“I tried riding with people, but it just becomes something different. It becomes more of a social thing. You end up sacrificing what you want to do for the sake of the group.” Eric Brunt is an outsider — in style, attitude and conventional understanding of human pleasure. “What I ran into was that I wouldn’t get these big days done. And I didn’t get that same feeling that I craved. It’s just too much work. Where we going to meet up? Oh we can’t do that, I don’t want to do that. I just got sick of it; I don’t try anymore.”
Brunt’s riding mottos are simple and straightforward: “Plan a route and ride it.” “Eat early, eat often.” “Pack light, freeze at night.” And if there is one credo to rule them all, it is this: “Do things where you don’t know if it’s possible.”
This worldview began during Brunt’s youth in Omaha, Nebraska — a place that, especially in the gray of winter, inspires a stoic approach to the enjoyment of life. As a teen, Brunt sold his car and lived for nine years sans automobile. “It was a springboard to a lot of other things,” he said. “There was no other option. I kind of like that, in terms of living with the bike.”
In college, he delivered Jimmy John’s sandwiches by bicycle. His first week, he was hit by a car and broke his arm. His second week, he was back on the bike delivering sandwiches with his arm in a sling. In his work, he honored the chain’s “Freaky Fast” delivery promise. “I could ride seventy-five to a hundred miles in one shift,” he said. “All sprint efforts.”
He also competed in 12- and 24-hour mountain bike races and gravel races like the 206-mile Dirty Kanza and the 330-mile Trans Iowa race. He won the Single Speed Men’s Gravel World Championship in 2011, and took the top step at Trans Iowa in 2012. He now lives and works in Los Angeles, California, and owns a car (which he uses two to three times a month “for camping or bike trips”), but endurance riding — and its exquisite sacrifice — is still his happy place.
“There are so many times that you’re miserable — that’s what riding endurance rides and riding bikes is all about. You just have to harness that ‘being miserable’ factor and be comfortable in that.” When we talked, he had recently completed a 180-mile day with 16,000 feet of elevation gain (more than half the distance up Mount Everest). He had ridden to meet his wife for a camping trip in Joshua Tree; the route was a training session of sorts. But mostly, it was for pleasure. And because it was there to be done.
“Six hours into a ten-hour ride, and you really feel on. You feel like the world is bowing to you. The road is opening up; everything comes easy. You’re comfortable, you’re riding strong and you’re in a really good groove. I love when that happens,” he said. “You have to be a bit ballsy, throw a little risk in there. But you just have to do it. You’re never going to get better and stretch yourself if you stay static.”
Brunt packs light, carrying a minimum of essentials, and plans stops at convenience stores to refuel. (“Lately I’ve loved the breakfast sandwiches you find at gas stations.”) Beyond that, he just rides. He rides for 2, 5, 10, 15 hours. He rides 50, 100, 150, 200 miles. He does not ride for social-media praise or Strava segments, but to find mental liberation and physical elation. “It’s a unique kind of freedom that you can’t find any other way,” he said.
Toward the end of our conversation, he posed a rhetorical question: “What comes after suffering?” It is his lifework to find the answer. At 33, he’s still in the thick of conducting case studies for his riding dissertation. In the Angeles National Forest and the grasslands of Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa, he continues doing hard-fought research on two wheels.