Above: Catherine, Euan, Donald and Chris eye up the descent to follow.
Sharing a lunchtime ride with H+I Adventures, by Ross Bell
I can’t explain it. Whenever my car wheels point north and head for the Highlands an overriding child-like sense of adventure comes over me, and this time was no different. I’d met a slice of the H+I Adventures crew at the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Conference late last year and instantly gelled over a few beers and big days in the saddle; in an age with an abundance of faceless companies I had no prejudgement, the only experience I’d had of H+I was with the guide’s personas.
Naturally when meeting new people who are fellow bikers, talk quickly turns to riding spots and home trails. Although H+I’s team stretches across many exotic corners of the globe, the founders of H+I Adventures, Euan Wilson and Catherine Shearer originally branched out a stone’s throw from Inverness in the north of Scotland, in terms of not only the company but life as well. In a bid to escape the grind and crowds of city life they looked to their passion in the outdoors and countryside and it led them north and into the birth of what is H+I Adventures. The office is still based there today, only with a growing team and that’s where I was heading under the promise of coffee and swooping local trails.
Trucking ten minutes down the coastline from Inverness my SatNav spits me off the main road and into a little courtyard with a mirage of brightly coloured Yetis racked up outside, that’ll be me in the right place then… I was greeted by Donald who’d gone into full winter mode with a beard and a surprising sprouting of leg hair that he’d hoped would camouflage him from his roadie background. In the office Donald is in charge of design and details, as well as being resident DJ with a questionable music choice.
“they looked to their passion in the outdoors and countryside and it led them north and into the birth of what is H+I Adventures”
I was glad to see Euan had survived his three arduous weeks of ‘researching’ in Chile and was back to riding Scottish slop to keep him real, which is usually the job of wife and business partner Cat who also keeps the whole team out of too much mischief and all of the tours running seamlessly. The office team is normally four strong with logistics guru John, but unfortunately feeling poorly meant John, or ‘Slasher’ as he’s known, couldn’t join us on the trails, so his wheels could sleep easy for another day or two… Making the trip up from Aviemore was guide Chris Gibbs who was the first of the team I’d met, and who’d dragged my Bambi-like legs many miles through the Cairngorms.
Straddling that work/life balance is difficult in most jobs, but with a guiding company there is quite obviously a mountain of admin and staring deep into computer screens that needs to be done to keep the tours plain sailing. But if you were to arrive at the office at lunchtime you may well find the computer seats empty and the workshop bikeless.
There’s a common and rather obvious theme running through everyone connected to H+I Adventures. Bikes. The company sprouted from a passion for mountain biking and its growth stems from that same passion, making any opportunity to hit the trails one that’s taken, and one that I’d be a part of for today!
Above: Getting ready to hit the trails straight out the office
Mountain biking with H+I Adventures
The local hill branded ‘The Mast’ was our playground for a few hours with the signal towers looming large from the office. After a lacklustre start it looked like winter had finally got a hold with the frost glistening and crunching under our wheels. We were soon warmed up as we hammered down on the pedals through the farmland and into the forest; Euan and Donald setting the pace at the front. After around thirty minutes of climbing we’re standing at the entrance to a ribbon of singletrack cutting its way into the lichen-lined forest, the kind of trails I used to long for, flicking through the pages of UK bike mags.
“a ribbon of singletrack cutting its way into the lichen-lined forest, the kind of trails I used to long for”
After Chris shared a few stories of past mishaps and we’d caught our breath we were diving into the top turns in a fluoro coloured train, cranking the bike over into the tacky dirt I couldn’t help but grin as I tried to hang onto the coattails of Euan and was heckled from behind, become increasingly ragged in my pursuit. For such a small hill the terrain is diverse, the top is steep with undulating turns before the bottom becomes faster, straighter and rockier where Chris comes into his own and bulldozes straight through everything, and Donald’s limbs start to fly and poke from the bike as he pinballs across the trail. Eventually we’re spat out by the fence line and with a round of fist bumps heading for home, a warm bowl of Cat’s homemade soup waiting to defrost us.
Above and below: Shredding the local trails before heading back to base for a quick bite and getting back to the grind
Time to Reflect
Sitting round the old oak table in what was an old stable, it’s easy to the see the company’s close-knit dynamic and personality. The locations may stretch across the globe but everyone is unified by their love for getting out on the trails, be it ten minutes from the office, on the steep slopes of the Norwegian fjords or high in the Himalayas. The office has a good balance meaning trail time is savoured, so there’s no dilly-dallying after lunch when it comes to getting back to work. There’s fresh adventures to be discovered tomorrow…