Last year, Eric, Evan, and I set out to bikepack in the Elks Mountain Range, outside of Crested Butte, Colorado. The goal of the trip was to reflect on each of our physical, mental, and emotional health and how we relate to the cycling industry as men of color. Here are a few thoughts from each of us on bikepacking, mental health, and what we took from our film project, “See Us Heal”.
What draws you to bikepacking?
Eric: I love bikepacking because I feel that I can focus primarily on biking and photography over the span of a few days. It provides time to reflect while pedaling. It’s such a great ooppoirtunity to see beautiful landscapes and be present with your friends or by yourself.
Jalen: I love how bikepacking lets me get to know space or land intimately. By pedaling up every climb and descending down each hillside I get to familiarize myself with an area. I appreciate the speed at which bikepacking moves me across a land. It’s not too slow and not too fast.
Evan: What draws me into bikepacking is the ability to ride further than normally possible and access some breathtaking remote campsites. The ability to cover more terrain than on foot paired with some beautiful and often rarely used sections of trail creates such a unique experience.
How does bikepacking/mountain biking help you with your mental, emotional, and physical health?
Eric: Riding my bike is the physical embodiment of the concept of mindfulness: it requires me to be in the moment, because if my attention wanders, the consequences can be severe. On those days when I’m riding, I feel free. Biking helps me momentarily forget that I’ve spent years wrestling with anxiety and depression.
Jalen: Bikepacking allows me to regain my sense of groundedness. I feel really in tune with my body when I’m biking and the self-supported nature of bikepacking helps realign my perspective. I think the day-to-day things can become so busy and I feel like I’m constantly running out of time. Bikepacking offers a moment to step away from the day-to-day and regain my sense of self and wonder about the world.
Evan: Bikepacking helps me to find balance in my life. The simplicity of traveling by bike and living off a small bag of gear allows me to prioritize what is important to me. There’s a special type of clarity I find when disconnected from society and able to work through my problems while moving by body.
What’s something you gained from the “See Us Heal” project?
Eric: For me this project has given me a space to be more vulnerable. I’m a very private person, so for me to publicly say, I struggle with mental health is a big deal. It feels less scary to know that others go through the same thing. I’ve really appreciated everyone’s supportive reactions to this project.
Jalen: This project was monumental for me. I learned that healing is a life-long journey and there is never any real final destination with it. Rather, the goal for me is a consistent commitment to managing my physical, mental, and emotional health and leaning on the brothers in my life for support.
Evan: From this project I gained a better sense of myself. This project really forced me to look inward and further evaluate my strengths and weaknesses. It was so helpful to have great friends on this journey with me as I discovered how to gain empathy for those around me and myself.
Check out the See Us Heal - A Message to My Brothers film and learn more about the ongoing conversation about mental health and the benefit of hitting the trail.
Photos by Eric Arce. Words by Jalen Bazile.