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Leaving a Positive Trace

April 19 — 2023 | Santa Cruz, California

Words // Julia Hobson

Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson
Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson

Finding motivation to ride through the Winter in the UK is often hard. The short days, wet and windy weather, and cold hands and feet don’t help, and the muddy trail conditions mean you can spend more time on the clean up than the ride. Catching up with my good friend and fellow Juliana ambassador Rachael is always the kind of motivation I need to plan a weekend of riding though, and a great opportunity to do what we love and explore somewhere new to both of us.

The destination this time was mid Wales, an area of wild deserted hills, huge forests, small farms and village communities, and also one where we knew a great network of trails existed. We contacted friends with knowledge of the area and soon had a plan for a couple of days of varied riding on our Roubions.

Not only had the preceding weeks been dry and mild enough to give promising trail conditions, the forecast was pretty good for the time of year, and we’d found another new motivation for our weekend. Inspired by Trash Free Trails and some of their recent campaigns, we were going to embrace the concept of Purposeful Adventuring.

Trash Free Trails (TFT) is a UK based organisation of riders, runners and roamers, who exist to protect our trails and the wild spaces they take us. They seek to reconnect people with the natural world through the simple act of collecting single use pollution from our trails. Citing disconnection from nature as one of the key reasons for the growing problem of trash in the outdoors, TFT focuses on action, by encouraging, empowering and inspiring each other to make a difference. This is done through the TrashMob Academy, an education program for young people, the A-team, a group of global ambassadors who motivate their communities to get involved, event partnerships (TFT-Approved), and a series of campaigns that encourage us to DIO (do it ourselves), amongst many others. 

Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson
Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson

The concept of a purposeful adventure is one many of us can probably get behind: The team at Trash Free Trails ask “What if our adventures not only sustained us and our connection to nature, but they actually contributed towards a positive impact to the places we visit?​” That doesn’t mean your adventure should shun your personal enjoyment, but whilst out having fun, you embark on hands-on action to preserve and enhance the environment that nurtures you.

Most of us who love the outdoors are also familiar with the concept of ‘Leave No Trace’, but this is no longer enough if we want to preserve the wild places we love. As our population grows, global pollution increases, and the damage being inflicted on the environment becomes increasingly evident, we need to do more than simply not leave a trace; we need to leave a positive trace. This means committing to leaving a place better than when you found it. It’s a small way to help undo the collective damage that has already been done rather than just focusing on our own individual impact.

These two concepts tie neatly together, and were something both of us could really get behind, so we decided we’d spend the weekend trying to incorporate them into our rides. 

Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson
Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson

We hadn’t gone far on our first morning of riding in the Dyfi forest, when the first opportunity arose. It had rained during the night, and huge puddles filled the beautifully constructed berms on an otherwise fast, fun trail that wiggled down through the lush green forest between ferns and moss-covered deadwood. It was clear that the drainage the trail builders had put in was silted up, and with nowhere to go, water had filled the berm creating a giant deep muddy puddle.

It took a couple of minutes to use some nearby branches to open up the drain, always being careful not to damage the berm, but the improvement was immediately visible. We’d hopefully helped return that corner to the way the trailbuilders had intended, and it felt good to have done something positive already. More flooded berms followed further down the trail, and even Rach, who hates getting her feet wet, got stuck in. It was pretty filthy, but also incredibly rewarding and a lot of fun. (We did have to leave one puddle undrained where some frogs had chosen to lay huge amounts of frogspawn….we couldn’t face being responsible for mass tadpole genocide!) 

Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson
Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson

As we continued our ride around the forest, chatting away and putting the World to rights on the fireroad climbs, and whooping down the fun descents, we kept one eye out for any trash hiding in the undergrowth. It was a pleasant surprise to see very little other than a couple of old plastic bottles and a stray chocolate bar wrapper, but perhaps no surprise knowing that a whole bunch of the Trash Free Trails core crew and A-Teamers live nearby. 

Perhaps it’s a shame that we found it unusual to see so little single-use pollution on the trails, a stark realisation that we have come to expect the wild places we visit to have a lot more visible litter. But it was also inspiring to know that there are people who ride in this area who are already committed to leaving a positive trace, and a number of small acts by a few people were already adding up to making a bigger impact.

Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson
Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson

On our second day we headed to the Elan Valley, a beautiful part of Wales known for its huge reservoirs, steep hillsides and deep valleys. Natural single and double-track paths crisscross the wild scenery as red kites soar gracefully overhead. The sun was out, trails were dry, and for the first time this year, there was a warmth in the air that made us feel spring was on its way.  

We didn’t see a single person for at least the first few hours of our ride - it was glorious.

We barely found any litter on the trails, exactly how it should be, but there are other ways to leave a positive trace… We eventually came across a hiker, so we stopped for a chat and held a gate open for her. The image of mountain bikers held by other trail users in the UK isn’t always great. The actions of a small minority have lumped all of us with the reputation of a group who are disrespectful to others and to the trails and the environment. Which of course simply isn’t the case for the vast majority of riders. “Be Nice, Say Hi” is a simple but lovely slogan coined by Ride Sheffield, a trail association working in an area of the country where a large number of horse-riders, mountain-bikers, and walkers all share the same trails. The idea was to help promote respect amongst all trail users. To recognise that we are all there to enjoy the countryside in the way we have chosen, and if everyone is nice and friendly to each other we can all coexist and enjoy our day!

Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson
Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson

As ways to leave a positive trace go, it doesn’t get much easier, but positivity is infectious, and even if just one walker goes away with an improved image of how mountain bikers act, after seeing a smile, hearing a friendly greeting and having a gate held open for them, it’s a good thing! 

None of the actions we took during our weekend were big or time consuming, but they gave an extra purpose to our ride. We’d got to explore a new area, catch up after not seeing each other for a few months, and take actions which made us feel good. 

We drove home satisfyingly tired and with a deep sense of pride. Before we went our separate ways we determined to plan more adventures (as always), and to commit to leaving a positive trace in some way every time we rode from now on.

If you want to learn more about Trash Free Trails, purposeful adventures, and leaving a positive trace, there is loads of information and free resources on their website. Check it out and see if you can come up with some fun ideas for how to get involved on your rides this year!

Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson
Juliana Bicycles: Leaving a positive trace with Julia Hobson

Image copyright: Trash Free Trails