How I Roll: Restless Heart

By Kyle Emmel

I have around thirty minutes until sunset and no idea where I’m going to crash for the night. After a few more miles of climbing, it’s dark and cold. I turned left onto a very lonely highway towards Grand Forks, North Dakota. It has been a long day and as I approach 150 miles of riding, my legs remind me it’s long past quitting time. I finally come upon a freshly cut hay field, full of round bales. After a short argument between my head and my legs, I decide to call it a night. I curl up in my sleeping bag and lay against the warm hay. Looking up I can see the stars and the Milky Way very clearly. The last time I saw them this clearly was in Afghanistan.

Photo: Devin Boyer

Photo: Devin Boyer

After Afghanistan I struggled to reconnect with the world I left behind. I didn’t feel like something was broken, just different. My inability to understand what that “thing” was led to frustration with myself. It took two years of self-destruction until an amazing mentor, a veteran himself, gave me a new term to guide my transformation: restless heart.

He explained that when soldiers returning from the Great War wandered aimlessly, many referred to it as Restless Heart or Soldier’s Heart. This image, of a Restless Heart searching for adventure, stuck with me. Not long after this revelation, I made my first trip to the mountains. One week of hiking and camping fulfilled something inside and answered two years worth of questions. Over the next three years, I poured myself into studies and made some giant improvements. I had plans, goals and great career opportunities in front of me. Then, with the world at my fingertips, the post-Afghanistan feelings crept back up.

Photo: Devin Boyer

Photo: Devin Boyer

At first, I chalked it up to the changing seasons, then the life changes taking place, then to the distance of deployments. I ran out of simple things to blame it on. Because I couldn’t simply take off for the mountains again, I started riding a bike. The more uncomfortable the distance was, the better I felt inside. I had a sense of accomplishment that I had not felt since experiences like ruck marching at basic training. I was coming back.

It has taken years to understand myself and learn to take care of myself properly. Luckily I found cycling, and it brings my restless heart to ease. It provides the adventure, risk and health that I need to function properly. It continues to help me break my own internal barriers and grow. Cycling has in many ways saved my life.


This story originally appeared in Bicycle Times 44. Subscribe to our email newsletter to get quality content delivered to your inbox every Tuesday.

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