I've always been a fan of the risk takers, the humans that choose to push the boundaries of what's thought to be possible. Climbing thousands of feet in the air without a rope, BASE jumping from skyscrapers in the middle of the night, spinning off of massive cliffs on a mountain bike; those feats capture my attention in a way that professional team sports, where heavily padded and overpaid athletes parade around a field, never have. Instead, I find myself enthralled by the sheer guts and mental strength it takes to focus and accept the risks that accompany plunging into the unknown.
For many of us, risk is something that's relatively devoid from our daily lives, unless we actively seek it out. The talking heads on TV may try to convince you otherwise, but the world we live in is safer than ever. Sure, there are weird diseases, shark attacks, crazy people with guns and nuclear weapons, and plenty of other dangers out there, but worrying about them isn't going to accomplish anything, except maybe give you high blood pressure and an ulcer. Shelter and warmth are relatively easy to come by, and hunting and gathering only requires a trip to the grocery store – there's no need to battle a wooly mammoth in order to make it through the winter. So why take risks when they're so easy to avoid?
It's a good question, and there are certainly plenty of people who go to great lengths to avoid stepping out of their comfort zones. As mountain bikers, though, we're a different breed, willing participants in an inherently dangerous sport. We all know that the equation of speed + trees (or rocks, or dirt) isn't one that will always equal blissful good times. But would mountain biking be as addictive and enjoyable if the risk were removed? I don't think so – it's the satisfaction of overcoming that little nagging voice in your head, of pushing the doubts and fears away in order to conquer the section of trail that's been keeping you up at night that makes it all worthwhile.
Of course, the level of risk we're willing to take on does vary from rider to rider, and someone like Cam Zink's level of acceptable risk isn't going to be the same as the middle-aged weekend warrior who'd rather not show up to work in a body cast. Personally, I know that as I've gotten older, and the list of bones I've broken has increased, I'm a little less likely to huck myself into oblivion without at least considering the potential consequences. But that doesn't mean I'm swaddling myself in bubble wrap and only riding perfectly flat gravel paths – there's something about stomping the landing on a new drop, or flying through a rutted mess of dirt and roots that's just too much fun to ever give up.
We're only a few weeks into 2016, which means it's still not too late to make a mountain biking related New Year's resolution. Now, it's easy to be unrealistic when it comes to these things, which is why most people give up on eating fewer cheeseburgers or going to the gym every single day after less than a month of halfheartedly trying, so I'd suggest keeping it simple. How about resolving to take more risks?
It probably goes against the advice your parents gave you as a child, and I'm not saying you should don a blindfold and run out in traffic, or try to find out what happens if you stick a paperclip into an electrical outlet, but I do think that regularly challenging yourself to take on new experiences, to do something that has an uncertain outcome can be tremendously beneficial.
You can keep this resolution related to mountain biking by giving that steep rock roll you've been avoiding a try, or dropping into the big line at the local dirt jumps, but it can also be extended to your daily life. Make it a goal to color outside of the lines, do things that you're afraid of, and break rules that deserve to be broken. After all, as Frank Zappa once said, "Progress is not possible without deviation." Good luck, and here's to a new year full of risks and all of the rewards that come with taking them.