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An Interview With Hannah Barnes | How The Mountain Biker, Adventurer, Yoga Teacher, and Qualified Nurse Has Found Her Balance

Based in the Highlands of Scotland, Hannah Barnes talks us through the year just gone, her plans for the future, and her passion for adventure and the outdoors

Featured Image Credit: Brodie Hood

Over the course of the last year and a bit, many of us have found ourselves, not necessarily out of choice, branching out into new hobbies. Whether it’s been sourdough baking, getting into jigsaw puzzles, painting by numbers or foreign language film watching, there’s a sense that for many of us, this last year has been a voyage of discovery about who we are and what we’re into. It feels like, if nothing else, lockdown has given us the chance to reflect on what’s important to us.

“Hannah Barnes has arguably got more strings to her bow than the average human being”

Sponsored mountain bike athlete, Hydro Flask brand ambassador, adventurer, nurse, yoga instructor and soon-to-be mum Hannah Barnes has arguably got more strings to her bow than the average human being.

We caught up with her to find out more about what she’s been up to over the last 365 days, her life in the Highlands, how she’s got on working for the NHS in such an extraordinary year and how she balances the various passions in her life. We also chatted with Hannah about her plans for the future, and got the answer to the biggest question of all – hot drink or cold drink person?

Credit: Brodie Hood

What’s the last year been like for you? How have you been holding up?

Pretty much a year to this day the nation went into the first lockdown. Initially it was just for three weeks, so we wrote a big ‘to do’ list for around the house and garden to be as productive as possible whilst not being able to go anywhere.

Three weeks became two months, three months etc and we’ve been in and out of lockdown since. To be honest, I have really enjoyed this time at home. It’s the first time in 10 years I’ve had a whole summer at home (apart from a five day trip to the Alps for a race around Mt Blanc in-between lockdowns).

We have been really busy and productive at home, building raised vegetable beds, a greenhouse, lot’s of work and time in the garden, and we’ve also self built an extension to our home.

“It’s the first time in 10 years I’ve had a whole summer at home”

It’s been amazing to not travel and drive anywhere and do all our exercise from the house. The riding, running, skiing and wild swimming from the door has been great. We’ve got a new appreciation for home and the simplicity of not jumping in the car all the time has been so enjoyable. We used one tank of fuel in four months, which is pretty cool!

Once life returns to normal, or the ‘new normal’, there’s definitely a lot learned from this past year to take forwards. Mainly to keep life simple, enjoy the small things, put time and energy into the local community and friendships, reduce our impact as much as we can and really think twice about travel. Less is most often more.

Oh, and without forgetting to mention one crucial development during this past year, we’re expecting a baby! In April, life will suddenly be very different.

Credit: Brodie Hood

As a qualified nurse yourself, and with all the stresses put upon the profession this year, has adventure and escapism become an even more important outlet for you?

For sure. Just being outside in the quiet rugged wide-open mountain spaces, swimming in a river, pushing mentally and physically on a tough ride or run, or just the mindful tranquility of working in the garden, have all been even more key than ever to counter any time spent in the hospital.

Especially as hospital shifts are 12.5 hours long, with no time for fresh air in the day, the mind and body just craves the fresh air and endorphins. We have been really lucky that in the Highlands and the hospital I work in that the Covid cases have been low.

“It’s been really amazing seeing everyone pull together to do whatever is needed”

It’s been really amazing seeing everyone pull together to do whatever is needed, even members of the Mountain Rescue team will drive to the bigger hospital two hours away to pick up supplies for our community.

I haven’t been able to work in A&E since being pregnant, as A&E is considered a ‘Red’ / High Risk zone for Covid, and as the risks for pregnancy and Covid are unknown I’ve been advised against it by the department. I have missed the buzz and being part of the hospital team, but it’s also been nice to not have that extra stress.

Credit: Brodie Hood

Has yoga helped you when it comes to escapism?

Definitely. Although I never feel like I am trying to escape from anything as such, but I think it’s really important to practice completely freeing the mind of all thoughts and solely focus on connecting the mind, the body, and the breath. It is really amazing when these are so connected, the mental and physical benefits for ourselves and those around us are endless.

I’ve had to modify my yoga practice these past few months as my abdominal muscles have separated during pregnancy, so I need to be really careful to not overuse my core. Once baby is here I’ll ease into some specific exercises to rejoin my core muscles and get fit and healthy again. I have really missed teaching yoga to the local Mountain Rescue team. I think everyone will look forward to being able to do that again once we’re all vaccinated!

Credit: Brodie Hood
Credit: Brodie Hood

Do you think lockdown has changed the way we view adventure in the UK?

I really hope so. I think that a lot of people will be more grateful for what is on their doorstep, and re-evaluate what is important. In terms of lifestyle, I think people will really cherish green spaces, working from home, growing our own food as much as possible, being more self sufficient and paying more attention to where our food comes from. Hopefully people will turn away from factory farmed meat.

In terms of adventure, I think / hope people will see the UK as having so much to give and that there’s plenty to explore on our own shores without having to jump on a plane. It’s cheaper, and more environmentally friendly too. Win win!

What’s your favourite ever memory on a bike?

Now that’s a tough one, I have so many great memories on my bike!

“Hitting the local trails and finishing with a swim in the river and a beer is just hard to beat”

It’s the combination of the company, the trails, the place, the weather, a bit of an adventure and of course a good cafe. I have great memories of racing too, whether it’s racing through the jungles of Costa Rica, the high mountains of Chile, through remote mountain villages in Colombia with school kids cheering, or through the bustling streets of Cape Town.

Also, just riding from the door on a warm summers evening with some friends, hitting the local trails and finishing with a swim in the river and a beer is just hard to beat.

What would you say to people looking to get into mountain biking for the first time?

Start by getting a bike, I’d suggest a trail bike as the geometry and suspension will give a bit of confidence. Join the local club, or find other people to ride with – it’s way more fun, inspires confidence, and it’s safer too.

Trail Centres are great for all abilities, and for starting out there’s always a range of beginner friendly trails. Trail Forks is a great app to find trails if you’re not sure where they are or want to explore new ones ask someone who’s ridden for a while or your local bike shop to help you with your bike set-up – simple things such as saddle height, bar width, well working brakes and smooth gears make a big difference as to whether you’re going to enjoy being on your bike.

Don’t worry about investing in all the gear initially, with a good helmet and the right shoes you’re good to go. Then most importantly, get out there and have fun!

Credit: Brodie Hood

What big plans have you got in the pipeline?

The immediate big plan / life change will be having our baby in the coming weeks. It really is going to be a big shift in lifestyle, but we’re so excited to involve our little one in our adventures.

This year I don’t have any big plans in the diary yet, partially due to baby arrival and partially due to Covid restricting events etc. I’ll wait and see how things go in the coming months before getting the diary filled up again.

I’d love to do more of the E-MTB World Tour events, and as they are happening later in the summer that would be a good goal fitness wise to aim for postpartum. I’ll also film a few videos with Hydro Flask, featuring some of their awesome new products which are coming out soon. And, of course, videos for Specialized too.

Credit: Brodie Hood

Your childhood sounds fascinating Getting taken out of school to sail around the Atlantic with your family. Can you tell us a bit more about that, and your memories of it?

That was an amazing year! At age 14, my parents took Joe (then 13) and I out of school and set off sailing in our small sailing boat Te Bheag (an Ohlson 38′) from our home in Fort William. We hadn’t done a huge amount of sailing so largely learned as we went.

We sailed via Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Madeira, the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, 14 days across the Atlantic Ocean to Tobago, then slowly made our way up the Caribbean islands over about four months. We had a three week rollercoaster of weather systems across to the Azores, then to Ireland, then finally back home to Fort William.

What an adventure it was to explore and visit so many countries, cultures and communities by sailing boat, and what amazing people we met along the way too. Turning up back at school a year later and continuing where we’d left off was pretty surreal after something like that.

What do you love most about living in the Highlands?

I absolutely love the Scottish Highlands and feel so fortunate to live here, even though as I write this it is torrential rain outside and wind is battering off the windows. I suppose the often wild weather and midges keep it quieter here than it would otherwise be which is nice.

I love the rugged scenery, the ease of access to the mountains and how you can very quickly be in really remote wild places. It’s pretty amazing that right on the doorstep we have great mountain biking, road riding, trail running, skiing, plenty of lovely lochs for paddle boarding and swimming, and less than an hour away there’s white sandy beaches.

Writing it down it does sound too good to be true. I love the traditional music, the people with the dry humour and craic, and the deep history and culture. I really love visiting Edinburgh for some city living for a couple of days, but then I’m ready to head back home.

Credit: Brodie Hood

Are you a more of hot drink person or a cold drink person when you’re out and about?

That depends on the weather / time of year. When skiing, I love to take a herbal tea or hot chocolate with me in my Hydro Flask. When riding or running in the summer, I definitely go for a nice cold drink, usually electrolytes.

Can you tell us about your favourite ‘drink from a flask’ memory in the outdoors?

That will usually be at the top of a mountain. After the long effort of getting to the top, just sitting and enjoying the view with a drink and some food is heaven and always tastes sweeter for it.

What’s your favourite HydroFlask product?

Ooh tough one! The Lightweight Trail Series bottles are great, so light and durable and I love the metallic colours. The Journey Series Hydration Pack is my go-to riding bag, and I’ll also say the Insulated Wine Tumbler which I love to use for coffee, it’s the perfect size for a flat white.


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