From grief stricken widow to mountain bike monopoly mogul...that´s what the click bait title to this story would be, but Julia Hobson is so much more real-life than that. What she has risen from and the life she has created for herself has been a process, bit by bit, day by day, year by year to find herself 8 years on from the tragic death of her husband running her own MTB guiding business, cherishing his memory in the mountains and taking control of her own happiness. Life is short, unpredictable and uncontrollable, but you can take control of your own responses and you can take control of your own contentment. Julia is an unwitting inspiration, having been forced to learn lessons the hard way, but in living what she has learnt, quietly and unobtrusively, we can all realise that making the life you want, no matter what gets thrown your way, is 100% possible.

Anyway, it´s the New Year. It´s 2020. It´s the perfect time for assessing our life goals and picking people to follow as they embark on new adventures. So let´s follow Julia as she takes on another MTB guiding business to add to one she already has, she is expanding, taking on new challenges and living a dream lifestyle for anyone who loves 2-wheels. It will likely be a taxing and busy year and we have every faith in it´s success. Today she shares with us how she got here and what´s to come…

At first, I thought we could avoid the topic of losing Gareth. This story is supposed to be about business growth and new challenges in 2020, but what is now obvious is that it is essential to talk about him. What happened to Gareth and the impact of that on Julia is the catalyst for where she has ended up today. Gareth will always be part of Julia´s story. So for a moment, we´ll go back there, to where Julia´s old life ended and her new one began.

“My late husband, Gareth, and I decided to take a year off work. Quit our jobs and go travelling around the world for a year. He passed away in an accident whilst travelling. In my search through grief and in just trying to build a new life for myself I did some mountain bike guiding qualifications, just for something to do really. Something that was connected to mountain biking, something I enjoyed and a way into just any kind of work, because I had about 12 months where I couldn´t do any work. I was just really depressed, really devastated, not knowing what I was going to do.”

Not thinking long-term, Julia landed her first job in Tenerife for a summer. Enjoying it so much she just decided that she would keep pursuing things that made her happy. She hadn´t ruled out going back to physiotherapy (which she previously worked in), but it felt a bit too much like trying to pick up the pieces of an old life. Mountain bike guiding wasn´t just something new, it was also therapeutic and healing.

“I switch off my phone, and just go out on my own or with friends, in the mountains. It feels so good...It´s a little bit of everything, being in nature, being in the mountains, I´m not a religious person but I feel spiritual and a connection to Gareth and my past in the mountains. You can reset, take a deep breath and enjoy what you are doing, being grateful that you can do it.”

In some ways it was easier than quitting a job and taking a leap into doing something new. Not that it was easy of course, but Julia recognises that it was circumstance that led her down this path that could be extremely daunting for someone else in a stable situation. But if you do take that leap, it might just well pay off because as much as you may be warned that getting a job in something that is your hobby with destroy your love for it, Julia will disagree!

Her advice for keeping the flame alive is to remember that there is biking that you do for work, which is different to the type of biking that you´ll in your personal time. You have to make time for both.

“I´m now in a really good place in my life. You don´t move on as such, but you sort of compartmentalise that part of your life. My life now is great and I´m really happy, with what I´m doing, with my friends and my cherished memories with my husband Gareth, but there are definitely days where you remember everything and it feels like everything is going to come crashing down again. Mountain biking really helps with those days.”

There are loads of articles, forums and groups out there aimed at the “female entrepreneur”, especially when they are in a male dominated world. What I love about Julia is that she doesn´t make a “thing” about it (I wonder if it even crosses her mind?), she´s just courageously building a life she loves. So, business. How? When? What? Ahh!! How hard is it to buck The System and start something well and truly your own?

Julia doesn´t credit it down to some magic formula or even to 5-year plans but simply to doing what feels right at any given moment and not biting off more than you can chew. “My philosophy after Gareth died was just to live one day at a time, because ultimately none of us have any idea about the future. You can have all the plans in the world but then life can suddenly throw you a massive curve ball….Yeah, it´s good to have plans, but not so much that you don´t focus on the day in front of you and the little next steps ahead.”

Wow! In your face business-gurus! Let´s remember that behind every business is a human being who wants to live a full, happy and rounded life too please. Thanks Julia!

That´s all she was doing, loving it and responding to more opportunities that came up. There came a point where with so much experience she started thinking about running her own trips, although with no major pressure. Just a couple of her own things that she likes the idea of. That´s not to say she wasn´t scared when actually doing her first ever one!

“It was really daunting because when you´re the one running it, you know that you´re the one everyone is looking to as to whether they have a good time or not.”

For her first trips she picked out the trails she knew from growing up in the Lake District which are as fantastic today as they were then. 2 long weekends with accommodation, food and transport. But it didn´t take away from the day-job as a guide for other businesses too. Slowly, she just added more trips to her menu, day trips, bike packing and even mechanics courses “Just stuff that I´d want to do myself” although that´s not a fool-proof tip for success as some trips were super successful that she is still running today, and others not so. Trial and error is the process, giving time for reflection and analysis - was it the trip itself that nobody wanted? Or was it just marketed more poorly?

And then there was the desire to start trips in her beloved French Alps, but it is a little more complicated because recently French law has really clamped down on foreign guiding businesses and there are a lot of hoops that need to be jumped through. It can put many people off from trying but Julia knew she had the experience and qualifications, so embraced the laws as a structure for protecting customers from cowboy firms without first aid knowledge or correct insurance. Seeing it through the eyes of the customer and wanting them to be fully covered and safe pushed Julia to happily cross all the t´s and dot the i´s “I´m just not very good at doing things I´m not supposed to!” Even if it took longer than she hoped.

Going through the process is not easy either, so it helped that Julia already had a lot of friends in the know and also that the MTB community is awesome! Other guides and businesses were happy to share their knowledge and support her, which is reflected in how generously Julia speaks about her “competition”. Basically, other tour operators understand that customers will not want to come back time and time again to the same place, so they openly recommend each other and swap clients over time.

As mentioned, this year is a particularly big one for Julia because alongside her current business Endless Trails, she also has taken over her old boss and friend ́s French business, Ben Jones MTB. She has incorporated the company and taken on a lot more work. So what about the time involved in running a business? Does that not mean that some treasured guiding work will have to be sacrificed for time in front of a screen?

“I´m getting older now. I can´t do that much guiding week after week! I have some freelancers who I know are good who will be doing some guiding for me. People who really know how to make decisions in remote mountains.”

The next question I asked Julia was a bit of a banger! I didn´t want to catch her out but I am super intrigued about my personal belief that mountain biking teaches you so many transferable life skills. Julia´s lifestyle and the new challenges she is taking on make her the perfect person to give some insight to this philosophy. Here is her full answer:

“That´s a really hard question! It´s a good one. It definitely does (teach you more than just riding a bike). The reason I´m struggling to answer is because I think that there must be so many tiny things that having guided for so long and having ridden for so long, that you use every day without really thinking about them anymore. I guess sort of being quite flexible to changing plans, not getting stressed or panicking about that. It´s really useful because lots of things come up in business and you have to be like “okayy, what are we going to do about that?” have to be a bit flexible and think around different ways to do things.

And I guess like, people skills. Managing a group of guests when you´re guiding...working out the psychology of how to get the best out of a group. Toning down egos...or building up people who aren´t as confident as they need to be...when you´re in the business side of things that´s super important as you meet more people, suppliers, hoteliers, accountants and if you´re a good judge of people and good at getting people on your side that´s really important. I´ve definitely learnt a lot about that just from riding with lots of different people.”

If you´re interested in going on a trip with Julia, she has some great ones lined up for 2020, including an Introduction to bike packing in the Peak District, a Hike-a-bike in Hellvelyn plus her France and Italy week long point to point trips. Check them out on her website and follow her as a person, a business-owner and inspiration on her social media…


WORDS: Anna Glowinski

PICS: Roo Fowler