With tears in my eyes from the pain and the sheer exhaustion, I’ll never forget that decision moment.
Kevin was exhausted too, but he was able and willing to take off on the trail alone and come back for me. But in that older brother toughness, he pushed me to really think about it and make a choice. Quitting was an ok option, but it also meant, well, quitting. Heroes stories aren’t told because they quit when they reached their breaking point. While this was no hero’s tale, the decision, as I would learn later on, would have substantial impact on me personally. I am not a confident person by nature for some reason, but in breaking point moments, I have found growth in courage and confidence in who I am. In that moment, I somehow found the strength to get up and get back on the bike.
I don’t think I could have done it without my brother there.
In life, I am amazed at the lack of leadership I see around me and even experience every day. Many of my sports coaches in high school were most detrimental to me in their lack of true leadership. I came out of football and basketball feeling like I was worthless and no good. I face leadership issues every day around me, wondering why people make the decisions they do. Then I begin to look inward and see that I too am a culprit of indecision and poor leadership.
But in this moment, with sweat and tears running down my face, I was pushed to make a choice by a brother, and in that I found strength. He brought me to search the depths of myself and then stretched out a hand to lift me up off that curb. I found confidence and strength to finish the ride, crashing fewer times and finding greater speed along the way.
I learned in that trip that trip that I really could do more than I thought myself capable, but not on my own. I needed a person who could lead me in that moment, who could stretch out a hand and help me find the strength I couldn’t see on my own.
Do you have a story like this? Do you find it hard to truly form brotherhood bonds with those around you? I do, and I am beginning to understand what is holding me back. Maybe I need to bring myself to more breaking points, maybe you do too. I learned and continue to relearn that diving into the unknown with high risk is a good thing and in those moments you may just find who your brothers are and further who you really are.