Over the New Year I took off my mountain bike leader's hat and became a client on a Saddle Skedaddle holiday to Portugal. As well as running Bike Guide Devon, last year I also worked with a partner to set up The Lighthouse, a shared workspace in my local town of Sidmouth. It's now up and running (and I'm writing this blog there), but November and December were really busy, and by Christmas I was mentally exhausted. I needed to clear my head.
What better way to do it than get on my bike, discover a different culture and country and meet a friendly bunch of people to ride with. Even better, we were blessed with clear, sunny days for all five days we were riding.
The holiday comprised five days of riding in the countryside around Lisbon. For those of you who know East Devon, there were similarities. Nothing flat, lots of up and down, some of it quite steep, but none of the climbs too long. Great views, often to the sea. But of course the countryside, the architecture, the vegetation and the people were all new and different.
We had leaders front and back, and were all given a GPS with the day's route on it. This isn't something I've had before on a mountain bike holiday, and it was brilliant. We were often in woodland - mainly cork oaks and beautiful pine trees - with lots of junctions. The GPS meant we could all ride at our own comfortable pace, without having lots of stop-start at every crossroads.
There was a good mixture of different types of riding with both fire track (often made more interesting with deep gullies caused by water run off) and singletrack, some of which was quite technical. There were easier routes for those who didn't want to ride technical singletrack. I don't know if it was planned that way, but each day the riding got better and better, culminating with a fabulous day's ride along the coast.
We were looked after by an amazing team. Antonio has been running Saddle Skedaddle holidays in Portugal since the early 90s and has honed the operation so it is totally smooth running. His wife Berta made sure we were well fed with delicious home cooked lunches every day. They were a highlight of the holiday, with different treats every day, and a selection of cakes. While I knew that I should moderate what I ate so as not to get indigestion on the next climb, it was almost impossible to resist!
There were eight of us on the holiday and, unusually in my experience, it was 50:50 men and women. While there were different levels of fitness, speed, technical ability it didn't matter. As we had the GPS to follow there was no feeling of having to try and keep up. Sometimes I'd be riding in a group and chatting away. Other times I'd ride by myself, enjoying the peace, the views, being in nature, and and discovering a new country.
It's amazing how being on my bike in a new place I just forgot all the worries and the to-do lists that come with starting a new business. I went home physically tired, but mentally refreshed.