The New Year is a time for reflection and progression. Many of you will be looking back at last years riding, making plans for new trips and maybe even thinking about wholesale lifestyle changes….A career in mountain biking maybe? Here is a tale from springtime 2013 about a couple who made that jump in to something special..
Close your eyes and think of your dream job. Imagine that it is something that is allied to your obsession for mountain bikes and allows you to ride remote empty trails with happy paying punters. Now imagine that you are married to a partner who has a passion and talent for food and entertaining. Finally, imagine finding and securing a rural farmhouse in an idyllic situation with room to build a guiding and accommodation business and most importantly, wild trails leading right from your doorstep. Click. Click. Click. You just have to hand it to them. They have it made.
Nikki and Jay of MudTrek are living the dream. It would be easy to be envious, but envy is a strange old emotion that has no place in the fun filled world of mountain bikes. No, envy will not do. Instead you just have to stand back and hand it to them and take heart that sometimes good people can win. I am sure that it took them a lot of heartache, sweat and tears to get where they are today, and please rest assured that it took several years planning and four years of working at the business to get to today’s position.… but Jay and Nikki have got it made.
The Dudley Express vehicle raced west from the Midlands through Mid-Wales. Busy main roads gave way to quiet back roads, which in turn gave way to single track mountain roads and moorland passes. The sat-nav was insistent on taking me the scenic route but Mother Nature had other ideas. As I progressed through the heath land and moorland to Devils Bridge, Wales was wearing the meteorological equivalent of a Burka: her awesomeness shrouded in a thick mist. Like a stripper in a dressing gown, all the best bits were covered up. The last of the evening sun had disappeared hours before and had been replaced by a cloudy night with an oppressive feel. It was trying to rain…We were in Wales after all. It was with tired eyes that I bounced the van down the dirt track that presents you at the door of MudTrek, Brechfa, Wales.
The welcome to the farmhouse could not have been a greater contrast. As myself and companion Kevin arrived, beagles danced around our feet, introductions were made and beer was thrust into our hands. Nikki delivered piles of homemade lasagne to the large dining table to satiate our rumbling bellies. As the conversation flowed, Nikki and Jay relayed the story of what had brought them to Brecha. It is a tale that has some twists and turns, from the military, to professional singing, to corporate hospitality, through reality TV property shows, before finally placing the couple in Brechfa with a thriving business.
They had a dream of bringing a fully catered Alpine ski hut experience to mountain biking in the UK. The idea was that clients would be pampered a little with homemade Welsh breakfasts, packed lunches and massive portions of homemade evening meals to help repair tired bodies.
Jay explained, “ We had a very strong idea that a lot of mountain bikers like the idea of roughing it but not the reality of it; we wanted to build a place where our clients could work hard out on the trails and come back to comfort. We had experienced for ourselves how great a fully catered Alpine chalet ski holiday could be and it seemed that it could translate to my passion for mountain biking in an attractive way for paying customers”. So a plan was born: Nikki, a self-proclaimed foodie, would handle the catering whilst Jay would handle guiding duties.
Finding the right property and location proved a struggle. They eventually found the farmhouse on the fringes of Brechfa Forest with enough room to build the accommodation from stone quarried out of the land the buildings were built on. The result is two conjoined lodges that can accommodate six and eight bikers respectively with the option to hire both and open the main doors between the buildings to create one huge lodge for up to 12 guests. The business finally sprang into life two and a half years ago and they have made a fantastic go of it, even winning some tourism and business awards along the way and receiving rave reviews in the mainstream press.
Due to the popularity of the business, Kevin and I stayed in the farmhouse with Jay and Nikki; paying clients taking priority in the lodges. Next morning hearty breakfasts were consumed and tea guzzled as we looked out upon the cloud-wrapped welsh hillside. Bikes were unloaded and fettled and after a suitable amount of faff time, we were ready for the off. I was worried. Jay eyed my steel hard tail with suspicion; he looked at the 1X9 drive train and smiled the wry smile of a man who knew what was coming. With this nagging thought at the back of my mind, we were lead off up the dirt track away from MudTrek and out towards Brechfa Forest .
Within minutes we were cruising along a fire road surrounded by forest shrouded in an atmospheric mist. “Left here” commanded Jay and we descended quickly down a steep slate covered chute of whoops and oscillations that favoured the fast and the brave. Rocks spat out and tyres struggled for traction as we tried to control our enthusiasm on the loose and wet surface. The trail delivered us grandly into a natural bowl of forest and mountainside. Jay pointed out features as we went; keen for us to understand the depth of the off-piste riding available in Brechfa. He gesticulated enthusiastically towards a long drawn-out scar on the hillside opposite us, explaining that this descent would be our reward for the “significant” climb we were about to embark on. “I told you that you might regret that 1X9” he remarked with a wink as we headed up the lower slopes. Kev and Jay chatted enthusiastically between themselves, covering topics from business strategy to mountain bike associations. I shut up and wrestled with the smallest gear I had with all the elegance of a fat man trying to move a washing machine. Eventually I was delivered from suffering by the sight of Kev and Jay waiting by a post still chatting. Upon arrival I conceded that a smaller gear may have been helpful! After minor safety critical repairs to Kev’s Lappierre we moved on towards the promised rocky bridleway…I had never seen a brake lever held on with Elastoplast before and I hoped for the sake of Kev’s dental bills that it held.
The descent was flat out fast, wide enough to encourage you to hop and transfer between compressions and rocks. The trail’s gradient felt steeper than it appeared from across the valley and delivered acceleration in spades, like an invisible hand was pushing you faster and faster. It levelled out a little, only for steepness to be replaced by tricky bedrock slabs and loose rock: nothing too technical but it was rapid and a whole heap of fun. It was with toothy grins that we regrouped at the bottom.
The day's riding continued in this vein, fire road and tarmac limbs delivering us to fast natural bridleway descents. As we cruised towards the final climb back towards the lodge, Jay informed us that most of his clients get it slightly easier. He has a morning routine that involves him driving the MudTrek 4X4 and trailer to the pub that sits at the bottom of the climb and he then climbs the 45 minutes back to the lodge whilst they eat breakfast. This enables guests to finish their day with a descent and a well-earned beer rather than the pretty brutal tarmac ascent we found ourselves doing battle with. Now that is customer service!
The next day Jay and I took a cruise round the nearby Red Gorlech trail also situated in the Brechfa Forest. The cloud had broken and the sun was coming out. It was here that Jay explained that the MudTrek 4X4 allows wider riding options to lodge residents. He has led groups out on the epic single track of Doethie Valley; the all-mountain challenge of Cadair Idris and all day epics in the Black mountains. Clients are not limited to the forest, there is a very large chunk of Welsh riding available to them.
The Gorlech trail took a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours and delivered us back to the trail head via a trademark trail centre final descent. This section, sculpted by none other than Rowan Sorrell, really did not disappoint. At the trail head car park I had to bid Jay farewell and begin the sun soaked drive back to the Midlands. As I drove, I thought of the effort and risk that Jay and Nikki had put in to making their dream a reality. It is possible if you want to work at it, and that thought is an inspiring one. www.mudtrek.com
Words by the long arm of Dudley Justice that is Chris Oakley.