I didn’t grow up in the mountains or wilderness but being outside was a big part of my childhood and formation. I distinctly remember lying on the ground watching ants go about their day, exploring overgrown corners of local parks and fields, building dens and climbing trees, long summer days intentionally lost on my bike. Despite this I didn’t grasp the value of nature and the outside world until much later.
A bike and camp trip at 21 across France to Barcelona started to nurture the seed. Over 6 weeks I fell into the rhythm of waking with the sun, living outside, learning about the world as I moved. I wanted more. When I got back to the UK I was determined to cycle further, maybe around the world. I told everyone about my dream, started to work in a bike shop and hoped to meet someone that shared the dream, going alone was just too scary.
I got lost. City life, late nights, hangovers, job promotions, possessions filling my flat and a growing disappointment in myself. I became deeply unhappy, scarily underweight and not sure how to save myself. Except…I knew. I knew that cycling would help me. I knew I would develop an appetite of almost embarrassing voracity. From the moment I said, “f*ck it”, life started to feel better. As I sold all my belongings and built up my bike, bought an expensive tent to be my new home and reduced my “baggage” to what could be carried on my bike, my simpler life filled with joy.
I headed east with a vague plan and a knotted stomach that eased after the first day on the road. I was free. I still had an “occupation”, I got up each morning and put a shift in on my bike, bedding down at night suitably tired. I’ll talk more about my bike trips and countries visited in another post but on this trip I made it to Singapore, overland. Another trip saw me ride from Mexico through to Ecuador.
Coming back to the UK with few possessions and little desire to rejoin the labour market without a plan to temper my wanderlust and fernweh*, I started to look at legitimate ways to turn what I loved into a living. I wasn’t convinced that taking tourists on bike trips would be right for me, that would remain my private pleasure, but I had started to think about the outdoor leadership qualifications available in the UK, specifically the Mountain Leader award. I still hadn’t spent that much time in true wilderness. My bike trips had kept me close to the roads, or what was locally considered as such. I had spent many hours dreamily looking off into mountain scapes but had common sense enough to know that some more appropriate kit and advanced navigation skills than needed on the road would see me right. I adapted well and soon felt comfortable thanks to a resilience and self assurance formed during my travels. It took me around 2 years from start to finish – gaining experience, attending training, more experience, assessment and a small reassessment on the bit I messed up. It was enough time to confirm that this was an industry for me. It was a natural step, quite soon after passing, to sign up for yet more training, study and assessment. This time for the International Mountain Leader and about 3 years in all. During this time I met Paul, the other half of Lightfoot Adventures, and we started running our own events. I’ve worked freelance as a mountain leader since 2014 and an IML since 2018. I’ve worked across the UK and the world leading groups in places as diverse as France, Romania, E’Swatini, Borneo, Ecuador and many more.
For any questions about the process of becoming a mountain leader feel free to contact us. We’ll also be doing future blog posts about this and our journeys through qualification.
*Fernweh – a longing for far off places, German