Karen Hill is an Australian professional mountain biker, sports nutritionist and world traveller. She’s also our first Travel to Change the World ambassador.
Over the years, Karen has become a respected name in the mountain bike scene, travelling the world to race in competitions in some of the toughest terrains on the planet.
Outside of her love for two wheels, Karen has a PhD in nutrition and works for the Victorian Public Sector Commission in the Aboriginal Employment Unit.
Currently, she’s helping roll out Barring Djinang – a 5-year Aboriginal employment strategy for the Victorian public sector that aims to improve Aboriginal career experiences by placing a strong focus on leadership and development.
Wherever Karen’s biking adventures take her in the world, she always takes the positive message of inspiring others to find the good in themselves and have some fun along the way.
We were so impressed with Karen’s story we helped fund her eco-friendly bike kit made with material including ground coffee and recycled plastic bottles.
Together with Melbourne based B-Corp Travel Agency Reho Travel, the high-performance kit was designed by prolific Aboriginal Australian artist Zac Bennett-Brook from Saltwater Dreamtime to celebrate Karen’s Torres Strait Island heritage and aboriginal culture.
What was it that inspired you to get into bike racing?
I believe in living a life that sets your soul on fire and riding and racing mountain bikes do that for me.
My bike gives me a reason to travel and explore; It’s fun, gives me freedom and adventure. The people I meet and the places my bike takes me is incredible.
I’m passionate about using bikes and travel as a way to inspire others to find the good in themselves and have some fun. I believe bikes, nature and travel can teach us a lot about ourselves and then we can pass that on to the world.
I have always been involved in sport from as young as I can remember and started getting into triathlons in my early 20’s as the challenge of training for three sports intrigued me.
This became my first exposure to bike racing. The people in the bike shop that helped me choose my first bike were all into mountain biking and suggested I give it a go.
So, I did. I loved it and the journey began from there.
Mountain biking is what I do to lose my mind and find my soul. The racing element allows me to break any limits I have set for myself and discover the world.
You must have travelled a lot with your racing career, where is your favourite destination?
This is a really hard question to answer as every destination is unique, diverse and stunning in its own way.
My bike has taken me to incredible places that I would never have thought of travelling to otherwise and so in their own ways they have all become favourite places.
But! A few recent highlights include…
- Timor Leste, Southeast Asia. Tour de Timor stage race: So much raw beauty and simplicity.
- India, MTB Himalaya stage race: I’m not sure if it was the people, the place or both that made this trip. 8 days of racing through the foothills of the Himalayas, drinking chai, hiking through the mountains and camping under the stars.
- Nepal: Manaslu circuit and Yak Attack stage race: Etched into my mind forever. I quietly stepped further outside of my comfort zone more than ever this trip; I was challenged physically, emotionally and mentally. The mountains were out of this world and can’t be described in words, only by feeling the energy tingling in every cell of your body. Standing halfway up a 5000m pass at 5 30 am with the sun peaking over the snow-capped ridged and the silence deafening.
The one thing that all these places have in common is the unconditional kindness of the people.
The main lesson I have taken from these countries is how simple life is and the beauty in that thought.
Is there a particular moment or milestone in your life, that changed your outlook on things and inspired you to want to make a change?
To be honest, standing up and making a change for causes I am passionate about is something I have always thought about but have always been a fence sitter on with the notion that someone else will do it.
I always thought, “How much of a difference can I really make?” I was almost too shy or scared to stand out and voice a different opinion.
I guess it was about discovering what my true beliefs and values are.
As I got older and changed as a person, I started thinking about these issues differently. I just started thinking about them full stop.
Reho Travel has definitely had a big influence on my thinking. I first met CEO Karsten Horne four years ago and was inspired by the work Reho does as a B-corp, for 1% for the planet and their Rehope community projects. They inspired and challenged me to think bigger and act more.
The natural world is important to me and I want to immerse myself in it for a whole lot longer yet. Travel and sport have provided me with the ability to see so many special places that I want to look after and appreciate what we have.
What concerns you about the long term impact of travel on people, animals and the planet?
Over tourism and overcrowding in places that don’t have the infrastructure to support tourism.
While the natural world is being changed to accommodate tourism development such as hotels and resorts, on the flip side, this can also be vital for some communities but it’s vital it is done sustainably.
Closer to home is Australia’s continued lack of understanding, knowledge and level of respect for our own cultural history. And by that, I mean learning and sharing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history.
Do you think travel can change the world?
Yes. I believe travel has the power to change a person.
Travels expand people’s horizons, opens perspectives and diversifies people.
Changing the way each person thinks, behaves and acts can ultimately change the world.
Are you seeing positive change happening in responsible and sustainable travel?
This is a very broad question, so I will answer from my personal experience with the mountain biking and issues that are important to me; reducing single-use plastics, culture and increasing women’s participation.
Positive changes that stand out for me are for instance at Yak Attack in Nepal. Smart Paani helped significantly reduce the race’s plastic water bottle use and keep the riders drinking clean water throughout the race. MTB World Wide (the race organisers) also empower, train and use local people and resources.
Hero MTB Himalayas (India) have been taking MTB enthusiasts through untouched parts of the Himalayas for 15 years now. HASTPA (the race organisers) also make a point to give back to society. Mission SMILE is a social outreach program that enables bikers to interact and empower kids in the Himalayas. It is so much more than just a race.
Races in both Canada (BC Bike Race) and New Zealand (The Whaka 100) celebrate their First Nations culture. Something that I would love to see more of in Australia.
There are many more initiatives that focus on increasing women’s participation in sport such as the “She can too” campaign, more women’s specific races/events and greater push for gender equality in sports.
While we still have a long way to go, one example of how travel can change you/make you appreciate what you have was highlighted to me thanks to a few Nepalese women who are pushing boundaries and chasing their sporting dreams.
Prior to travelling to Nepal, as an Australian woman, I took for granted that if I wanted to travel overseas to a race, obtaining a visa would never be an issue. For Nepalese women, if they are not married or don’t own property, they may not be granted a visa.
I am neither of those things and the thought of that preventing me from travelling is horrifying. I also don’t think for a second that shoving Western ways down everyone’s throat is the answer. But I definitely appreciate the positive steps forward.
What advice would you give to people wanting to travel more responsibly?
- Learn about and respect the local culture always
- Be kind
- Do your research – Is your money going back into the local economy?
- Use local and/or book through companies that employ local workers
- Get off the beaten path
- Think about what holistic footprint you are leaving
Like the look of our ‘Travel To Change The World’ Mountain Bike kit? You can order your own!
Made with material including ground coffee and recycled plastic bottles and designed by prolific Aboriginal Australian artist Zac Bennett-Brook from Saltwater Dreamtime, it’s a kit of beauty, meaning and purpose.
Order your bike kit here: OORR.com.au
How can you travel to change the world?
Congratulations! By reading this post and taking some of these insights on board, you’ve already made a difference.
Now you can easily create your own impact by sharing your new-found knowledge. Share this link to a friend who you think would be interested or post it on your own social media.
Ultimately, it all comes down to staying curious, keeping yourself up-to-date and making yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.