Tucked away in a corner of Northern Scotland, Hannah Barnes is forging her own path, boldly rejecting the superficiality of modern digital culture and advocating a different approach to life. Already an accomplished rider in Downhill, Enduro, and XC, her Instagram feed is a tirade of inspiring content filled with lochs, grassy mountains, snowy peaks, MTB’s and, probably most popular of all, her canine companion who is either right beside or just in front on every trail.
Lumi is an Australian Shepard, an energetic dog breed historically used for herding. But for Hannah, she’s the ultimate training partner. Trained as a trail dog from when she was just a pup, Lumi is a constant source of companionship, inspiration, and stability. A force of happiness that is always ready to go, whether it’s for a ride in the forest, a run up the mountain, or a swim in the loch.
But to wind back a little, Hannah’s lust for adventure and connection with dogs seems to have begun long before Lumi arrived. It could even be argued that her skills on the bike are part genetic as her brother, Joe Barnes, is also an accomplished MTB rider. The two of them were both taken out of school when Hannah was 14 to sail around the Atlantic with her family. They travelled to Madeira, the Canary Islands, through to the Caribbean and only turned up at school a year later. After school she lived in Alaska working with huskies where she trained the young puppies and exercised the race dogs, all while living off the grid. Aged 18 she took up mountain biking and began racing cross country before moving into Enduro where she raced for many top brands and teams, including Specialized where she is now a brand ambassador.
While Hannah also practised as a registered nurse for several years, the long shifts spent indoors would ultimately be too much of a clash with the holistic lifestyle she advocates for, and now Hannah can be found out on the trails on just about any day, along with her Insta-famous training partner - Lumi.
"It totally enhances the whole experience because you see how happy [the dogs] are and, especially when I’m running, it just makes me want to go longer and faster...”
Australian Shepherds are not a particularly common breed in the U.K, but for Hannah it was the breed she had wanted for a while. “Whenever I was travelling in Canada, specifically Whistler, I would always see Australian Shepherds and they always looked like such lovely dogs, quite calm and chilled but also nice and athletic.”
In the first few months of owning Lumi, it was up to Hannah’s partner Brodie to take the lead as she was away racing a lot. Brodie happens to be an outdoor action photographer and recent summiteer of Everest. “You can’t do anything when you have a puppy. And so, Brodie either worked from home or took Lumi everywhere he went, even if he was doing a shoot.”
The process from puppy to seasoned trail dog was slow and deliberate.
“As soon as we brought Lumi home when she was eight weeks old, she was in the garden every day. And we just walked around the garden with her, either pushing a bike or I’d just cycle slowly around the garden so she could get used to this big bike with wheels and lots of moving parts. Even when we were washing them, she would just get used to being around bikes, and then I’d take her for short walks along the road for a hundred metres and I’d just cycle slowly beside her.”
“Just like you’d socialise them with different situations, like with other dogs and cafes and other things, we thought we’d do the same for bikes.”
Even now, after years of riding with Lumi, there is a thought process. “I try to ride more technical trails so it is slower, and always choose routes with the most singletrack. If it’s a technical climb, I have more to concentrate on, I get a bit more of a workout, and it’s easier for Lumi. If I was pressing on a forest road, she’d be left miles behind."
"We wouldn't take her to a trail centre such as Glentress where it's gritty hardpack that is just so horrible on their footpads and joints. We always opt for softer, loamy natural trails where it is much more forgiving on her body, it's much more fun for us riding more natural trails too.”
Fortunately, there is no shortage of natural trails for Hannah and Lumi. With only 2 main roads and an average of 181 days of rain per year, Fort William in the western Scottish Highlands is not generally a place where anyone stays too long. But for Hannah it’s been home since she was seven years old, with the close proximity to mountains, trails and open waters easily worth the trade for big city convenience.
Asked on the benefits of owning a trail dog as an athlete, Hannah believes there is a performance enhancing aspect that is often overlooked.
“It totally enhances the whole experience because you see how happy they are and, especially when I’m running, it just makes me want to go longer and faster because I’ve got more of a spring in my step because she is having such a good time.”
This comes in addition to the more obvious benefit of unparalleled companionship that comes with owning a dog. “Whenever Brodie is away travelling, I don’t mind at all because having Lumi, even before having a baby, I would have a friend with whom every day I’d get up and go for a run.”
Those who follow Hannah will be acquainted with the dog trailer which attaches to the back of her bike. “We initially got it for her for the puppy stage as we didn’t want to leave her at home for too long, so we just took her everywhere. We still use it now, it’s great and gives us more options and freedom to do bigger adventures together and go further afield. We’ll often go for a big ride where we have to go quite a long way along forest tracks, and then we’ll stash the trailer somewhere and then when we hit the single track Lumi can run. Or we’ll cycle in, stash the trailer and change into our running shoes and run up the hill and then tow Lumi back. It just makes adventures way more accessible.”
There are endless examples and studies to suggest that a dog’s behaviour is in direct correlation to the time they spend with their owner, especially in the first year of their life. Hannah echoes this by advising to just “take your dog everywhere, even to cafes. If there are two cafes, one dog-friendly and one not, just go to the dog-friendly one. The more you do with them when they’re young, the better. Lumi is just so easy now if we’re jumping on a train or even a ferry.”
While Hannah could speak all day on the joys of having a dog, for athletes or just anyone in general, she does also acknowledge that not all occupations allow for it.
“When I was working 12-hour shifts in the hospital, we always made sure Brodie was able to look after Lumi that day either working from home or joining in whatever he was doing, whether it's mountain rescue training or going to a photo shoot with him. I do feel that keeping them in a crate for any length of time is just unfair. If you’re really keen to get a dog, having a lifestyle which accommodates them and includes them is really key.”
The breed is another factor Hannah is keen to emphasise. Alongside her mountain bike exploits in Enduro and multi-day XC endurance races, she was also the two-time female winner of the Big Ben Nevis Triathlon (7th then 5th overall), which is considered the U.K’s toughest off-road triathlon featuring a 1.9km swim in the loch, a 90km mountain bike followed by a 21km run up and down Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. “I think back to that time, training for the race and I was so obsessive about it and every detail. I think triathletes are so focused, even recreational triathletes like I was, when you're not working, you're training. Back then I couldn't have had a dog as I was single, working 12 hour shifts in the hospital, or doing long training rides, etc. Some of it was suited to having a dog come along but mainly not. Being single was a big factor though as you don't have that team-work factor where you can work together to cater to a dog's needs.”
She then laughs when explaining about her brother, Joe, who says that if he does get a dog, he’ll get a Pug or something small. They need just as much companionship but not the same level of exercise. “It’s because he trains really hard and he just wants to set out and do what he needs to do, and then come home to a small dog which can potter around with the slower family pace of life.”
Hannah’s love and respect for Lumi shines through in both her words and her actions, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lumi just might be one of the luckiest dogs alive. But that’s not the way Hannah sees it. She explains, “this is Lumi’s one chance at life and we want to give her the best life she can have. So we just tailor things for her, and it's not worse for us - it just means we accommodate.”
“This is Lumi’s one chance at life and we want to give her the best life she can have”
Many think that getting a dog has its obvious disadvantages, but what may seem like a con can actually be a pro. Their requirement to be let out in the morning just means getting out of bed on a regular and routine basis. Taking them for walks each day only forces you to spend more time outside. And their needs and wants mean - at times - you must put them before you, a selflessness that cannot be practised alone.
And where there was one, has become two. Lumi now has a new friend: Malou. Another Aussie Shepherd to accompany Hannah and Lumi on the thousands of kilometres that lie ahead. Every dog has its day, but in the case of Hannah, Lumi and Malou, every 24 hours is that day.
Be it running up and down the shore as you go for a quick dip, encouraging you to run further and faster, or widening the smile on your face when out riding your bike; the silent, devoted companionship of a dog cannot be matched by any other means.
As Caroline Knapp once said:
“Before you get a dog, you can't quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterwards, you can't imagine living any other way."
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