At this year’s Mudgee Classic I met the lovely Virginia who has her own travel company called Soulfit Adventures, where she runs cycling tours that incorporate yoga. I couldn’t help but be enthralled. I love cycling and yoga so my interest was piqued. At the time we were just emerging from the pandemic but I’m happy to say travel is certainly returning with gusto. So, I asked Virginia to tell me a bit more about her road riding experiences and her Soulfit tours.
Q: When and why did you start road cycling?
I started cycling around 2008, a couple of years before I started Soulfit Adventures. I was living in Sydney, in Rushcutters Bay at the time and a friend of mine was moving apartments and she had a road bike that had been ridden once in a triathlon a couple of years before. It had only ever been ridden the once and she was going to leave it out on the street so I took it! It was just one of those things and it must have been meant to be as I haven’t looked back since.
Q: When and why did you start Soulfit?
I started Soulfit Adventures after being made redundant during the GFC in 2009. I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing at the time and the redundancy was a blessing in disguise. Before starting a new job I took some time out to try and find a way to combine my experience in the travel, events and hospitality over many years with my passion for travel, cycling and yoga. I ran my first cycling and yoga trip to Laos in 2010 whilst still working four days a week in a corporate job. Then in 2013, I left the corporate world behind completely so that I could focus on the business. It hasn’t been smooth sailing and they have been challenging times particularly financially, even before the pandemic, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I don’t really know what ignited my entrepreneurial spirit but I have always believed that I could live a life I dreamed of by incorporating my love of travel, event management, cycling and yoga – with hard work, of course.
Q: Why do you feel that yoga and cycling go together so well?
Cycling and yoga complement the yin and yang energies of the body and mind. The philosophy and why I do what I do at Soulfit Adventures is simple: through basic yoga poses for the body and mind we balance the effects of a strong cycling habit, whether you are a social cyclist or more keenly competitive. Cycling can lead to tightness in areas of the body. Pedalling long hours astride the saddle, with the neck up shortens the spine and causes tightness in the lower back, sacrum, and hips. Cycling requires leg strength, and also flexibility and lower back strength. Yoga poses alleviate tight hip flexors and tension in the lower and upper back balancing muscle strength. These poses bring an added harmony of keeping you focused on the breath both on and off the bike. The stretching and strengthening movement diminishes the after-effects of serious (or casual) rides.
Q: During the COVID border closures, how did you keep running your business? Did you feel like throwing it all in?
The business didn’t operate. Travel was the first industry affected by the pandemic and the last industry to be able to operate fully again, and Soulfit Adventures came to a complete standstill in March 2020. Over the next two years, all I could do was keep up some sort of presence on social media and send newsletters to my mailing list from time to time so that people knew I was still around for when borders opened and travel started again. I was fortunate to run two retreats in Australia, one in November 2020 and one in February 2021. These were made up of local friends and prior guests who live in Australia, but these were a challenge and both were on a knife’s edge right up until they ran with lockdowns and domestic borders opening and closing at the drop of a hat.
It didn’t really cross my mind to throw the towel in as I knew that one day we would be travelling again. It wasn’t an easy time I just had to keep believing that travel would bounce back and stay the course until that time.
Q: Are your tours for women only?
Whilst the majority of my guests are women, I think because I offer yoga and they are ‘retreat style’, based in one location and more luxurious experiences, my retreats are not exclusive to women and I don’t advertise them as such. I regularly have men attending, usually as one half of a couple and when they do attend, they love them.
Q: What’s your favourite Soulfit tour destination?
Lucca in Tuscany will always have my heart.
Q: How can we all encourage more women to ride bikes (in general, rather than on organised tours)?
This is a good question and, in my experience, not easy. I have run women’s only rides in my hometown of Newcastle in the past to try and create a community and encourage more women to ride and I have found that they are challenging to get going. Lots of women initially express an interest but when it comes to the day, they pull out…
If someone is really interested in starting to ride the first thing I would do is to try and find someone to ride within your local area. The best way to do that is by contacting your local bike shop, cycling club or social cycling group (check social media) and find out if they run weekly rides, ask about ride leaders and their experience, if they run beginner rides, do they offer skills and maintenance sessions. Check their social media presence to see if they really are inclusive and welcoming. Find out if they are running women’s only events. Most good clubs, and shops (if they run weekly rides) and social groups should be doing all these things, and if they aren’t supportive of women, keep looking until you find one that is. It’s not good enough today if they aren’t. Most clubs and social groups are very welcoming to newer riders and more experienced riders are usually only too happy to pass on their knowledge, in fact, once you get them started it’s hard to shut them up 😉 lol!