10 Years in the Making
It all started by pressing the pause button on a life that was eat, drink and sleep football then repeat for almost 30 years. That button was pressed during a Friday night game of Texas Holdem back in the mid-00’s with my oldest mates. What came as a surprise to all of us that night, was that hidden amongst us was a closet shredder. Just like his poker face we had no idea he was going to deal me a surprise hand.
6 am in Winchester
Six months later, a dedicated training schedule chalked off, a Carrera Fury beneath me and it was 6 am in Winchester ahead of the British Heart Foundation South Downs 100 miler MTB sportive. That was the major event that switched me from one passion to another almost over-night. You would of thought 11.5 hours on a bike that was far too small for me, rubber blocks for brakes and hand-me-down kit was enough to put me off MTB for life. Who would of thought that a Friday night revelation over another dodgy ‘river’ (for me anyway) was the moment that sent me on my mountain biking adventure and ultimately spawned Marmalade MTB.
It was mid-afternoon in Portsmouth and waiting nervously in a bistro bar with my then partner. This anticipation was all down to meeting her sister who had been separated from the family back when they were toddlers. It was a special moment for them both and in parallel definitive to me. Kayakers, trail runners and hard as nails mountain bikers. My eyes lit up with excitement listening to all the adventures, events and weekenders these two seem to revel in. This was the first time I’d heard the term trail centre and despite not knowing exactly what they were the imagination filled in the blanks. Three weeks later and with the car looking like we had ram-raided a Halfords car-boot camping section pointed west for the first time down the M4. It was safe to say the imagination was spot on. A lifetime in the Sky Sports bubble had ended and adventure on knobblies had begun.
Meeting Dave as part of that ‘Cilla Black’ moment mainly ignited the passion for maximising my weekends and holidays by exploring the UK’s immense and diverse plethora of natural mountain biking and ticking off the many trails centres as we went. I simply love researching routes, pouring hours into OS Maps and forums to fine tune the next weekender. We never neglected local riding neither. Always out and enjoying what the South Downs does best and that’s delivering days’ out with endless ancient bridleways, big 360 degree views and pockets of ‘old skool’ singletrack squirrelled away in the forests dotted across its +100 mile width.
Where the trail never ends…
From biblical rain, flood warnings and nachos under an umbrella in a hot tub in Dartmoor, to hip flasks and spaceman food for a spot of Bothy-Biking in the Highlands. The trips have come thick and fast just like many a bog and rocky descent to a pub. The best bit about this period, was being able to share it with a good handful of my oldest school friends. Those early days of not knowing what a trail centre was, were long gone as national parks were notched onto the gate post and many on this list have been revisited time and time again:
Natural: Dartmoor | Exmoor | Quantocks | Long Mynd (Shropshire) | Brecon Beacons | Snowdonia | Ellan Valley | Lake District | Peak District | North Yorks Moors | Yorkshire Dales | Cairngorms | West Highlands & Isles | Surrey Hills | South Downs
Trail Centres: Afan | Brechfa | Cannock Chase | Coed-y-Brenin | Penmachno | Cwmcarn | Llandegla | Cwm Rhaeadr | Gisburn | Dalby | Grizedale | Whinlatter | Lee & Cragg Quarry | Swinley | Bedgebury | Forest of Dean | Nant-y-Arian | Marin
Overseas: Canada (Whistler, Revelstoke, Squamimsh, South Chilcotins) | New Zealand (Rotorua Redwoods, Queenstown, Coronet Peak, Nelson, Old Ghost Road) | Bolivia & Peru (High Andes)
“All we have to do is turn up”
The years rolled by, the passion snowballed and that gate-post was running out of bare wood. Luckily for me, life dealt me a hand that allowed me to go travelling between 2015-2016. But it was one night down the pub in mid-2014 that two friends, encouraged me to get into guiding. “You clearly love it! You do all the route planning, organise all the accommodation, do all the driving, lead all the rides (Home and Away), fix all our bikes – All we have to do is turn up, ride our bikes and enjoy”. The seed was planted, they questioned whether I had ever thought about doing “some sort of qualification” which I said “No”, but that was it! It was all I needed. In the following weeks, planning for the big trip was put on hold as I poured myself into researching what was out there and how I would go about following this new path.
Combining two dreams
I qualified as a British Cycling Level 2 leader in April 2015 and flew out to South America in early June. It took 3 months of backpacking before I threw a leg over a bike in Bolivia and boy was that way over-due. At some point on this trip I wanted to add as much biking experience as I could. High Altitude multi-day Andean tours sniffing out Incan singletrack to lapping up everything New Zealand had to offer, that included the Rotorua Redwoods, to the Queenstown bike park and the Old Ghost Road.
I have loved every second of my journey with Marmalade. It’s true that we never stop learning or adapting our leaders style. Since March 2016 I’ve led over 200 riders of all levels of ability and every group has taught me something new. From that first ride I planned for my mates back in the naughties, to working as a shadow level 3 mtb leader in September in Scotland on the burliest of remote terrain, when it came to my assessment in October 2017 I could not of been more prepared. On the 9-10 October, the last ten (ish) years bottled necked into the level 3 assessment up at Plas y Brenin in Snowdonia. Advanced group management techniques, wilderness first aid, weather monitoring, remote trail side repairs along with a leaders pack that a donkey would be proud of carrying. All combined with navigating on the fly with flow whilst negotiating epic climbs and gnarrrly descents. But come the money shot on the level 3 group ride with real clients, all they had to do is, ‘turn up, pose for the selfie and enjoy themselves’.
Looking back, my journey from that 6 am start in Winchester to starting Marmalade MTB has certainly been a story of fine lines, luck and acting on others inspiration. Deep down I’ve always thrived on sharing my passion with others and doing my best to provide them with the best MTB experience possible. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my mountain biking story.