This is the second of a series of articles leading up to “Brian’s Ride” in October. Check out Route 66 – Fighting Cancer for Brian to understand the motivation behind Erik Mathy’s ride for his cousin Brian.

“Have you always been athletic?” he asked me on the ferry to work. “What?”, I replied. “I was just out with my kids this weekend, playing around in the neighborhood, and I started thinking about how some people are just naturally fit and active. This morning I saw you on your bike and thought to myself that you were one of those people.”

The answer to that question is, simply, “No.”

As a kid I was the one who was afraid to take my shirt off at the beach. Actually, I was that way in high school, too, now that I think about it. As far as sports went, my folks signed me up for soccer at 8 or 9 and kept signing me up every summer until it became a habit. I wasn’t very good at it. In Northern Wisconsin in the 80’s, soccer was a fringe sport. There was a very low bar for talent. Most guys played football, basketball, hockey and baseball. Even in that environment there were never any “All This” honors sent my way, no select teams ever asked me to try out. In college I played some racquetball, but not really all that well. Racquetball was a good outlet for me emotionally. Until, of course, it wasn’t and I stopped playing. But that’s another story for another time.

So, no, I do not consider myself to be naturally fit or athletic. I still don’t like to take my shirt off in public.

Yet I keep throwing myself at things like Brian’s Ride even though I don’t have the natural aptitude, body or track record in my formative years for any of it. The question really is…why in the hell do I keep going after stuff like this?


Because, honestly now, you don’t have to be a naturally gifted athlete to go do something physical. Nor do you need to be a rock star, PhD, or CEO to make a difference in the world. Just like Brian was unapologetically himself in all the things that he pursued, you just have to be yourself. Don’t apologize for that. Ever! Well, unless you’re being a complete jerk, in which case yeah, apologize and promise to never do THAT again. M’kay?

Many things don't suck on the Kokopelli Trail, including the sun

Seriously though. It sounds cliche as all get out, but I truly believe small things add up. No, I wasn’t a superstar or even a star in high school. Yet, over the years, I’ve found a true joy in physicality. The exhaustion at the end of an event, the people I get to meet, the sights that I see, all those experiences? When all of those are added up, it borders on spiritual. So what if I’m not fast? Who cares if I bite it on the trail more often than my friends? I fall down, I get back up, I keep going.There are lessons there. I learn them and I am better off for it. I try not to measure myself by other’s standards and successes, but by my own.

Rolling out of Moab along the Colorado River towards Kane Creek

I think, really, that’s the thing Brian had in Aces. Brian quite simply believed in himself. He set his own path and, until cancer came along, he followed it. Even until the very, very end he was in control. Brian passed away at, literally, the time and the place of his choosing. Cancer may have taken his life but Brian chose the terms.

Isle Royal

As you live your life, be like Brian…choose your own path, make your own terms, and get out there. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the result.

On September 24th, Erik Mathy will be cycling the entirely of Route 66, with a 4×5 camera, to fight cancer in honor of his cousin Brian Brendemihl who passed away in August of 2015. For more information on Brian’s Ride, please go to Erik’s website for more details.


  1. Great words, Erik. What I just read, I saw you learning on the Oregon Outback when we rode together. I’m glad to be a part of this story. Cheers, bud.

  2. Smithhammer

    In a lifetime of outdoor adventures, including 12 years of leading extended expeditions, one thing has become obvious to me – the mental component far outweighs the physical. Determination and a positive attitude are critical, and will often keep you going even when the body is exhausted. This is where some give up and others don’t. I saw it over and over again with the students I led on long, tough days – it wasn’t always the ones who regularly ran marathons, or went to the gym 5 days a week, who took the lead and kept going when the distance to the next camp was uncertain and it was snowing sideways. It was often the ones who weren’t the obvious physical standouts, but had that mental “something” that surfaced when it was needed – the ones who were still smiling when things got hard and the goals and outcomes were unknown. Your fine essay attests to that, Erik. Thanks for your words.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *