After being shown the goods in the northern Highlands by H+I Adventures, Pete sat down with co-owner Euan Wilson to see what makes them tick.
Photos by Ross Bell, feature image by Joey Schusler.
Every country with decent riding will always have multiple guiding companies vying for your hard-earned. Pete was lucky enough to be shown some proper Highland gold by the guys at H + I Adventures, so he had a chat with the main man, Mr. Euan Wilson.
Who is Euan Wilson?
I am co-owner and chief guide at H+I Adventures, worldwide mountain bike travel specialists who now operate in 12 (soon to be 14) countries around the globe. Our tours have been hand crafted entirely by me and the H+I team based here in the Highlands of Scotland, with the help of course of our dedicated local guiding teams operating on the ground in each exotic dream location around the globe.
What was your first mountain bike?
Since I was able to walk I have had bikes, a new bike was bought for me each year by my parents, not because we were rich, but because I used it all day every day, which meant it was in desperate need of renewal as each birthday came around.
Mountain biking allows me to escape from daily life, ride with my friends with the sun shining on my back, laughing and connecting with nature whilst staying fit and exploring remote corners of Scotland.
I can even remember the first mountain bike, a Claud Butler, black with lime green, what a machine…. How things have moved on, but the end goal is still the same.
What’s your background in cycling and the cycling industry?
My background in the mountain biking industry is guiding, I have never raced, taken photographs or written, I know how to guide and craft the world’s best mountain bike adventures, that’s it. I am a firm believer in specialising, become an expert at what you do, not a jack of all trades. I have dedicated the past ten years to ensuring people travel the world safely with their mountain bike and receive an experience of a lifetime, and will continue to do so, it’s all that drives me.
Who are H+I Adventures?
H+I Adventures is the world’s premium guided mountain bike tour operator, dedicated to crafting mountain bike tours in the most spectacular destinations and setting the standard in international mountain bike travel.
Everything has been considered, researched and tested by us. The route, the trails, the accommodation, the food, the flow of the day, the flow of the week; all thought through to make sure each day is unforgettable. Epic scenery, rich cultural experiences, wonderful food, great company. We take great care and pride in working with local guides and experts to hone experiences you’ll savour and that create lifelong memories.
It takes two years of work from our dedicated innovative team to craft each of our adventures, we don’t deliver the ‘old school’, chalet-style tour where you live with ex-pats, we truly get under the skin of each destination, riding with locals, staying with locals and enjoying all that each destination has to offer, but delivered at our own very exacting standards.
We are continually reinventing and pushing the boundaries of mountain bike travel, for instance our recent new tour in Norway, hike-a-bike and riding deep in the fjords based on a converted mine sweeper boat – find someone else delivering that one!
How did H+I Adventures come about?
It was around 11 years ago now, myself and co-owner Catherine were living and working in Glasgow, I was an engineer and Catherine was a marketing manager. We spent all of our non-working time riding bikes, travelling and all to a high standard of trails, accommodation and food. We could not find an existing company delivering tours like this at the time, we had to do it all ourselves. The planning, map reading, logistics and finding unique and interesting places to eat.
We had another one of these trips to the Highlands over the 2006/7 New Year, snow was falling, the loch was frozen and as we sat chatting about our travels and the beauty of the Highlands. We decided there must be other mountain bikers out there who would want to travel in the way that we do, the ‘dirt bag’ mountain biker tag was becoming a thing of the past, so H+I Adventures was born exactly ten years ago this year!
What do you think Scotland offers a mountain biker that other destinations can’t?
Scotland has the most rugged and least populated trails I have ever ridden, it continues to amaze me. The trails are really very different to any other, they are natural, technical, rugged and a great surprise to most visitors. We have on a number of occasions had the following discussion with riders:
Guide “We will now take this trail to the left”,
Rider “Thats not a trail, there’s nothing there but rocks!”,
Guide “Yup, that’s a rock garden, oh and it lasts for five kilometres”
And what blows guests minds time after time, is that on an 8-day tour with us, they maybe meet 7 or 8 people on the trails all week. True wilderness riding.
How did you pick your routes to start with?
When looking to create a new tour or adventure, I start by working out what is unique about a certain area. What does my mind’s eye tell me about that destination? What would I like to see in the destination?
This then leads me to coming up with an ethos; coast-to-coast, circumnavigation, mountain to sea etc. and then we set about finding a route that in no way compromises the quality of the riding in order to achieve the ethos. Then it’s time to hit the ground and ride for a number of weeks to achieve what we feel is a tour that rises and falls at the correct time, like a soundtrack to a movie, everything has to fall into place at the right time, that’s the craft.
How did you go about choosing your overseas partners?
Currently we are operating in 12 countries, including the wilds of northern Canada, the culturally rich Ecuador, the immense drama of Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia, all the way to the other side of the globe, and New Zealand.
It is a huge undertaking to find local guides and local logistics experts that uphold our level of service, but that’s my job. In developing new tours I personally spend between 4 and 8 weeks in each destination finding the trails, guides, accommodation and logistics team.
Our international guides then come to Scotland to train with us and shadow Scottish tours, and finally, I’ll return to each destination on the first and possibly second customer tour. Quality of customer experience and compatibility with our ethos are vital to the success of our operation, so we invest heavily in finding the right team in each destination.
Best trail you’ve ever ridden, and why?
Wow, that’s a big question and hard to answer! But here goes. Over the past 15 years I have been fortunate enough to ride my bike in every corner of the globe, but the trail that sticks in my mind, and has been a joy to return to on 3 occasions, is in Nepal.
Located high in the Mustang region of the Himalayas, it starts at a height of 4200m surrounded by 8000m snowcapped peaks that tower high above the trail. Once you set off on this fast, flowing and at times, technical descent, the trail continues dropping down the Kali Gandaki Valley for the next two and half days. This is what mountain bikes were made for!
You must have seen some crazy things over the years, is there something that stands out? A favourite moment or when you wanted the ground to swallow you up?
I think the most random experience that comes to mind was on a trip in Ecuador in South America with the EVOC team. We had spent 10 days exploring this colourful and exotic country, riding volcanoes, jungle, liquor smuggling trails and eating guinea pig. On our last night we arrived back in Quito, hit the bar in town to celebrate a great adventure.
On returning to our hotel, a little more lubricated than when we left, there was a ‘Miss Ecuador’ competition taking place. What was a group of mountain bikers to do?!? We managed to blag our way in to celebrate with Miss Ecuador….Random, if not entirely unfortunate end to an exceptionally good trip in South America.
Well, we avoid disasters at all cost, but since it’s you I guess I can elaborate on the typical minor hiccups we encounter on exploring the world for new destinations. From missing bikes in Delhi, to reversing in the dark down a narrow and very steep hillside in Sardinia at 11pm for 15 mins, and being on top of a volcano with Matt Hunter as the sun sets, but still have 1000m vertical to take down, to turning up 24hrs late for a flight, to having a trailer tire blowing out and taking out the suspension with it, all in the middle of Patagonia at midnight. It’s all happened, but these are the things you remember in life, when things get, well, interesting!
What advice would you give to anyone looking to career in guiding?
Get out and explore, it doesn’t need to be an exotic big expensive trip to the other side of the world, go and explore that hill across from where you live, stop the car on the way back from work and go out and ride a new forest or valley.
Adventure is what you make it, and you will feel all the richer for taking the time to explore and experience the world you live in. And then when you have fully got the bug and you are living and breathing the sport, then start your guiding qualifications. It is a profession, not just a pastime, so does need to be taken seriously.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
Mostly time with my wife and business partner Catherine. I spend around 4 months a year travelling and experiencing wonderful trails and local cultures, that I want to share with my wife, but you are always juggling business with family agendas. But thankfully after 10 years we are making up for it by travelling a lot more together and ticking off all corners of the globe together, mostly by bike, but sometimes relaxing and taking time out too. We now have such a strong team back at HQ, that whenever we are not around, there’s still someone steering the ship in the right direction.
Where next for you?
Currently sitting in the airport on the way to Switzerland to quality check our first tester customer tour in Switzerland, it’s a new Trans-Graubünden tour, that hasn’t been launched yet, 30th October it will land, watch this space.
Then we have another top secret destination launching over the next 6 months, but you will need to keep your eye on us to find out more…. but it’s not about how many destinations H+I Adventures can possibly craft, it’s about continuing to delivering and crafting MTB tours in the most spectacular destinations and setting the standard in international mountain bike travel.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
The biggest thank you goes to Catherine for sure, she is the real rock behind H+I Adventures. I am a dreamer, and if it was left up to me we would probably be neck deep in some hair-brain scheme or other.
She filters the 200 ideas each day and ensures everything around the globe is performing the way it should, she is also a very understanding and fabulous wife. But my friends also need a nod. Grumpy, distant and agitated are all things they need to put up with when I am distracted or stressing about a diverse range of issues or projects, also being absent from group rides over the past few years, but that’s about to change, more time with friends in 2018, that’s the order of the day.