Name: Ryan Kegges
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Time Cycling: I have been cycling since I was younger, so about 25 years at least. But I became extremely passionate about it about five years ago.
Reason for Cycling: Cycling has always been a way for me to get out and escape life and experience joy. In recent years, I have been able to turn it into a mindfulness activity as well, helping combat my anxiety and depression with each pedal stroke.
My dad first taught me how to ride a bike sometime around 1995. When it was time for the training wheels to come off, I had a good bit of difficulty, and pleaded with him to let me ride with training wheels for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t be a big deal. Fortunately, he didn’t give up on teaching me, and helped me learn my first lesson about cycling that has carried over into today: “Don’t give up when the going gets tough.”
I continued to cycle for years, and once I was in my teens, in the Boy Scouts, I did my first bikepacking trip. This was not exactly the self-supported type of trip that I am used to these days. We had a trailer follow us with supplies and gear—but it still offered a real sense of adventure. I was just a teenager, and I was riding my bike over 200 miles in a few days to complete the C&O Canal Towpath (a trail that stretches from Maryland to Washington D.C.), camping along the way.
This was my first introduction to the true freedom and pure joy that cycling could bring me—and things were only getting started. I knew I needed more of this, and it was just a matter of time before I could become completely immersed in it.
Fast forward a bit to when I became incredibly passionate about cycling, which was about five years ago. I had been cycling on and off throughout the years, but it was around this time that it became part of my identity. I purchased my first “real” bike (that wasn’t from K-Mart), and started kicking things off.
I started off rather modestly, doing five- to 10-mile rides at a time, mostly through a park close to my house. I became addicted to going fast, and quickly upgraded my bike to my first “rocket ship” type of bike. I began increasing distances and the types of riding I was doing wherever I could, even routinely cycling up some of the hills that Pittsburgh is famous for.
At this stage of my cycling career, it was all about going fast and giving it my all, each time I got on the bike. I worked with several training programs and utilized a coach to make my gains as plentiful as possible. It all became about the grind towards improvement.
During the pandemic, my career as a mortgage loan officer shifted in a manner that would yield more craziness, time spent working, and little to no true days off. There was no reprieve from this. Mentally, this began to wear on me significantly, and I was losing sight of my mental health that I had worked so hard to achieve.
I decided to take some much needed time off of work, and began pondering what I could do to get my head back on straight. I decided the answer was right in front of me, and so, leaving from my front door, I cycled 135 miles in two days, while camping overnight in between—with all the gear I would need strapped to my bike.
The morning I left (in April 2022) was rainy, and it would continue to rain for all but the last few hours of the trip–but that didn’t stop me. I progressed further down the trail, and with each pedal stroke, I began to feel myself coming back into my own. By the time I spent the night alone at camp, coupled with the rest of the solitude of just myself and my bike for all those miles, my mood really started to lift. I documented the experience in a video I uploaded to YouTube, and you can really watch these emotions progress.
I lived most of my life with several undiagnosed mental health conditions: manic depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. For years, I couldn’t figure out why I was acting the way that I was, and why things were harder for me that seemed to be so easy for my peers. Despite being in positions that should make me happy, I was feeling nothing but despair and anxiety.
It went on like this until just after college, when things came to a screeching halt, and events led me to finally seek the help that I needed. And that’s when my mental health journey began.
For years, I was told mental health was something to be swept under the rug. That if I wanted to get a job, I would have to hide these things and “man up” to show that I was strong. As I began my healing process and began to work through all of the things that I was dealing with, I realized that strength is not putting on a mask and hiding your feelings. But rather, strength is being open and vulnerable enough to allow yourself to get the help that you need.
It’s been a long journey, filled with many ups and downs. One thing that has remained constant is that wherever I can advocate to #endthestigma, and promote open communication about mental health, or to be there for someone in need who feels like they have no one—I do my best to step up and be the best advocate I can be. I had to make it through some very hard times, mostly without much of a support system at all, and it is very important to me that no one feels that they are in this alone and that support is always readily available.
Things shifted for me a bit with cycling when I collapsed to the ground in February 2021, seemingly for no reason. Almost a full year of hospital visits and doctors yielded no answers—until finally, it was ruled that this happened due to stress. It was at this time that I really started to reevaluate how I was living my life.
I also changed my approach to cycling. Until then, it was a way to go fast, to experience exhilaration, and to feel alive. It was a way to get the heart beating and the blood pumping, and it was all about max efforts. But that’s not what motivates me today.
As I eased back into physical activity after my fall, something clicked. I started to take in sights on my bike—places that I had ridden past countless times without a second thought now offered beautiful scenery for me to take in and to enjoy. It was also around this time that I made the switch to something that made an incredibly positive change as well: gravel riding.
The sound of gravel being crushed under my wheels as I increased my mileage became incredibly soothing to me. I started making more than 40-mile rides commonplace, and at the end of 2021, I completed my first self-supported bikepacking trip which was 150 miles down the Great Allegheny Passage, which runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland.
Shortly after, I completed my first ever attempt at the Rapha Festive 500, a 500-kilometer ride. Metric centuries and centuries that had before been unfathomable accomplishments, started to become just part of what I love to do.
These days, I try to get out for hours at a time, a few days a week—making coffee or lunch right on the trail, and often making stops at local spots for food and beer. Cycling became a way for me to slow down, and truly see what this world has to offer, and it helped shift my worldview entirely.
This year, my goals are to go on as many bikepacking trips as possible, increase my number of completed metric centuries and centuries ridden, with at least one of each per month. My biggest goal is to cycle the entirety of The Great Allegheny Passage in one day. I’m not sure if that last one will be this year or next, but it’s something I have my heart set on, and it’s something I am excited to see myself do.
Cycling has been a number of things for me over the years. It has been a way to make friends, a way to exercise, a way to see the world. But most importantly, it has done wonders towards helping me on my mental health journey—especially since making the switch toward enjoying cycling because of the journey, and not for giving the most intense effort.
I focus on the sound of the tires going over the gravel, I focus on my pedals turning over and over in full rotations, I focus on staying balanced, I focus on taking in as many of the views I can while on my bike. All of these things combined seem to unlock a special ability hidden inside of my brain. It unlocks mental clarity for me, and it unlocks the ability to think through those thoughts that have been plaguing me, and it allows me to work through and process all of those thoughts that are making me feel overburdened.
Cycling lifts my spirits–it makes me feel accomplished. Cycling brings me freedom. There are countless things I could say about the amazing things cycling has done for me, but I know one thing is for certain: cycling has saved me.
These three tips have made my cycling journey a success:
1. Spend more time and less money on the bike
I was spending a lot of time upgrading this thing and that thing to save a couple grams here and there, and wasn’t noticing the improvements I was looking for. One of my friends had a conversation with me that it’s all about spending more time on the bike and spinning those legs—not about spending money to improve. Once I switched my focus to that, I am finally where I want to be and on track for more improvement.
2. Find a support system in cycling
Over the years, I have made many friends along my cycling journey. I now have a wonderful network of cyclists of different experience levels and personalities. I learn something new from all of my friends, regardless of experience level, every time we ride. With everyone being on different levels, it’s really started to make me a much more well-rounded cyclist in terms of what I know—and I always have a support system when I need a boost.
A support system is especially important for those struggling with mental health. There is help out there. There is support. For me, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have in my journey if not for my wife, Kiersten. She has been an absolute spotlight of goodness for me since the day that I met her.
If you feel as though life is getting the best of you (which is completely natural, especially in today’s world), please do yourself the favor of finding what resources are out there to help you get the peace you need.
3. Learn basic bike maintenance and fit techniques
This is something I still need to work on further, and need to take even more steps to improve. I have noticed over the years that when you are out on the trail, far from home, anything can happen. Most times, help isn’t the most readily available in these situations. So, it’s really important to be able to make small tweaks if something malfunctions, or you are finding your fit is off and you are experiencing discomfort with many miles to go. Learning some of the fit adjustments I can make when experiencing discomfort on the trail has saved me more than once, and made trips more enjoyable where they would have assuredly been miserable.
Ryan’s Must-Have Gear
→GSI Outdoors Microlite Javapress: I drink coffee every day (I’m a bit of a coffee snob), and as often as possible, enjoy it with my wife as well. The ability to have such a comfort of home, out on the trail, is a great mood booster for me, and a great way to kick off my morning, before setting off on the day’s journey. I have tried several instant coffees before, and they just didn’t cut it for me. Real coffee all the way!
→Osmo Nutrition: I have tried many different types of hydration and nutrition drinks over the years, all of which had at least one drawback. Most left me parched, and clamoring for water. Some didn’t keep me nourished enough. While some made my stomach uneasy. I have been using Osmo for about two years now, and it is a home run on every ride. It’s wonderful to be able to trust your nutrition to get the job done. Bonus: It’s among the more affordable options out there as well!
→ RedWhite Apparel The Bib: These were an absolute game changer for me. Once I started increasing my miles and spending hours and hours on the bike at a time, I realized the bibs I was using just weren’t cutting it. After loads of research, I stumbled across RedWhite bibs, and my booty has thanked me every day. I can go all day in the saddle with just about zero discomfort, which keeps my mood elevated and keeps me pressing on to the next mile marker hour after hour.
→ Apidura Expedition Frame Pack: This little guy packs a big punch. I spent a long time researching and testing out different bags to dial in my bikepacking setup. A lot of them claimed to be waterproof, and simply did not hold up against all day rain. Others didn’t quite have the functionality I was looking for. With this frame bag, whether it’s a day, or multi-day ride, I can trust that I can carry what I need to be safe and comfortable, and it will be dry every time.
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