With the launch of own guiding company and a ladies-only trip to the Lake District, Pete chatted to Julia Hobson about where Endless Trails came from.
Getting your own guiding company off the ground will usually look like taking awesome people through awesome landscapes in lovely sunshine. The realities couldn’t be much different, but it’s a life that Julia Hobson has taken by the scruff of the neck.
We talk finding mountain bikes, guiding for 6 years for others and pressing the ‘Go’ button on her own company, Endless Trails MTB.
Who is Julia Hobson?
An ex-physiotherapist turned Mountain Bike Guide who has worked as a full time freelance guide throughout the UK and Europe since 2012. I recently launched my own guiding company Endless Trails MTB, and will be running my first multi day package trips starting this year in the Lake District.
What was your first mountain bike?
A Kona Caldera bought with my student loan back in 2001! I missed out on old school bikes with v brakes (thankfully!) as I was a relative latecomer to the sport, only getting into it as a student in Sheffield.
A whole group of friends from the uni climbing club used to go biking when the rock was too wet for routes, and it seemed like another fun way to access the outdoors. My first ride was on a borrowed rigid bike on Snowdon, I was hooked from then!
What’s your background in cycling?
I rode all over the Peak District, Lake District, Scotland, UK trail centres and the Alps in those formative years, with my late husband Gareth, never realising that certain bikes were supposed to do certain things.
I remember coming down one of the downhill trails in Morzine in a vest top and shorts on my Caldera, getting rattled on the braking bumps, trying to keep up with Gareth and wondering why all the people in full downhill gear were looking strangely at me…I thought they were the weird ones.
It was on a trip to Whistler on honeymoon that my attitude to riding, and what I could ride, changed, and I started to up my skill level and stop using the excuse of being a girl as why I couldn’t ride more technical sections of trail. Getting a more suitable bike, dropping my saddle, and wider bars might also have helped this.
After Gareth died suddenly in an accident in 2011, riding became my way of coping with the very intense grief and weight of sadness I felt for a very long time. As I started to rebuild my life, I started working towards my guiding qualifications, as it seemed a good way to be able to keep riding my bike and doing something that made me happy, whilst I figured out what to do with myself. I got a job working for Lavatrax in Tenerife for that first winter season, and decided that I’d found a job I loved that I wanted to continue for a while… and here I am still.
What’s your background in the cycling industry?
I’ve worked as a guide for 6 years, throughout Europe and the Alps, as well as in the UK, mainly for companies offering multi-day point to point backcountry journey type trips. I’ve dabbled in all sorts of racing, from mountain bike orienteering, to marathon stage races like the Cape Epic and Yak Attack, 24 hour races, the Megavalanche, World Enduro Series rounds, and stage enduro races like the Andes Pacifico and Trans Provence, and more recently, cyclocross racing!
I wouldn’t call myself a racer though, I do them to meet new people, see new places, travel, and remind my body that it can do something other than always ride at guiding pace!
I love planning adventures that involve a journey, I’ve ridden amongst others, from Land’s End to John O’Groats off-road, Chamonix to Zermatt via the Haute route twice, the Tour of the Matterhorn, and last year, the length of the GR5, an off road path across the Alps from Geneva to Nice.
I’m always planning the next adventure, and running trips that allow other people to get the same sense of adventure that I do on bike trips is just an extension of this, a way to share my passion with others. I have many plans of trips I’d like to run, but for this year it’s all about establishing myself as a tour operator and making sure I’m doing things properly and well, before expanding!
I’ve been fortunate to be asked to be a brand ambassador for several companies over the last 5 years, all of whom I’ve built up strong relationships with, trying to make sure they feel they are getting something in return for the support they give me.
How did Endless Trails come about?
It was kind of a natural progression from 6 years spent working as a guide. I’ve worked for lots of different people on lots of trips now, and you see first-hand what works and what doesn’t, what customers on guided holidays want, and what makes a successful trip.
I wanted the challenge of organising and running some of these for myself, in areas I’ve spent a lot of time riding and wanted to share with others, as well as the fact I was getting a lot of returning customers who I’d guided many times asking when I was going to start running my own trips.
It took a while to build up the courage to do this, it’s very easy to just keep working for other people, sticking to the guiding and avoiding all the admin and business side of things. But I finally took the plunge last year!
What do you think The Lakes and The Peak offer a mountain biker that other destinations can’t?
I don’t think it’s that they necessarily offer something that other places can’t, it’s more that I think they are accessible to a huge range of people, and contain some amazing trails and terrain for biking, that people ignore because they are on their own doorstep.
Having spent a lot of time travelling all over the World with my bike, every time I come back to the Lakes, I’m blown away by how beautiful it is, how good the trails are, and reminded that I shouldn’t take for granted what we have right here in the UK. It is possible to have some proper adventurous days out on bikes in the UK, that feel just as big and epic as days in the Alps, all with the added bonus that you can get a decent pint of proper beer in a friendly pub at the end.
I want to show people who think that the UK is all about trail centres, that we have some great riding here, and you don’t have to travel across an ocean or take a flight to get to it, as well as hopefully showing people from Europe and the rest of the World, that the UK is a mountain biking destination too.
How did you pick your routes to start with?
I’ve ridden pretty much every legal trail in the Peak and Lake District, and know which are my favourites and the ones that I know other people will enjoy and feel a sense of adventure on. Added to this I’m a total map geek. I love spending hours looking at routes, working out what might work as a day trip, then heading out to test it (the best bit!).
In new areas, my favourite kind of riding is going out exploring. Looking at a map on paper and imagining what the trail will be like and whether it will be fun to ride, before going out and finding out. Half the time this results in finding trail gold, half the time, well, let’s just say I’ve had some very long walks on unrideable terrain with my bike!
What do you think the Ladies of the Lakes trip can offer the fairer mountain biker that a normal guided trip can’t?
I’ve spent a lot of time working on women’s only trips and events, and I’ve seen how some women’s confidence just comes on leaps and bounds when they are in an unpressured, supportive group of other girls. They feel confidence to try stuff and not worry that they will be the only ones who can’t do something, the anxiety of not being fast or fit enough to keep up is removed, and they feel more relaxed and therefore have more fun.
There are loads of skills courses and rides for women getting into the sport, but I’ve seen lots of girls who are now ready and capable to take on more adventurous natural riding, but nervous about jumping straight into a guided group where they might be the only woman, for their first trip. I wanted to provide an option for these women and so decided to offer one of the trips as a women’s only version.
The format will be the same as the other Lakeland Mountain Epic trips, but the vibe will be less testosterone-filled! Of course there are plenty of ladies who will want to join the open-to-everyone trips, but so far I’ve had more enquiries about running the Ladies of the Lakes trips than any others!
Best trail you’ve ever ridden, and why?
An impossible question to answer! There have been too many amazing ones. More often I find it’s about the situation when you ride a trail that makes it amazing, who you are with, the weather, your mood, the trail conditions… All these things coming together to make even a familiar trail feel perfect.
A few that spring to mind are an epic long singletrack descent on every kind of terrain in the incredible and remote Upper Mustang region of Nepal during the Yak Attack race. The scenery and real sense that you were in the middle of nowhere were overwhelming.
The second is an awesome long varied trail that features in the Trans Provence race in the Maritime Alps. I’ve ridden this many times, and it always leaves me grinning like a loon and reminded of everything that is great about mountain biking, especially when you take a group on it and they share the stoke for it at the bottom too.
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?
Watching a rider catch a pedal and fall off a trail down the side of a cliff is never something you want to witness as a guide, fortunately the rider and bike were fine but every time I pass that particular section of trail now my heart is in my mouth. Clients don’t understand why I over-stress the safety warnings on such an insignificant bit of trail.
Seeing a flock of about 100 vultures rise up from the hillside in front of us and soar above in silence in a remote part of the southern French Alps was pretty surreal and special.
Seeing lightning strike a pylon about 50m ahead of the group during a massive Alpine storm in which we were being hammered by golf ball sized hailstones was something I’ll never forget. We thought we were out of danger as we were on the valley floor, but the noise and the tingling of static electricity through my arms are memories that still make the adrenaline pump through me even now.
Nah, thankfully not. Just exciting moments that make good stories afterwards ;)
What advice would you give to anyone looking to career in guiding?
Don’t become a guide if you want to be rich!
You need to be completely passionate about sharing your love of biking, and the places it can take you, with others, not just passionate about riding your bike. They are two very different things.
You need to treat it as a profession, not just a hobby if you want to make a living from guiding, and be prepared to work hard, for not much money. It takes time to build up experience and a reputation once you have actually completed all your guiding qualifications… They really are just the start!
Remember that riding the bike is the easiest part of the job, the working with and being responsible for people part of it is the hardest. Dealing with problems, making decisions that you know not everyone will like, managing personality clashes and mixed abilities within a group so that everyone has a good time, being positive and cheerful even when you’re having a bad day, answering the same question one hundred times a day without losing patience.
If you’re happy with all of this, then it’s the best job in the World!
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
I have spent 5 years living as a nomad, spending a lot of time in my van, at my parent’s house, or living on the floors of friends, and living off savings. I don’t have an expensive lifestyle which means I’ve been able to make it work and live off not a lot of money for a number of years.
I gave up any sense of a “normal” life years ago, weekends no longer exist, neither do summer holidays or racing, that’s when I need to work. I have found other ways to supplement my income to make a living from guiding, working as a ski instructor in the winter, writing for magazines, working in bike shops, doing work for mapping companies or anything really.
I have worked hard to build up relationships as an ambassador with companies in the bike industry over a number of years so that some of my equipment and kit is provided in return for blogging, social media obligations, and promoting brands.
Did you have day jobs that you had to give up?
I used to be a physiotherapist, but the decision to give that up was sort of an easy one. After Gareth died I would have found it hard to go back to my “old life” and trying to recreate the life that I had before, but without the person who was the biggest part of that life there. I needed a new start, and guiding became it.
Where next for you?
Keep riding my bike! I’ll be working for other companies still, whilst I slowly build up Endless Trails and learn more about running a business myself. I’d love to run point to point journey type trips both in the UK and abroad, as these are the kind of rides I love most myself. I have a few ideas for these already, watch this space.
From a personal point of view, the list of places I want to ride grows daily… but an off-road bike-packing trip to South America is next on the cards I think…
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
Ha! I feel like I’m at an Oscar speech or something! But actually, come to think of it, yes!
If it hadn’t been for Gareth, my late husband, I would never have developed the love for biking that I have now, and I will be forever grateful for the many amazing times we shared on bike adventures together, and the memories of these. I’d also like to blame him for the fact I have become a total bike tart that loves pimping up bikes with expensive shiny parts… Somewhere I have no doubt he is laughing to himself about this!
For my parents, who instilled in my sisters and me a love of the outdoors from an early age, taught us that you can do anything you want if you work hard enough at it, and who have supported me throughout the hardest moments of my life, and encouraged me to ultimately pursue what makes me happy, whether they understood my love of mountain biking and type 2 fun adventures or not!
For all the friends who have willingly (or unwillingly?) been persuaded on an adventure and trusted me that it would be fun (sometimes type 2).
And finally to Tom, for putting up with someone who’s lifestyle and work pattern is anything but normal, but supporting me none-the-less, and agreeing to see where the next part of this adventure calls life takes us.