Riding back to happiness

A few months ago I got into a bit of a rut.

Not an all consuming black cloud rut. Just your typical too much work, not enough sleep kind of overcast feeling. Normally when I start to feel like this I self medicate with a long run in the mountains, or put some uplifting energy into planning a bike trip. But these last few months I’ve had some nagging injuries. When the doctor took a look at them, he prohibited all exercise and took away my medicine. Then the rut got a bit deeper. Soon I became a sulky and rather soft around the edges house cat. Worse yet, once I was physically able to ride a short distance again and begin climbing out of the rut, I found that some of my motivation had slipped away. A heavy feeling had replaced it and I stayed at home, my bicycle gathering dust.


Last Friday, at around 6pm, I finally forced myself do something about it. It was a t-shirt soaker of an afternoon here in high-summer Santiago. The now familiar tide of tiredness and inactivity was rolling in, and the default plan of slipping into a beer stupor at a family party was very tempting. Instead however, I pulled out my bicycle panniers and went through the motions of packing sleeping bag, bivvy bag and roll mat. I threw in a warm layer, a toothbrush and finally a small pot of rice and vegetables. The ride, I convinced myself, didn’t have to be long. Nor planned in great detail. I just needed to get out there.


I took a longer, relatively quiet road out of the pulsing megatropolis. For a single overnight, my panniers were light and I rolled easily towards the mountains against the flow of rush hour traffic. At road junctions I peered into cars where dashboard-drumming commuters counted down traffic lights in their eagerness to return home. Chileans are a typically family centered Latino culture and many passenger seats this Friday night were filled with wine and beer destined for a gathering like the one I was leaving behind. There was a loneliness about my decision to go up into the mountains by myself. But as the streets steepened, and the mountain slopes of cactus and litre bushes beckoned, it felt like I was making the right one.


During the last five years living in Santiago, I have watched as new construction and housing creep ever higher into the surrounding Andes mountains. Every time I ride out, there is a slightly higher clapboard construction fence running across the hillside, and every time there is a new portal to be found where the city’s bikers have torn their escape hole into the ever shrinking wild. Today however, it was pleasing to see an officially marked trail at around 3,300′ which led up to a pump-track and jump park where the last few riders of the day stood chatting in the early evening twilight. Clearly not everything had stood still whilst I felt grey and stayed at home.


As I began the climb up to Mount Durazno, one more rider whooped past, and then I was on my own. Progress was slow. I wasn’t as fit anymore, and I chopped at the pedals and fumbled between gears. As night started to come down though, and my points of reference started slipping away, I cared less about the progress and more about, well, just being out there. On my bike I had everything I needed to stop and spend the night. Yet for a while longer I trundled on uphill by the light of my headtorch. The eyes of an occasional rabbit beamed back, and moustached turca birds warbled their startled call between cactus.


Around 10pm I reached the Virgin Mary at La Buitrera and pushed my bike through the bushes to find a place where I wouldn’t be disturbed. At around 5,000′ I threw out my bivvy bag and ate my supper beneath an espino bush. Looking up towards the mountains, the plant’s spiky branches overhead were invisible. Looking back towards Santiago though, the bush made delicate silhouettes against the sky. It was the light pollution that did it. But the effect, I thought as I drifted happily off to sleep, was rather beautiful.

Call for comment

  • Ever felt like there is something holding you back from heading out on your own adventure?
  • Are there any access issues on your local trails?

Matt Maynard is a British cyclist, writer and environmentalist. He is based in Santiago, Chile. Find more of his adventures on Twitter, Facebook and at his website Matt-Maynard.com

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