Living the Dream: Insights into the Life of a Guide
“I love my job” – what else could you expect from a mountainbike guide who travels the world while others are stuck in the office? From Chile to Spain, from the legendary dusty trails of the trans-provence to the Scottish Highlands, Julia Hobson has ridden everything. Following her Instagram account is not only worth a look for the beautiful pictures of the amazing places she discovers in her daily life as a guide, but also inspiring: It allows us to take part in somebody’s life who chose to live a dream. For us, Julia resumes her year as guide with a selection of her most memorable Instagram moments:
“Love it or hate it, Social Media is here to stay, so why not embrace it! There are elements of it that I don’t like, but I have to admit to being a total Instagram lover! What better way to inspire and motivate you to go to new places, plan your next trip or ride, or follow your favourite sports or athletes, or even just admire great photos?
Although the last few years of my life have been far from easy, I’ve managed to build myself a life that I love, find a job that makes me incredibly happy and that allows me to work in the places that I love, and meet wonderful people from all over the World. I’m not a photographer, but I’ve been told that part of photography is being in the right place at the right time, and that bit I can definitely do. So here it is….a year in my life, through the eyes of Instagram!
I got back from 6 weeks away skiing and climbing in the French Alps to find my beautiful new Juliana Bicycles Roubion waiting for me! This year I became an ambassador for the brand and I couldn’t be happier to have the support of, and be representing and promoting such a great company. My Roubion is pretty much my dream-bike and certainly the most amazing bike I’ve ever ridden….and I can’t deny it still makes me smile that it practically has my name on it!
In early February I travelled to Chile for the inaugural Andes-Pacifico Enduro, a 4-day mountain bike stage Enduro race from the ski area of La Parva in the foothills of the Andes, to the beach at Maitencillo. The race was tough….intense heat, a start at 3600m, steep, technical , hard and long stages, with hours of hike-a-bike liaisons and dusty, cactus lined trails. It was a great experience and a big adventure for all of us involved, but pretty brutal! I was glad for my Roubion and I to survive in one piece, but also stoked to come away with 3rd placed female behind fellow Juliana Crew member Anka Martin, and Pauline Dieffenthaler from France.
Two days after I returned from Chile I headed up to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands for the first round of the Scottish Enduro series. As I drove up through the pass of Glencoe with the wind howling and the rain lashing against the windscreen I knew I was going to be in for a shock after the hot, dry, dusty conditions of Chile. The races could not have been more different! I slipped and slid my way down the muddy stages, whooping with delight as I remembered how much I love slippery UK winter riding, and laughing at myself as I struggled to stay upright in the corners, having completely forgotten how to ride in these conditions. These moments were interspersed with the pain of “hot aches” as my fingers went from numbingly cold, to vaguely warm repeatedly! Instead of 20 + minute stages there were some that only took a few minutes that I felt I hadn’t even got up to speed on.
April saw me take a number of trips to various places around the UK to ride both with friends and solo, trying to get in lots of miles to ensure a good level of fitness for the guiding season. Many of these were to old favourite trails that I hadn’t ridden for a number of years, and it was great to revisit them with my Roubion. Trails that I remember once picking my way down slowly, I can now fly down confidently, launching off steps and drops, staying off the brakes unless needed, to allow the bike to work better over the terrain. The combination of more riding experience on much more technical terrain, a hugely confidence-inspiring bike with geometry that allows for a more fun ride, and doing some more downhill/enduro orientated racing have all contributed to this. I still want to be a better rider than I am (don’t we all?!?) but it was nice to feel how much my riding has progressed over the last 3-4 years.
This is Roubion…the pretty perched village in France’s Maritime Alps that the model of my bike is named after! It is one of my favourite places to guide through, and quintessentially French. Nestled on a hillside with commanding views of the deep river valley below, twisty, narrow roads winding through the village, beautifully kept houses with pretty flowers growing outside, a slow, sleepy pace of life, friendly locals, oh, and of course some amazing riding all around! May is the month when for the last 2 years I’ve headed across the channel to begin my guiding season. It’s a beautiful time of year to be working in the Alps. The snow has melted low down but still covers the higher mountains, creating picture postcard views of snow-capped peaks. The alpine meadows are bursting with colour as flowers come back to life now the snow has gone. The temperature is warm but not too hot, the mountain air feels clear and fresh, and the trails are in great condition. For the last two years my main work in France has been guiding the route of the Trans-Provence race, so I get to ride the incredible trails of the race week after week…..I love my job!
The start of June saw the worldwide launch of the bike I’ve been riding, the Juliana Roubion, and just prior to this I was lucky to be involved in a press camp for the bike. Eight fun, female journalists from around the world gathered in Roubion along with Juliana brand manager Katie Zaffke, and brand ambassadors Anka Martin, Kathy Pruitt and myself, as well as photographers Sven Martin and Gary Perkin, and Trans-Provence founder and director, Ash Smith. We spent the week shralping the Trans-Provence trails on beautiful new bikes, giving the journalists a taste of what the bikes were capable of, followed by evenings of tasty food, good wine, enduro charades, and lots of good times. My instagram feed for the week was mainly full of fantastic photos, none of which I can claim any credit for! The one above was taken by Gary Perkin whilst we rode a few laps on the ridges and gullies of the legendary “Grey Earth” trail. This trail is a perennial favourite amongst guests and racers on the Trans-Provence. It’s hard to describe the trail surface as it’s pretty unique, but it’s fast, flowy, surprisingly grippy, and the landscape looks like you’re riding on the moon! Come and join a Trans-Provence guided trip and experience it for yourself!
This is me in guiding mode high above the Vesubie valley in the middle of the season. What’s not to love about my job?! I get to spend my days outdoors, riding my bike, sharing my love of the trails with like-minded riders and friendly folk from all over the World, surrounded by views like this on a daily basis! It’s rare that you’ll not find me smiling…I feel incredibly lucky to have the job I do. We pass through this area mid-week on the Trans-Provence trips, and it’s noticeable how the landscape starts to change from a more Alpine feel to Mediterranean. The mountains are not quite as high as those further north in the Alps, but they become more wooded and steeper sided, carved by rivers that have left incredible, steep-sided gorges. As a result the riding becomes steeper and more technical, involving dozens of tight switchbacks that baffle more than a few people each week as they try to get to grips with how to ride them!
During August, I made a trip up to the Central Alps to guide on a new trip for Ben Jones MTB Adventures. The trip was a 6 day backcountry adventure from the well-known Mountain Bike mecca of Morzine, to Alpe d’Huez, home of the legendary MegaAvalanche race. Exploring the lesser known terrain between the two resorts, using a combination of lifts and shuttles, as well as plenty of pedalling and pushing, we were able to take a select number of lucky guests on a week of mind-blowing trails. Ribbons of singletrack flowing through alpine meadows, surrounded by towering mountains and glaciers were the order of the week. It was a fantastic trip to guide and I’m already looking forward to returning to guide it again this year. The photo above is of Norwegian guest Lars taking a moment to enjoy the view on the last day of the trip, high above the Romanche valley, on a beautiful balcony trail that contours around the hillside, before plummeting down a grin-inducing long descent to the valley bottom that leaves brakes steaming and hands screaming!
The latter part of the summer I spent guiding a trip called the Enduro Fusion Tour, 6 days of epic riding, with the emphasis on big descents for less effort than in the Trans-Provence trip! Part of each week was spent riding in the Roya Valley, a beautiful area blessed with fantastic trails and staggering views. This photo is of guest Chloe riding at the start of 1200m of descending from the Col de Tende, beneath the remnants of the mighty barrack buildings at Fort Centrale that sit on the border between France and Italy. The trails by late summer in this part of the Alps are dry and dusty and the weather is hot and sunny, so getting up to above 2000m is a good way to escape from the heat and humidity of the valley…that and swimming in the crystal clear water of the river! This area was fought over and changed hands from the Italians to the French for many years, and is full of historical reminders of battles of old. The many grand forts only add to the overall feeling of epicness of the area, and make it a favourite day out amongst many guests. The sound of marmots whistling, and the sight of them dashing across the hillside, gives the place an alpine feel, despite only being 90 minutes drive from the Mediterranean coast!
The beginning of October bought one of the highlights of my year. Finally getting to race in the Trans-Provence. Despite being lucky enough to guide on the TP holidays for the last two summers, and working on the race in 2013, the race has a totally different atmosphere and vibe that I really wanted to experience from a racer’s point of view. I got that chance this year, and what an experience it was. There were highs and lows, physically, emotionally, and quite literally, in the hills and valleys we were crossing. There were long, tough days in the saddle, difficult, technical descents that were a much scarier proposition to race down than to enjoy at a leisurely guiding pace, epic 5 hour hike-a bike, trails that left you grinning for hours, and trails that you were just glad to get down in one piece. There were new friendships made, and bonds between other friends strengthened through the shared experience. There were endlessly beautiful views from high on the mountain sides, amazing sunrises, stunning, unspoilt areas of wilderness where it felt like we were the only people for miles around, pretty, quaint little villages with their spring water fountains and cats sleeping in the shade of trees. It was awesome. If you ever get the chance to be part of the race, either as a racer or volunteer, just do it, you won’t regret it!
Spain was a country that until this autumn, I’d never got around to visiting. So when the opportunity came up to head out for some riding and climbing, I couldn’t turn it down! Together with good friend Chloe, local guide Alex, and honorary local Amy, we spent a rare week of all-girl trail shredding based out of the pretty village of Bubion in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Southern Spain. After each awesome day of shralping the gnar on the dry, dusty and super-loose trails, we’d finish with sunset beers and tapas and the difficult decision of where to eat dinner that night. Although the riding didn’t have the variety that you take for granted in the Alps, it was great fun, mainly fast and flowy, and a great choice for anyone wanting to find some sunny trails when it starts to turn cold in northern Europe. A definite highlight was a dawn raid to get up high for sunrise at the top of “The Great Escape”! I love riding my bike with anyone and everyone, but as most of my riding is done predominantly with guys, it was fun to spend a week where there were a group of bad-ass girl riders to enjoy the trails with, and a very different kind of trail banter!
Scotland in early December may not be high on everyone’s holiday list, but this year I struck gold with a winter trip up to the Highlands. The weather was mild, there were no midges, and the trails were empty. It was even possible to get up onto some of the highest hills as the snow had not yet arrived. The riding in Scotland is fantastic, and it should be high on any mountain biker’s list as a place to visit. From family-friendly trail centres, to rooty forest singletrack, wild moorland trails, to rocky peaks, and everything in between, there is something for every rider of every level. For me, the glens and mountains of the wild northern Highlands are one of my favourite places to ride. An unspoilt wilderness, where often the only things you share the trail with are ptarmigans and deer. A place where you can really get away from it all and feel like every ride is an adventure….grab a map, plan a route, go and explore!
One of the reasons I love riding is that it takes me to so many cool places and allows me to meet some lovely people, and my trip to Scotland was no exception. Mountain biking has a way of breaking down barriers between people…No-one cares how much money you earn, where you’re from, your beliefs and ideas, or about any other status or label society might have placed on you. All that matters is you have a common love of being out on your bike, having fun and sharing epic adventures. I can’t wait to get up there again this year and look forward to many more adventures and meeting more people that share a love of this crazy sport!”
Words an Photos: Julia Hobson