Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Best Job in the World!

Crikey…it’s been ages since I wrote a blog, or even had time to sit down and think about writing! The summer guiding season has been in full swing here, and whilst I know a large proportion of my friends and family probably think my job is just a bit of bike riding followed by lots of time sitting round in the sun, I can promise you it’s not!

Since the start of June it’s been all go, with no days off. Trans-Provence guided weeks, straight into a whistle-stop trip up to the Northern Alps for a recon trip, and then straight into the start of the new “Enduro fusion trip”. Today I'm on my way up to guide a Morzine to Alpe d’Huez trip, followed by my sole week off this summer, and then back into more EFT guiding!

Crazy trails on the Morzine to Alpe d' Huez trip! (Photo: Ben Jones)
A day in my life whilst in TP guiding mode goes something like this…
Up at 6 -6.30a.m, pack bags and start loading into the van and putting bikes onto the trailer. Wolf down a quick breakfast, check guests have got all they need for the day and returned hotel keys etc, drive guests up to drop-off point. Either guide all morning, or drive the van round to the meet up point (usually a couple of hours drive) stopping on the way to buy food for a buffet-style lunch, then set up ready for guests to arrive. Either guide all afternoon, or drive the van on shuttles, and eventually to hotel. Unload bags, sort out room allocations, help guests with bike mechanical issues, quick shower, eat dinner, brief guests on the following day, collapse into bed usually about 10.30-11pm, sleep deeply, wake up and repeat…. Throw in a couple of 4.30am get-ups on a Saturday for airport transfers as well and it’s no surprise I have little problem sleeping during the summer! There’s usually about an hour to grab a coffee on a Saturday at the airport between dropping one group of guests off and picking up the next, but that is literally the only time to “chill” all week.
Above Tende with the first group of EFT guests
Despite all this, I have no complaints and I honestly believe that I have the best job in the World. The long and busy days, constant fatigue, responsibility for safety and wellbeing of guests, necessity to be cheerful and chatty and fun every minute of the day, and lack of any time to yourself….they’re nothing compared to having to sit inside an office all day and count down the hours until home-time!

It's not always sunny but it's always fun on TP weeks!
This year’s TP trips passed by in a flash. Good guests, fun trails, no major injuries….
Unfortunately I had a slight disagreement with a barely visible, thin metal fence post at the side of the trail, that I managed to clip on a descent with my little finger. One minute I was cruising down the trail, the next I was stopped dead, wincing with the most intense pain in my finger and hand wondering what had suddenly happened. I hadn’t seen it at all. Fortunately it was at the end of the day and near the bottom of the last trail, so I was able to roll down to the van before the pain became too much to hold on. Convincing myself I’d just sprained the ligaments between the bones in my hand, I dosed myself up with strong anti-inflammatories, taped it up, grabbed ice-packs for it whenever I could, and carried on guiding the rest of the week. When 2 weeks later, it was looking no better, and as soon as I stopped taking strong painkillers I was in agony, I began to think that it might be broken. The problem is, finding somewhere to get an x-ray in rural France when you’re in a different village each night and the days are so busy and full is pretty much impossible. It wasn’t bad enough to warrant not working, so I chose the “ignore it and it’ll go away approach”. Anyway, four weeks on, I can ride without taping it or taking painkillers, and have near-enough full movement…but as the swelling as gone down, I still have enough residual physio palpation skills to know exactly what an x-ray would show me…
Enduro Fusion Tour guests on the hike up to Big Dog Zone
Anyway, I decided to make this summer even more busy for myself by taking on a couple of weeks extra work for Ben, a guy who was working for Ash on the TP last summer, who has now set up his own company running similar style adventure biking trips in the Northern Alps ( So in between the TP guided weeks finishing, and the EFT starting, I dragged myself out of bed at the start of my “week off” at 4am to go and catch a flight up to Geneva to help Ben and Chris do some final trail-reconnaissance for the MAD (Morzine-Alpe d’Huez) trip I’d be guiding in August. By early afternoon, I was out on the hills of the Haute Savoie, riding with Ben and Rich. Well, riding may not be the correct word…I was actually fighting my way through a section of jungle (to call it a trail would just be lying) in the pouring rain, wondering why I’d left behind the sunny south, and thinking that this didn’t really resemble the “ribbons of endless singletrack through Alpine meadows” that Ben had used to tempt me into coming along…!

Rich carrying up a section that even HE couldn't ride!

Ben and Chris in full trail-scouting mode
We eventually battled our way out, decided that trail was not a “keeper” for the trip, and went in search of better things. We found them thankfully, and despite Rich and Ben insisting on throwing themselves off their bikes on steep wet slippery hillsides, we managed to roll down just before it got dark, to a van full of dry kit, pizza, and whiskey!

The rest of the week was great. Long days out exploring new trails in incredible places. A LOT of walking, pushing and carrying, but also some of the most mind-blowingly good riding I’ve ever done. And also some of the most insane! Rich kept us entertained with his insistence on trying to ride absolutely everything, even when there was no way it could end well, and Chris‘s demonic grin when he noticed there was a trail marked on the map descending a sheer vertical  cliff that we could ride is still giving me nightmares.

We did find those ribbons of singletrack that Ben promised in the end! (Photo: Ben Jones)

Lots of them!
On the second day of the trip, it was the 13th July, Gareth’s birthday….And we ended up on a suitably epic adventure that Gareth himself would have been proud of. Never before have I had to kick steps into and up a near vertical mud slope, whilst trying to lift a bike above me, to get out of a totally impenetrable forest. Not just a few trees to walk around and over and under, I mean fully impenetrable….even just walking through without a bike would have been virtually impossible. It took probably an hour to cover a few hundred meters! We had some of the gnarliest rocky trails I’ve ever taken a bike on, via ferrata down the side of a waterfall (quite scary when carrying a bike), steep narrow trails that were overgrown and hiding slippery sniper rocks to throw you off at any second, and to finish, a super exposed section along a cliff edge on which Rich discovered that the sticky rubber on Five10 shoes doesn’t help you grip on wet clay….. It wasn’t the best day’s riding I’ve ever had and we won’t be using most of the trails on the trip, but it was certainly an adventure I won’t forget for a long time, and it was  fitting that it was on a day when I was thinking of Gareth a lot, just his kind of epic adventure! 

Chris and I on an incredible long, flowing descent above La Grave (Photo: Ben Jones)
The second half of the week saw us riding unbelievably good trails with stunning backdrops of snow-covered mountains and glaciers, and I can’t wait to guide the full trip this week!

Ben shredding down a sublime section of high Alpine singletrack
It was straight back to Nice at the end of that week for the first Enduro Fusion Tour trip. For these trips we’re based in one hotel, riding the dozens of trails in the surrounding area. There is less climbing than on a TransProvence trip and more use of the van to shuttle up for long descents. Of course there’s still a bit of pushing and carrying to get to the very best trails, and the descents are long and technical and physically demanding, but a LOT of fun :)

Ash dropping in at the top of another great descent at the top end of the Roya Valley
For me it’s really nice to be in one place. I have my own Scandinavian style little log cabin up above the Auberge where the guests stay. It’s my own space, peaceful and quiet, and gives me chance to feel like I’ve got a break from work as I’m not there with the guests in the same hotel  and feeling like I’m working 24 hours a day.
Sarah and Alan riding up past the old military buildings on the Col de Tende during an EFT week
The Auberge, and my cabin, sit alone, high on a Col above the towns of Sospel and Breil sur Roya and so there is very little light or noise at night. Every night, I walk back up after dinner, gazing up at the millions of stars, with dozens of fireflies lighting the way, and the distant view of the silhouettes of mountains all around. It’s very “me”. Quiet, beautiful, and a place to make me stop and appreciate how lucky I am to be there. I wake up each morning as daylight breaks through the chalet windows, and the early morning light and mist in the valleys below gives the surrounding mountains a magical feel.

View from my front door!
There are moments this summer, for the first time since I lost Gareth, when I haven’t felt the same kind of loneliness that I have until now. I’m so busy and surrounded by people all the time that there isn’t a lot of time to feel “alone” in the same way that I did before. Maybe it’s the quiet, beautiful place I come back to each evening, and the time I have to sit and think whilst gazing at the incredible view from my front door, but I feel like he’s close by all the time, and that gives me a sense of peace and an inner strength and self-confidence in myself again that has taken a long time to find since I lost him. There are many many times when I long for his companionship, to be there on those quiet evenings, just in each other’s presence, sharing the view and the chance to be in such a special place together, and to feel that security and  feeling of being safe and protected that I had from him. I guess that’s something I didn’t even realise I felt until it was gone. But there are times now, even if I’m feeling alone and missing him, that I know he is somewhere close, that he is part of me, he’s everywhere I go and in everything I do, and that gives me the strength and courage to know that I can continue to keep slowly building this new life I’ve been making for myself. When I have moments where I’m doubting myself and anxious about what the future will bring, even though he’s physically not there, I know I will always feel his love and support encouraging me on…

Looking out over the mountains above La Grave
My beautiful Juliana Roubion is standing up well to everything I can throw at it, and is a complete joy to ride every day. I’m riding more difficult trails and sections of trail than I would have felt comfortable on last year, and riding them smoother and faster thanks to how confidence-inspiring the bike feels. I feel very lucky to have the support of such a great company behind me, and hope that as an Ambassador for Juliana Bicycles, through the guiding and racing I’m doing and the people I meet, that I can inspire other girls and women to get out and ride and have more adventures on their bikes, especially now companies like Santa Cruz/Juliana are recognising there are a lot of female shredders who want awesome bikes, and producing them for us! I’m proud and very excited to have my own little profile page on the new Juliana Bicycles website…check it out here! (

My Roubion and Chris atop another Col during our recce week
The invisiframe that Lee put on my bike when I first got it has also been Amazing, and despite 6 months of constant daily abuse on rough terrain, numerous big crashes and rock hits, loading on and off various trailers, and a few flights, it has protected the frame so well that it looks almost as shiny and new as when I first got it! I will definitely be using it on any bikes I ever have in the future, and can’t recommend it highly enough, especially to anyone with a bling carbon frame! (

Well, that’s all until the next chance I find to write! Ciao for now !


  1. Nice one Julia - hope you don't mind me pinching that pic of me carrying? :)

    1. Thanks Ian :) No worries at all with the picture... Wasn't sure you'd want a reminder of that carry up though ?! ;)