I’m not sure any of us could have predicted even at the start of the year, that 2020 would have turned out the way it has so far. At times over the last few months I have woken up and felt like I was still dreaming... a deadly virus has taken hold of the World, forcing borders to close, trade to halt, people to stay inside and cease contact with others in a bid to stop the spread...A few months ago I’d have assumed I was reading the script for a horror movie, now it’s just reality! I’m sure I’m not the only one to have felt, and still feel, like the whole situation is very surreal.

I know I’m not alone in having found my emotions all over the place too, the Corona Coaster as some people are calling it....feeling positive and optimistic one moment, and scared and anxious the next.
Like everyone, I’ve had plenty of worries...about the health of my family and friends, and about my work as the owner of a small new business operating in the tourism industry and how I would afford to pay the bills and keep food on the table. This season had been looking like a busy and successful one, and I was planning to welcome many guests to join us on mountain bike trips in the UK and abroad. Almost overnight the situation changed and all plans went out of the window, meaning the business turnover, and my income for the foreseeable future, dropped to nothing. That’s a very scary thing when there is so much uncertainty surrounding how long this situation might go on for...it’s been the cause of many sleepless nights.

But again I know I’m not alone. Living through a pandemic is tough for everyone, for different reasons. Some may have less financial worries, but feel stressed by the need to try and juggle work and childcare at home, others feel anxious because their health puts them at greater risk of falling seriously ill from catching the virus, and those on the frontline working in healthcare or care home settings must have had fears of transmitting the virus to loved ones, as well as having to put themselves at risk, and the difficult job of caring for people seriously ill and dying. I doubt anyone has found it easy adapting to a new way of life.

But despite all this, like any other time in my life when I’ve been faced with difficult situations, I’ve found it important to try and keep things in perspective and focus on the positives to mentally get me through these tough times. There are things we have little or no control over, but there are also those we do. We can choose to look at a situation in a positive way, and that can completely change your outlook and emotions about it.

Of course it’s never quite as simple as that in reality, and while this has been my goal, believe me I can’t always stick to it and negativity does creep in from time to time!

I have chosen to frequently try to remind myself of everything I have to be grateful for: I am healthy, I have a roof over my head, access to the outdoors has been allowed throughout lockdown, and I live in a place where I can easily and safely reach that from my front door.

And I have a bike. (well, a couple actually)

Bikes have been my saviour at many times in my life...and once again over the last few months, my bike has been the thing that has kept me sane. On any given day, it is normally the answer to any of my problems.

Feeling stressed and anxious? Go for a ride
Feeling grumpy and frustrated? Go for a ride
Feeling lethargic, bored and lacking motivation for anything? Go for a ride Feeling sad and down? Go for a ride

No matter the situation, any ride leaves me feeling better than I did before I set off. The power of simply turning pedals to release a whole bunch of feel-good, happy hormones into your bloodstream is incredible.
Years ago, at a particularly difficult time in my life, I came across this quote (and the man who wrote it, but that’s another story...), and to this day it’s words still ring true.

“The bicycle saves my life every day. If you've ever experienced a moment of awe or freedom on a bicycle; if you've ever taken flight from sadness to the rhythm of two spinning wheels, or felt the resurgence of hope pedalling to the top of a hill with the dew of effort on your forehead; if you've ever wondered, swooping bird-like down a long hill, if the world was standing still; if you have ever, just once, sat on a bicycle with a singing heart and felt like an ordinary human touching the gods, then we share something fundamental. We know it's all about the bike.”

― Robert Penn

Can anyone else empathise with those words? I know I can.

For me, a ride is an escape. From a reality that frankly I’m not entirely happy to be part of right now. But while it’s an escape FROM the constant stream of negative virus news, it’s also an escape TO nature. And that’s been a good way to keep perspective. Despite it often feeling currently like the World is in total turmoil, life in the natural world goes on unaffected. Seasons change, wildflowers bloom, trees blossom and hedgerows turn green. Birdsong fills the air, migrating birds return, trails dry out, the temperature warms up. I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly noticed all these things more than ever this year. Perhaps it’s being in one place and observing daily subtle changes more clearly? Perhaps it’s because life has slowed down so there’s less rush and more time to notice things around me? Perhaps it’s because in trying to escape the negativity all around me I’m more actively searching for those positive little signs, things to be grateful for and that make me smile?

By this time of year, I’d normally be busy guiding all over the UK, and looking forward to a summer based out in the Alps, guiding week-long holidays, sharing beautiful places, incredible trails, and good times with like-minded riders from all over the World.
This year is the first in 20 years where it looks like I’ll be spending a full summer in the UK...that has taken some getting my head around.

I’ve had to try and turn the disappointment into a question of what CAN I still do rather than lamenting what I cannot. Of course, there’s still not really any option to plan big adventures just yet, even within the UK, so for now the focus has been brought even closer to home.

We’ve all been confined to doorstep adventures. For those of you lucky enough to be living in the mountains that might not have felt too hard. I live on the edge of a large Northern city. Bradford, to be exact. Not a place many would associate with a doorstep ripe for adventure, myself included.

It’s why I’m rarely at home in the spring and summer months, choosing instead to venture to more beautiful wild places with bigger mountains and more places to explore. But it is home, and home is where most of us have been stuck a lot recently.

The lockdown, I’m slowly realising, has been a good thing though. I’m not talking about for the health and safety of the nation, we all already know that...I’m talking about for re-engaging with our local areas and appreciating what’s right under our noses.
I’ve realised that it doesn’t matter where you are, adventure is always there waiting if you are prepared to modify your expectations and perceptions of what it is, and be more creative in finding it! I've traveled far and wide but before now had done very little from my door. This has been the perfect reason to change that and discover more locally. Discover in fact, that I’ve been missing out on so much that’s been there all this time, overlooked for what I thought were bigger and better places.

It’s forced me to look closer at the map, examine details I’ve simply skipped over before. Where does that trail go? Is that disused railway actually rideable? How can I link together all those little bits of urban trail into a fun loop? Does that trail work better up, or down? What’s the most fun way to ride from my door to the nearest MTB trails?

I’ve had time to go down trails I'd never bothered with before just to see what was there. I’ve ridden every bit of bridleway I could see on the map and explored quiet back lanes to get to know my local area better...and it's been great. I’ve found brilliant trails really close to where I live (and also some I will definitely not bother riding again!).

To keep my motivation as the weeks dragged on, I’ve come up with little challenges for myself. New forms of “adventure”.
I planned a ride between the Ten nearest Trig points that are marked on the map around my house. Yes, even in an urban place like Bradford there are trig points, they are not only found on high mountain tops! My favourite might have been the one that was right in someone’s front garden!

I’ve learnt about Ordnance Survey benchmarks (little marks cut into stone and used to survey the land and measure elevation above sea level before satellites) and been out spotting them on old buildings and walls (I wrote about it in an Ordnance Survey blog too! ​https://getoutside.ordnancesur... felt like my own secret coded treasure hunt.
I’ve taken part in the Trash Free Trails #SelfLESSisolation project, clearing litter from local woodland trails while out on walks and rides, and noticed previously scruffy paths beginning to look like nature intended once again. (h​ttps://www.trashfreetrails.org/post/i... even found myself enjoying road riding and occasionally been seen riding in lycra (shock horror!)...this really is an unusual time!! I put this enjoyment down to the fact there are less cars on the road and I’m less scared!

I’ve discovered historical buildings and learnt more about the history of the city and it’s surrounding areas. Old mills, derelict factories, once great buildings with ornate stone carvings from a time when Bradford was one of the wealthiest cities in the North. Cobbled streets, packhorse trails, canal towpaths, all relics of times gone by.

I’ve discovered pockets of secret wilderness right here amongst the urban sprawl of a West Yorkshire city. Carpets of bluebells in ancient woodlands, moorlands full of curlews and lapwings on the edge of the city, overlooking old mills. Deer that live in a small area of woodland nestled amongst urban streets.

I’ve found places to escape from other people and feel solitude even though there are hundreds of thousands of people living within easy access of the same spaces.

All in all, I’ve learnt to love where I live just a little bit more. It’s got a charm I didn't appreciate before, that on the surface is easy to miss, but delve deeper and there is so much to be discovered.
I’ve missed having access to adrenalin-inducing trails that plunge from the top of mountains down to valleys below, and I’ve really missed riding with my friends, but I’ve been reminded that these are not the only things I love about riding bikes. Exploring new places and new trails by bike, wherever they are, is something I truly love.

I still can't wait to get back to the wide open spaces of the big mountains once we’re allowed, but I'll never dismiss or take my local area for granted in the same way again.
If it hadn’t been for the Virus and the lockdown, I might never have explored even half of what I’ve found from my doorstep, and so while the uncertainty continues, I’m reminding myself that there is always something to be grateful for in every situation.

There really is a silver lining to every cloud.