Lying beside a campfire under a blanket of stars and being the first to see the sun rise in a remote and spectacular landscape far away from civilisation.
The thrill of speed and wind in your face as you hurtle through a sun-dappled forest, skipping and gliding over rocks and drops, butterflies in your tummy, heart racing with joy.
These are just some of the simple pleasures I have experienced in my life due to a love for mountain biking and hiking, which have allowed me to explore new places and discover incredible natural wonders.
I don’t claim to be the worlds most well-travelled and I’m fully aware that I have only scraped the tip of the iceberg in what’s out there, but you know what? I feel privileged and fortunate to of experienced these few things. Yet on the same hand I feel saddened to know that many others out there, may have not.
I thought it was time to write something about why I started Tyres and Soles. I often feel that there is this divide between bikers and hikers and it infuriates me! Why? Because there really is no need. We all want the same things but for some reason we have forgotten the art of communication. But first, let’s go back a little bit in time…
Where Did It All Start For Me?
I was raised on a farm in West Wales, Pembrokeshire, where I was left to run wild on the farm, and further afield across the Preseli Mountains. Life was simple and always an adventure, be it by bike or by foot. I loved being outside running around, climbing trees, riding my bike and eating worms. Back then it was all fun to me, and still is today. I don’t eat worms anymore.
Fast forward quite a few years and shortly after getting married, my wife and I decided to emigrate to Australia, as you do. When we arrived down under we quickly wanted to explore and be out in nature as much as possible, and the great weather in Australia allowed us to do just that.
In general, in Sydney anyway, it doesn’t rain for the majority of the year as it does in the UK. Yes, that may be a little unfair but the difference is really that dramatic. I urge you to go and live there for thirty years and you’ll see what I mean.
When the Bush is not the Bush
Once we settled, we started exploring the surrounding countryside with short day walks into what the Australians so lovingly call, “the bush”. I have to say right now, the Aussie outback is so much more than a bush. It’s frigging WILD out there!
It should be called the WILD. “Hey honey, lets go walking in the WILD this weekend” or “lets go WILD walking”. I think that would be a much more appropriate word for it.
The more we explored, the more our sense of adventure grew. We wanted to experience the more remote areas and longer trips. We didn’t have the skills to do this and certainly didn’t want to risk getting into a sticky situation out there in the wild, as so many people do each year, sometimes with tragic outcomes. So, we started looking for clubs to join. This would introduce us to more experienced bushwalkers who could pass their knowledge on to us.
New Skills and Understanding
After some searching we found a great club called The Sydney Bushwalkers. Once joined, we started to learn a wealth of new skills and gained a better understanding of the bush and how to keep ourselves safe out there. This was an exciting time for us both. Our scope for adventure was opening up before us.
Amongst all the things we learned, being able to navigate by map and compass has been by far the most important for us. These skills broadened our understanding of the landscape and allowed us to venture further into those remote areas we were seeking.
A Slower Pace
Walking through the Australian bush will reveal things that you wouldn’t necessarily spot when riding. You get to appreciate the details of every tree, every bush, every rock and every plant that you pass. You can reach out and touch it all.
Animals stay around a little longer before disappearing into the bush. Things are just that bit calmer and more serene.
Of course, I’m not saying this doesn’t happen when riding, but I cannot deny that walking through the bush will reward you with different sights and experiences.
A Faster Pace
I’ve always been into riding bikes, it’s been in my blood since I can remember. The thrill of flying downhill, the challenge of a gruelling climb and the physical skills and mental aptitude needed to master a bike over varied and challenging terrain, are just some of the many things why I love it. And most of all, it’s that incredible feeling and state of mind called ‘flow‘ that you can achieve when you get to a higher level or riding ability.
Riding a mountain bike seems to be a never ending learning curve of which, I am still firmly on after nearly thirty years of riding, and you know what? I’m totally good with that. I think once you stop learning, you can quickly lose interest.
I don’t know about you but I need a good dose of adrenaline now and again, and mountain biking gives me an endless supply of that. But mainly, the reasons I love mountain biking are the same reasons I love to hike. It’s about being out there in nature.
The different experiences gained from both hiking and biking have opened up a new world of adventure and a smorgasbord of incredible experiences and memories for my wife and I.
Skills That Traverse Both Activities
There are many beneficial aspects of hiking and biking that cross over both activities. The emotions you go through when scrambling along an exposed section of trail or dealing with daunting obstacles on a trail you’ve never ridden before.
Outside Your Comfort Zone
When riding, the decision to commit to a gap jump bigger than anything you’ve done before or when scrambling an exposed section of rock reaching for a handhold just out of grasp, will bring on emotions that push you outside your comfort zone. This is that magic place where we can surprise ourselves. This is where we grow, mentally and physically.
Being in Nature Helps Everyday Life Skills
The balance of risk versus reward is constantly on your mind and you will get better at judging this over time. There will be times when you will have to make a decision in a split second, drawing from all your past experinces and applying the skills you have learnt.
I can say that I have accumulated a wealth of skills from being out in the wild that have benefited my day-to-day life greatly such as; planning, leadership, communication and the ability to think rationally and clearly when under stress.
Let’s Get Physical
Now, that’s just the mental skills. What about the physical?
Hiking requires endurance, stamina, coordination and balance. The ability to get over obstacles, cross rivers, rock hop, scramble (which is one level down from actually needing a rope), route finding, and then of course carrying a pack for long periods of time.
All of these require a strong and flexible body and if you don’t have one before, you will after a few months of just getting out there and doing it.
Long distance hiking also requires a certain level of stoicism, not unlike cross country mountain biking.
Mountain biking requires balance, coordination, explosive power and endurance. The ability to translate fast approaching terrain and push your body into physical actions, recover and on to the next challenge, over and over again, is a physically demanding process.
If you’ve ever partaken in interval training at a gym, then this comes pretty close to it.
When you combine both activities, you begin to see similarities but also subtle differences to how these are applied in practice. The take away from both would be great core strength and balance combined with endurance and explosive power. I think that’s a bloody good combination of physical attributes to have.
So Why Doesn’t Everybody Do Both?
The hiking and biking communities are some of the friendliest we’ve ever been a part of. People look out for each other and are willing to help, no matter what. You really can trust your life with them. So, we get annoyed and saddened when we hear the whole hikers .vs bikers bullshit!
Unfortunately there are some bad apples out there on both sides, not making it any easier for this relationship to work. Luckily these are in the minority.
We hear of MTB trails being built without any real understanding of the damage it may be causing to surrounding plant and animal life or precious and culturally important aboriginal sites. And on the other side of the coin, we hear of alarming stories of trail destruction that can cause serious accidents for riders, even stories of wire being attached at neck height along trails! Seriously! What is wrong with people!?
We hear stories from both sides of the coin, and it never seems to get any closer to being resolved. But the thing is, it really can work.
Hiking and Biking In Harmony
A place we went to find out about for ourselves recently, was the hidden gem of Tathra, situated on the New South Wales Sapphire Coast. The local riders and volunteers from the community have all worked together with BALC (Bega Aboriginal Lands Council) to create over 50kms of safe, environmentally sustainable multi-purpose tracks.
If this can be achieved here, then why can’t it be replicated elsewhere?
Listening To Each Other
Listening to each others needs and wants is one part, but also understanding the importance of sustainable trail building is the the other, and that goes for both hikers and bikers. Perhaps MTB and hiking clubs need a helping hand? Perhaps advice and guidance from groups where this is actually working?
I understand that every area needs to be treated differently. Where it works in one location, it may not work in another and that’s fine, we can accept that, so long as we know the facts. We need to continue to work with experienced trail builders, conservationists, landowners and local councils, together on the same page.
I’m not going to go on about how I think we should tackle these things because to be honest, I don’t really know. What I do know is that there are much more experienced people than myself currently working hard on achieving these goals and making promising progress. I just hope we can speed things up a little. We seem to be drowning in red tape.
We All Want The Same Thing
Whether we find enjoyment by bike or by foot, we all want the same thing. We want to venture forth into the wild. We want to feel and experience its power and energy. See and hear the wonders it contains. To be in a place that calls out to our inner explorer.
Sometimes a place to be pushed beyond our comfort zones where we learn new skills and discover things about ourselves we never thought possible.
Other times, a place where we go to find calm and peace. To wash our brains of the madness that is life, to re-set and gain some perspective on things.
So if you’ve ever wanted to try hiking or biking and come from different camps, then stop procrastinating! Just go and do it now, while you still can. Variety is the spice of life and I truly believe in that over-used and cheesy saying.
So when you’re next out there give a little thought for both hikers and bikers and don’t be so quick to judge each other. They are people just like you, who love being out there enjoying the same things as you do, albeit either by bike or by foot.
Hiking and biking may be from different chapters but it’s all from the same book. So lets raise our glasses and propose a toast to getting on the same page…clink, clink!