If you’ve had the good fortune to cross paths with Anka Martin, you’ll know of her infectious love for all things bicycle-related.
Anka’s latest adventure is Soul Trails – a series of women’s mountain biking and yoga trips with stops in Spain, Scotland, Italy, France, Botswana and New Zealand.
Photos by Sven Martin.
Pete caught up with the globe-trotting Juliana Bicycles ambassador after this year’s Trans-Provence to find out where the need to explore comes from and what this Soul Trails thing is all about.
Who is Anka Martin?
A South African born, African American Kiwi with a Scandinavian name meaning duck (thanks mom), who loves to ride all sorts of bicycles, be outside, travel and laugh my ass off.
What’s your background in cycling?
While living in California, I got sick of waiting for Sven to be done skateboarding, so I got myself a hardtail to cruise the boardwalk. It was a long boardwalk, OK… Started venturing off the boardwalk, found single track, met an awesome English girl named Maxine Irving who was ripping up the Sheep Hills dirt jumps, she taught me how to ride a bike, I started racing with her in Big Bear and bob’s your uncle… Life consumed by racing bikes for the next 15 or so years!
Before that you’d usually just find me in the pub.
What’s your background in the cycling industry?
I started racing DH bikes about 15 or so years ago. It was the best time racing with the Missile and that whole crew. We’d have 40+ girls at every DH race! Around 2007 I started racing Enduro events all over Europe and dabbled with Marathon XC events like the Cape Epic and such. I wanted to ride more and felt that DH racing wasn’t satisfying my love for riding.
When Enduro became a thing around 2013 I made the switch from Santa Cruz Bicycles to becoming a Juliana Bicycles racer and rider and have been with them since. I’ve been in the industry and with the same sponsors for a long time and I’m a firm believer in being loyal and never burning any bridges and I think I’ve managed to maintain that over the years.
I worked for Crankbrothers for eight years, worked too many trade shows to keep count of, organised races, trips, press camps and product launches along the way, so a wee bit of everything I guess.
How long did you race for?
Been at it since 2000 or 2001. This year is the first year of not really racing anymore. The Trans Provence was my only BIG race, along with some local races at home in New Zealand. It’s a funny old thing, as I really stumbled across racing, I’m not really a competitive person or had a childhood dream of becoming a world champion of some sorts, I always only competed against myself, to do the best that I knew I could do, so it always makes me giggle that I’ve done this for so long!
I’m really embracing this change. When you do something for such a long time, it starts to define you and who you are and people refer to you as a racer or an athlete and that definition has never really sat well with me, I’ve never regarded myself as one of those. I just loved to ride my bike, I loved to travel, to ride new trails and to explore new cultures. My wanderlust kept me racing all these years. I don’t want to be remembered as a racer, but as someone who loved to ride her bike.
What made you want to hang up your EWS racing boots?
The long timed liaisons that scared me way more than the stages I had to race! Nah, it was just time. I don’t want to race the beeps anymore. I’m super happy and content with things that I’ve achieved over the years. I still want to go fast as and progress as a rider, but on my own time, not on a clock. Looking forward to many more adventures.
How did Soul Trails come about?
I started racing less and riding heaps more and was ready for something new. I’ve been on so many riding trips over the years where you never really encounter many other women and I wanted to offer a platform where women can book a riding holiday and not have to worry about being the single woman on a lads week out or worrying about holding everyone up or being hit on by heaps of married men on vacation, etc etc…
How did you work out which guiding companies to work with?
That part was the easy part. They’re all my good mates who I’ve known for many years, have been on their superb guided trips over the years and had the time of my life.
Other than being in Botswana, what makes this particular trip special?
What makes the Botswana trip so special you ask. Well for one, it’s an opportunity for us to head back home, not that Botswana was ever home, but there is something really magical about being on African soil. This may sound cheesy, but the light, the sounds, the smells, when I get there, it just feels good, it feels like I’m at home.
This trip is unlike any other MTB trip, as it’s not all about the riding, it’s more about the wild animals and riding amongst them on their tracks. You have no idea what you’re going to see and when you might bump into an elephant, so that is where you get your adrenaline fix from.
You sleep under the stars around a fire, falling asleep to the calls of the hyena and waking up to the craziest cacophony of birdsong with monkies jumping around in the tree’s above you! It’s a special place for sure.
How many people make up Soul Trails and what do they do?
Well, there is me, and myself and then I. Between the three of us, we do (or try to do) everything! Sometimes Sven is able to join on part of the trip to take some snaps of all the ladies (not in a creepy way)!
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
My entire previous life of advertising, city life, the fashion industry and slightly bigger pay checks. In hindsight this was not a sacrifice at all but a blessing in disguise. No regrets ever.
Did you have day jobs that you had to give up?
I wouldn’t call them day jobs, more like random, crappy jobs to make ends meet. Once my life was consumed with racing bicycles, I literally just took on whatever jobs I could fit in and around racing for many many years. (Let me know if you ever need to build a log home or install underfloor heating). For the past 4 years though, I’ve been with Juliana Bicycles and have been able to focus on racing and representing their brand in various ways without having to sand planks!
Are you working alongside to make ends meet?
Mate, I’m in the bike industry, I drive a Berlingo, what do you think?
How make or break is the idea for you?
Obviously you want to be successful and make your ideas work, but again that is totally up to you to make this happen. The more you put into something the more rewarding it will be. At this stage of my life, I am loving sharing these adventures, trails and places with other like-minded women.
Will I keep doing this forever; I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be riding my bike somewhere beautiful, sharing and making memories with people and hopefully encouraging women to do the same.
Did any previous you work did help with setting up Soul Trails?
Yes, riding bikes, racing, travelling, meeting amazing people and sharing the stoke with other like minded people and women is what made me want to start Soul Trails. Previous work like emigrating twice, makes all the paperwork and legal side of things always seem like a breeze.
How did you learn what you needed to know to get your idea off the ground and experienced female riders getting involved?
Well other women want to experience the same things that I like to experience, I think, I hope, so that was the easy part. I’ve also always loved to help and encourage other women to push themselves out of their comfort zones, to be brave and to connect with them. I believe in treating everyone, no matter who you are, the same and to have a laugh, and always always make time for everyone.
Where next for Soul Trails? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?
This year I’ve added a few more trips than last. We’re heading to Botswana in October which is very, very exciting to me. Growing slowly so I can keep managing everything on my own for now. To me it’s about quality not quantity. Personal interaction. Small groups. After a trip we all leave as good friends, as cheesy as this sounds, it’s pretty amazing to become so close to people after only 7 days of riding bikes. Mint.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
It goes without saying that you cannot be successful without the help of others and I’ve been fortunate to have very loyal, longstanding relationships with some amazing people in the bike industry and couldn’t have done what I’ve done without all of their support.
Sven has also always been super supportive when I come up with outlandish ideas! I also believe that you create your own luck with hard fucking work. So if you want to follow your dreams and make stuff happen, put everything into it and make it happen. Cheers!
To find out all about Soul Trails, head to the Ride House Martin site here.
In the meantime, you can follow Anka on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep up with her adventures.