Since 1999, the first weekend in May has always been the cue for a kind of nervous excitement for me. During the years I worked overseas for Neilson, this time of year was generally the time when, after several weeks of preparation, our first customers of the summer would arrive and we would swap our hammers and paintbrushes for uniforms, clipboards and big grins as we began our real task of biking, windsurfing and sailing with our guests.
My last summer season overseas was in 2002, but since then, working in the Neilson office, I’ve still been party to the genuine excitement of the annual Official Start of Summer.
This year is different. Time for a change. For nearly nine years I worked for Neilson as a mountain bike guide, as a centre manager, as a product executive and latterly as their online editor. But I decided to move on.
It would be the most enormous understatement to say I will look back on my Neilson years with fondness. My first summer, in 1999, fresh from a Liverpool bike shop, was a magical experience. I simply couldn’t believe that I was being paid to live in the Turkish sunshine introducing people to mountain biking and taking them on pleasant rides along breezy coastlines and pine forests. The customers were great – my colleagues were even better.
Gundogan 1999 was followed by Finikounda 2000. Fini, as anyone who’s been will confirm, is the most magical Greek village. The Fini team of 2000 became a bunch of friends who, I think, showed the customers as good a time as they were having themselves. Some of my friends from summer 2000 remain my closest pals today, and I suspect they always will be.
A brief taste of ski chalet hosting in the winter helped to prepare me for my first summer as a manager – in the legendary mountains of Chamonix in the French Alps. Accompanied by a pair of accomplished chalet hosts, we welcomed people for weeks of mountain biking and other fun in one of the most amazing locations I have ever spent time.
Then followed a winter in the Caribbean on the island of Grenada, as a bike guide once more. I’ll never forget Christmas Day 2001: a ride through the rainforest villages before a relaxed lunch on a golden beach with blue surf rolling in.
Then in 2002 I returned to Finikounda, this time as centre manager. A few new challenges, but the same laid-back Fini, same great biking and the same kind of up-for-it guests that made this work such a pleasure.
Even after I began my five year stint in Neilson’s Brighton office, early May would still bring a rush of excitement as colleagues in the Mediterranean would open their doors for the summer.
But this year, for the first time in nearly a decade, I’m no longer seeing May from a Neilson viewpoint. I’m now working for CTC – a cycling organisation. And my first task is to oversee the setting up of a cycling project for the disabled. I feels good to be working once again with people and with bikes.
So, on the first Monday in May, I find myself, after weeks of preparation, excitedly opening up a shed full of bikes, pulling on a brand new uniform shirt and cycling with beginners in a sunny forest. Just like I was nine years ago.
And as I write this, I know another beautiful day is beginning on a wonderful beach somewhere in southern Greece…