This week we meet with Roddy Stoddart, AKA Mr FINDRA and partner to Alex. having lived in the Tweed valley for nearly 50 years Roddy talks about his love for mountain biking and the local hills.
Hi Roddy, great to finally have you on the FINDRA Journal and perhaps we can start by you introducing yourself.My name is Roddy and I live in Innerleithen in the beautiful Tweed Valley. It’s a fairly rural setting in the South of Scotland, 30 miles south of Edinburgh for those not familiar with the area.
I manage a chemical company, which supplies products used in the life, environmental and food science sectors. It’s a pretty unusual location given the nature of the business and I consider myself very fortunate this is within a 10 minute bike ride of my home.
How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
I was born in the day when it was common practise for pregnant mothers to deliver their children at home. That was me. By all accounts I had a very healthy pair of lungs and from day one my Mum would park me outside in the garden in my pram as I screamed my head off. I find this very improbable and attribute it to the fact that we had proper winters back then and being born early January I was probably in the early stages of hypothermia!
Beyond the pram I was fortunate to have had a very contented childhood where being in the outdoors was the norm. I would spend hours playing outside, building gang huts, bogies (a homemade go kart), playing football and playing with an impressive collection of Matchbox & Dinky toy cars. The only time I’d retreat indoors was to grab a ‘piece’, which in Scotland is a basic jam sandwich. Most of it was consumed as you ran out the door, normally the final mouthful would have a sprinkling of grit or mud transferred from your filthy hands.
In my youth and into adulthood I was very sporty. I played competitive rugby on Saturday mornings and football in the afternoons. Pretty crazy but my energy levels were very high. I went into retirement from competitive sport in my late 30’s. My son Robbie was about 7 then and asked if we could go biking in the forest. This was long before mountain biking was remotely as popular as it is now. Glentress Forest, is only 10 minutes in the car from us so of course we went.
We pretty much had the place to ourselves. I could ride a bike but for all my sporting past cycling was a pretty alien activity for me. He loved it, and I loved that he loved it. It was to be an opening for my next significant life experience, and later for his.
What has been your favourite trip or adventure?
I’m going to stretch the common understanding of the word ‘adventure’ here a bit because I don’t feel I properly qualify. Although I’ve travelled a bit I haven’t ever “adventured’ to far flung, remote places. There have been no solitary, or dangerous explorations, I am no Bear Grylls. So my big ‘adventure’ is essentially a chapter in my life, which got me closer to the buzz of the great outdoors.
In the early 2000’s I bought my first mountain bike and became addicted to the sport of mountain biking. Within a year a friend suggested we applied for our coaching badge that I thought was totally ridiculous as in the whole scheme of things as I was pretty much a novice myself. I felt like an imposter, a fake. Had it not been for my friends persistence there is no way I would have considered this. We were qualified within a year or so and started taking groups out, teaching them how to ride the trails. It was such good fun and extremely rewarding.
Unlike many other sports I think you can improve your skills and competence fairly quickly. Not necessarily advanced skills but ones that make a difference, help you ride more safely, with more assurance and confidence, and hence greatly improve your enjoyment. People loved becoming proficient but the other notable highlight for people was getting outdoors being in the forests, the hills, and among nature. It was such a positive experience for so many people from all walks of life. I distinctly remember a wee guy who was in a group of teenagers with an Outward Bound course we were guiding. They were from Wester Hailes, a deprived area of Edinburgh and I recall him saying, ‘man, they’ve got sheep here and everything!’
We took weekend groups to all the various trail centres in Scotland, the Lake District and Northumberland. It was such good fun and you were all exhilarated by the same thing, biking and being outdoors in beautiful locations. Apart from the responsibility of coaching, the sense of adventure was greatest as circumstances could change quickly with adverse weather, a mechanical mishap, or worst of all an injury sustaining accident.
So an adventure which lasted several years and has left many fond and positive memories.
How do you make find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
For many of us this is our modern enigma, chasing security, purpose, and ultimately, contentment. The Nick Mulvey song I have chosen (see below) kind of encapsulates this.
We can create our own mountains for ourselves in our quest for utopia. Decisions or actions that enrich our lives but still come with their own responsibilities and pressures which reduce our ‘me time’. We have children, pets, careers, mortgages, and of course our toys, bikes, boats, cars etc. We need to remind ourselves as one wise scribe wrote, ‘a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’.
For me the last five years have been incredibly demanding with the tip of the scales heavily towards work and business, with limited opportunity to pursue my leisure activities . And I’ve genuinely questioned my values and reviewed my priorities in situations where my life may be conflicted in this way. Asking myself why I am doing something, what are the likely outcomes, good, bad, healthy, unhealthy, contented or not.
To a large extent I decided to take a long view of things and believed it wasn’t forever, but a temporary sacrifice I had chosen to make. If we accept that then we shouldn’t beat ourselves up that as part of life there are responsibilities that prevail. But always being mindful that if the choice proves to be the ‘wrong’ one you can normally change it and reset the compass.
The reality is it may take years to know if the choices you make are the correct ones. In 1979 I chose not to go to University. I have since chosen to stay in the same employment all my working life. Predominantly because I love where I live because of the lifestyle it offers me and the people I love. I have often reflected and wondered if those were the correct choices, but I am very content for the ones I have chosen.
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
Not any one person really. My parents made good choices, consciously or subconsciously, which meant we lived in the country. And as I said, my son introduced me to mountain biking and inadvertently to the greater outdoors. Until then I had lived among the hills but never really explored or been in them, I was surrounded by them and I was aware of them but I didn’t really see them, It seems crazy now but for many years I didn’t have personal experience of the peace and tranquillity that you got from being in them. I almost took for granted and overlooked how inspiring they are, the landscapes, nature, the colours, the sounds As Nick wrote in Mountain to Move , ‘when everything you were looking for was already looking at you’.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
Absolutely, no question. And I don’t think the mental benefits can be over-estimated.
There is a lot of focus on people eating healthily and participating in regular exercise but much less on mental conditioning. Time and again for me getting outdoors has brought a positive perspective to life. Fresh air, nature, exercise are all so good for us. If you’re fortunate enough to live in or visit areas of natural beauty then it’s even better.
When we consider it’s our minds, our decision making, which triggers us to be active or to go outdoors or not, then it’s important we look after it as far as we can. It’s a self-perpetuating habit and experience.
What is it about mountain biking specifically that you love?
As I said, I love many sports but mountain biking is right up there.
Firstly it is very inclusive. You can cycle with anyone, be that your 5-year old son/daughter (or ageing dad/mum), your partner, in a group, or solo. Similar to rugby it caters for all shapes and sizes. Biking can be as challenging or easy as you choose. There’s a very broad skill set to develop. But learning even basic skills will make a huge difference to your confidence and enjoyment and is within most people’s grasp.
Many sports and activities carry a degree of risk and mountain biking is higher than many, but riding within and up to your limits provides an adrenalin rush and exhilaration that many other sports just don’t provide. Whatever level you’re at you can have a lot of fun and enjoyment. Last but definitely not least, it’s invariably in the midst of nature, normally areas of great natural beauty, which is just fantastic.
When did you discover FINDRA?
I discovered FINDRA when I discovered Ms FINDRA (as I call her) the founder Alex Feechan! I had known Alex for a few years beforehand but we got together just before she launched FINDRA. So I am clearly not an impartial admirer!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
This is not so much advice rather than good guidance.
On the gravestone of my dad is the inscription, ‘I to the hills will lift mine eyes’.
It’s from a Psalm in the bible. For him it was an acknowledgment of the beauty of nature, and also for him, his creator behind it all. Whatever our beliefs the hills and the exceptional natural beauty we can enjoy are to be truly marvelled at and appreciated.
On writing this blog, what do you feel is the key motivational or inspirational message you would like to highlight to our followers that would inspire them to get outdoors more?
Before biking I had no real appreciation whatsoever of what was right in front of me. I definitely valued some aspects of it but hadn’t enjoyed the real experience of being in the hills, seeing the views, the beauty of nature, the combination of fresh, clean air and exhilaration rushing through your body.
When we get visitors to my workplace they almost always without exception mention the drive to it and the location. How beautiful it is and how lucky we must feel. And they’re only really seeing it without truly being ‘in’ it. Like the wee guy who for a moment discovered that there was sheep and everything. I’d really hope FINDRA followers share and enthuse with others their own outdoor experiences and the multitude of benefits we can enjoy from doing so.
Thanks Roddy, much appreciated!
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Midnight Express by Billy Hayes and William Hoffer
This book caused me to reflect on and appreciate the basic freedoms and liberty that life had given me.
It’s an autobiographical account of a young American student in the 70’s who was imprisoned in a Turkish jail for trying to smuggle hash out of the country. It’s a frightening, often violent account of his survival in terrible conditions.
Based on real life events it triggers an empathy for a young man wrestling with the consequences of his crassly stupid actions. As a young man myself at the time I reflected on the consequences that life’s choices can have. It also brought insight to a dark side of life where corruption, brutality, injustice and lawlessness prevailed. And this was only a three hour plane ride away.
A film was made on the back of it too, but I preferred the written account.
TRAIL OF THE WEEK
Highland Wildcat Trail, Golspie
The long drive up to Inverness and beyond to Golspie has some awesome scenery. It’s a great road with some truly spectacular views over the Black Isle, looking out seaward across the Moray, Cromarty and Dornoch Firths.
The trails themselves have absolutely everything a mountain biker would want. Technical climbs with stairway after stairway of rock step-ups, tight switchbacks and rock gardens. Part of the challenge is to conquer them but still take in the beautiful sea views as the elevations unfold. The uninterrupted views at the summit (around 400m) are breathtaking.
It must be one of the longest descents in the UK with a huge variety of technical features including rock chutes, jumps, tables, boulder fields, fly offs, step downs and skinnies. I love the technical diversity of it, but equally the remoteness and the incredible panorama of the coastal scenery.
MUSIC OF THE WEEK
Mountain to Move by Nick Mulvey
There are so many songs touch us or inspire us, for different reasons and at different moments. Like your questions, music can prompt you to reflect, evaluate and respond on the back of life’s experiences. So the music I have chosen is Mountain to Move by Nick Mulvey.
It’s a song about life’s challenges, the mountain, the rut we can find ourselves in, or the obstacles, often of our own creating, which prevent us from making the best of life. But the song doesn’t dwell negatively on these difficulties but challenges us to realise and grasp life’s opportunities and possibilities.
It could have been written in quite a melancholy style, but the rhythm and melody of the song is upbeat and optimistic, reflecting a determination, with the repeated mantra of the chorus to ‘wake up now’!
When everything you were looking for
Was already looking at you
Oh, I don't want to see us lose
Any more time
This moment is a mountain to move
So move it inside
Give it to me, realness
Give it to me, stillness
Give me some forgiveness
Give it to me, wholeness
I like its honesty. I think we all have our mountains but are wonderfully optimistic about our potential and possibilities in life. I love it!