Billman bikes ‘Outside’

Rachel Jenks

Every morning, Jon Billman puts on his helmet, picks a podcast to listen to, then starts his hour-long bike ride into work.

“For me, it’s my mental health regimen because I would be a little unbalanced if I didn’t ride my bike twice a day in headwinds and snow and all this stuff,” Billman said.Billman

Billman has been a professor in the English department at NMU since 2013 where he teaches various fiction writing courses. Even when the temperature drops, and the snows starts to pile up, Billman continues to bike to NMU by swapping out his regular bike for a fat bike.

“I’ve always biked, but it’s only recently that I’ve seen the literary importance of biking. I see it as bigger than just a pastime,” Billman said. “Certainly it’s an important part of my life, but the importance of it has grown on me as I’ve gotten older.”

Biking has been the source of inspiration for many of the articles Billman has written for Outside Magazine. He has been a frequent contributor to the outdoor–and adventure–focused magazine since 1998.

“When my first book came out, they reviewed it and then called me to see if I wanted to do nonfiction for them,” Billman said. “I really like working for Outside—I work for other magazines as well, but I really like Outside. It’s a very smart magazine, and I think the kinds of characters that are interested in these outdoor pursuits are interesting people to write about.”

For his latest article, “60 is the New 25,” Billman profiled legendary mountain bike and fat bike competitor, Ned Overend. The article highlights how the athlete is able to maintain his competitive nature and physique, even at the age of 60.

“It’s a topic that’s really hot right now—the physiology of aging,” Billman said.

In the article, Billman not only details how Overend maintains his athleticism, but also explores the overall concepts of aging and fitness. To garner knowledge on this subject, Billman consulted several experts in the fitness field. One of those experts was NMU’s Scott Drum.

“We’re a small school, but we have some expertise here that’s world-class,” Billman said.

Drum is an associate professor of exercise science and coordinator of sports science. He’s written for magazines like Runner’s World and Trail Runner Magazine in the past. He also previously co-directed the High Altitude Performance Lab at Western State University in Gunnison, Co., making him the ideal source of knowledge for Billman to complete his article.

“Believe me, I would have gone with the best people. I did a Google search and Drum popped up and I thought, ‘Hey I know that school,’” Billman said. “I called him up, and he met me for coffee and we talked for two hours. I filled up a notebook with our conversation.”

Drum was equally excited when Billman approached him about the article.

“Well, I was excited because we had a shared interest in Ned Overend,”
Drum said.

Having such a body of knowledge so close to home was a gift for Billman.

Unfortunately, in the magazine world articles have to be condensed, he said, so he was not able to include all the information from Drum he would have liked.

“If I had my way, there would have been six pages of what we talked about,” Billman said.

What did make it in the article from Drum is how the body changes after the age of 30 and how exercising should change with it. Drum states that short, high intensity workouts are best to maintain muscle and physique as one ages.

Billman believes that the resources at NMU are really unique to this school,
though somewhat unknown and

“I think it’s so great that there are all these resources available to us at Northern. We have some really great people, and I think that’s pretty rare.”

Drum greatly agreed with the sentiment, believing Northern has a lot to offer, but it sometimes falls under the radar.

“We’re always trying to bring attention to the research and work the health and exercise sciences are doing, but I think sometimes people aren’t aware of Northern,” Drum said. “With what Jon is doing we can bridge the gap between the sciences and the application of them.”

Drum added that the health and exercise sciences, as well as the outdoor recreation department, are really strong at NMU and have a lot to offer both interdepartmentally and to the scientific

In addition to his magazine work, Billman is the author of “When We Were Wolves,” a collection of short stories about life in the western U.S.

Billman has completed a yet unpublished novel (“It’s just waiting to find a home,” he said) and is working on writing his second novel.

The January/February 2016 edition of Outside Magazine featuring Billman’s article will hit the stands later this month.