When you think about personal growth and development, what areas of interest first come to your mind?  Is the answer health, fitness, finances, career advancement, or perhaps the elimination of a bad habit?  How often to you think about planning an experience as a tool for personal development?  For myself, a recent mountain bike trip with a group of close friends was a transformative experience full of lifelong takeaways, and 4 actionable tips I learned for myself that I will share at the end of this story.

Years from now when I reflect on the year 2020, I’ll recall the COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty, racial unrest, and an incredibly divisive Presidential election.  I’ll also remember this was the year that I discovered a new love, mountain bike riding!  I purchased my first off-road bike in 2019 with the intention of adding a new adventure sport to my list of hobbies.  I learned immediately that simply riding a bike was a pleasure I had neglected since childhood.  While I rode my new bike often during 2019, my rides were limited to a local paved trail that stretched across the city of Dallas.  My rides were incredibly enjoyable, but I was not utilizing my bike for the purpose for which I bought it.  My goal was to ride off-road mountain bike trails, but quite honestly, after watching online videos of bikers spectacularly crashing on the many trails in my area I was intimidated to ride by myself.  I needed a push to get myself and my bike on the off-road trails.

Fortunately, that push appeared at the beginning of 2020.  Sammy Gonzalez, Co-Founder of The Pursuit of Growth, reached out to me and said, “I’m thinking of buying a mountain bike and starting to ride this year.  Any suggestions on a bike?”  That’s all it took!  I now had a bike riding partner, and someone to hold me accountable for pursuing this new hobby.  Shortly after Sammy purchased his bike, my older brother Ted Brinkley chimed in and offered to join or crew.  In the early 2000’s he and his friends rode mountain bike trails in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and he was eager to pick up the sport again.  His bike was a dinosaur by today’s standards, but he was ready to ride none the less.  The momentum didn’t stop there.  Our good friend Brian Hargrove learned about our new endeavor and immediately purchased a used bike off the internet so he could ride with us too.

The next weekend we scheduled our first real off-road mountain bike ride.  We were met with disappointment as we arrived at the trailhead and observed a sign stating the trail was closed due to a rainstorm that occurred a few days beforehand.  Instead, the 4 of us took our bikes on a 10-mile journey through the city streets nearby, and then posted a picture of our early morning ride on social media.

The picture received noticeable attention, and not long afterwards we received a message from one of our old friends, David Fleck.  David had a bike and wanted to join us on our next ride.  Our mountain bike riding crew increased to 5, and we now had a legitimate daredevil on our team.  The next weekend we reconvened at the trailhead and completed our first off road ride.  It was intense!  We climbed up hills, flew down hills, crashed up hills, and crashed down hills.  We were horrible riders, and we had a blast!  My legs hurt for the next 2 days afterwards, and I was addicted.

We rode as often as possible.  We learned best practices, bought new gear, and even bought new bikes.  David invited a buddy of his to join us, Aaron Trujillo.  Aaron is a triathlete and a seasoned mountain bike rider.  As Aaron began riding with us each week, his cool confidence and encouragement pushed everyone in our crew to work harder.  We were now a crew of 6.

One weekend during the summer our crew was unable to meet for our weekend ride.  Sammy, not wanting to miss a week, posted a message on a local Dallas Off Road Biking Association social media forum asking if anyone was interested in meeting him for a ride.  JD Cummings responded that he was a beginner and happened to be looking for a group to ride alongside on weekends.  Sammy extended JD an invitation to join our group, which he accepted.  We were now a crew of 7 strong.  I will note, as a “beginner” JD was a better rider than most seasoned riders I’ve observed.

Mountain bike riding is an extreme sport, challenging participants both physically and mentally.   While each rider in our crew is consistently improving their abilities, we all have different skill levels, strengths, and interests that guide the style of riding we enjoy.  Despite these differences, the bond we’ve developed through our time together is full of encouragement, patience, and excitement.  Throughout the year of 2020 we rode together nearly every weekend and accumulated enough stories for a future Netflix adventure miniseries.

In January of 2021, Sammy turned 40.  His wife wanted to surprise him with an out-of-town mountain bike trip for his birthday.  In hindsight, this was likely a clever move to get him out of the house for a weekend so she could enjoy time alone without having to hear another story about his weekend mountain biking adventures with his buddies.

After reviewing several options, we decided to take a weekend trip to the Texas Hill Country to ride Reveille Peak Ranch on Friday, and the famous Spider Mountain Bike Park on Saturday, both located just outside of the small town of Burnett, Texas

Reveille Peak Ranch offered numerous trails, fast downhill jump lines, steep climbs, and a mountain peak that provided a view of the Texas Hill Country that you have to see to believe.  For a full day our crew rode trail after trail, and eventually made the long climb to the top of the peak.  The ride down the mountain was an experience I’ll never forget.

I was extremely proud to see how much progress our crew made over the course of the year, because the trails we rode at Reveille Peak Ranch were full of difficulties that would have destroyed us when we were beginner riders.

When the day concluded we were all in agreement that our time at Reveille Peak Ranch was the best biking experience we’ve completed together as a group.  Until the next day.

We woke up early on Saturday morning, grabbed our coffee, and headed straight to Spider Mountain.  Spider Mountain is a downhill mountain bike park designed specifically for thrill seekers.  Imagine a ski resort, but for mountain biking.  Located at the base of the mountain is a chairlift that takes both mountain bikers, and their bikes, to the top of the mountain.  The mountain top features numerous trails of varying degrees of difficulties that riders can choose, ranging from easy, intermediate, to expert.  Let me be clear, the “easy” trails can easy place a rider in the hospital for a few weeks due to the incredible downhill speeds achieved on the courses. 

For the next 8 hours our crew lifted up the mountain and raced down the mountain over and over.  We split up and rode trails based on our individual comfort level, but by the end of the day, we all rode and conquered each trail at the park.  (The 2 expert trails were closed during our visit, but those trails were reserved for individuals who carry a death wish.)  I cannot accurately describe the adrenaline rush we experienced with each trip down the mountain.  Whether it was hitting back-to-back jumps lines, rattling down rocky drops, or flying over man-made obstacles, each trip down the mountain created a lasting memory.

After our final ride we all cracked open beers and made a toast to the best trip ever!  I don’t recall who said it, but the quote that summed up our experience was presented with honest sincerity.  “My face hurts, because I’ve been smiling so much today.” 

Over 2 years, I grew from a rider who was intimidated to ride an off-road trail, to a rider who conquered Reveille Peak Ranch and  Spider Mountain, and now cannot wait to return for a 2nd trip!

What actionable tips did I learn from this trip that I will apply for the rest of my life?

  1. I will prioritize creating goals each year to plan adventure trips to do something I love with people I love! Very few things in life bring more joy to my life.
  2. I will prioritize travel as a tool for self-improvement! Whether I take a trip to another country, state, city, or even a new part of my hometown that I have never visited, – I know new experiences, new environments, and new people will excite and exhilarate my soul.
  3. I will prioritize fighting with passion to learn what will make me smile until my face hurts – and do it.
  4. When I have a big scary goal I must accomplish for my life, I’ll look for likeminded awesome people to ride alongside me on the journey.

To my boys in the famous MTB TBD crew…

  • Sammy, thank you for your push and incredible pursuit of growth.
  • Ted, thank you for your constant encouragement and never give up attitude.
  • Brian, thank you for your example of grit and determination.
  • David, thank you for your fearlessness and inspiration.
  • JD, thank you for your consistency and pursuit of excellence.
  • Aaron, thank you for your coolness and confidence.