Aneela's Dirt Craic Hero

Aneela's Dirt Craic: Be Your Own Duchess

September 24 — 2019 | Scottish Highlands

Craic (/kræk/ KRAK): Scots Gaelic for ‘news’ and ‘chat’

Aneela's Dirt Craic is an unfiltered, distinctively Scottish column rehashing the comical and sometimes tumultuous mountain bike adventures of our Juliana Ambassador, Aneela McKenna.


Aneela conquered the Duke's Weekender on her Juliana Quincy. Follow her path to the infamous gravel climb. 

I’ve never been very competitive. In fact, as a Scots-Pakistani I was actively discouraged from being sporty. That was the boys department; I was expected to stay at home with Mum and help with the household chores. 

At school sports, I was an ‘inbetweener’. No matter how hard I tried I could never keep up with the fast group. I never made it into the first ‘eleven’ school hockey team; I made the second eleven, just. I was told team sport was unfeminine. As a youngster, I was always looking for excuses to skip Physical Ed.


Juliana BicyclesCan you spot me? I’m the one on the far left who forgot her hockey skirt and was forced to play in her pants!


Maybe this childhood hangover is why racing bikes has never appealed to me. I’ve always feared being judged and a wee bit ashamed I might not be as capable as everyone else. I was encouraged to work hard at school but never encouraged to shout about what I was good at.

The Duke’s Weekender gravel hill climb and enduro was in September’s diary and I was entered. 2018 was its opening year and I had so much fun being a part of it. No nerves, no anxiety - I just turned up among friends on my Joplin. I had no expectations of the event or myself and I was there to support our friends and organisers Rob Friel and Stu Thomson. 

There was a strong theme to last year’s event around overcoming adversity through cycling, and anyone who knows me realises this is a big deal to me so I wanted to be part of an event that celebrated this.

2019 was different. 

This time I was entered on a gravel bike, not a mountain bike! I’d only been riding the Quincy a few weeks and it had given me a totally new perspective on riding bikes. Dropped bars, skinny tyres, super lightweight - I’d discovered a very different kind of adrenalin rush - a real mile-munching adventure machine and I was loving it!

Juliana BicyclesMy mile-munching adventure machine - the glorious new Quincy.

The Duke’s Weekender was the perfect environment for me to set some fresh personal goals - friendly, inclusive but with a competitive flavour if you decided to bite.  My number one goal last year was to have fun, and finish. This year, I’d bitten off more - it was about competing against myself and seeing how far I could really push myself, and whether I could still have fun doing it.  


Juliana BicyclesSix timed stages covering 70km of forest roads and singletrack around the beautiful Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

Goal number one - The (closed road) Hill Climb. If you’d have asked me last year to do it, it would have been a straight out no.  The thought of all those people cheering me when grinding up a 1.9km monster climb to the top of the Duke’s Pass made my stomach churn. And not in a good way.

Juliana BicyclesBig smiles as I pass the start line of the hill climb.

I was a little anxious to begin with but as soon as I passed the start line I was focused on the climb. The butterflies in my stomach turned into positive energy and I had the best time ever making my way through the tunnel of cheering locals and friends. I’d completed my first hill climb with (surprisingly) energy to spare and I LOVED it. Next year, I’ll dig deeper and who knows, I may even swap out my flat pedals for clips!

Juliana BicyclesI felt quite emotional when I reached this halfway point on the climb. All I could hear was the big cheers from the crowds.

Goal number two - Gravel Enduro: 70km of gravel paths and forest tracks with six timed stages and sociable transitions - I set myself a challenge of getting around the stages as fast as I could. 

Behind her infectious smile and banter, my riding buddy and Go-Where guide Jules has a competitive heart and an energy which turned out to be pretty contagious too.  We set off at the same time down the stages and ended up chasing each other - me catching her on the ups, Jules catching me on the downs. We were seconds apart every time. 

Juliana BicyclesJules and me enjoying the magnificent views of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.


Juliana BicyclesGravel paths like this for miles.

If you’d seen me and Jules after every stage we had to take a moment to catch our breaths - we were both pushing hard! I already knew my results would be way better than last year. I was 7th in my category (Female Vets) and it was so good to realise that competition can be fun; that it doesn’t have to be serious and you don’t have to be the most talented to achieve results. 

I reckon a little competition can become a real asset when living life. Testing my own potential encouraged me to be the best I can be. Regardless of the outcomes, there’s no failure in trying hard. If I was encouraged to test my boundaries, to take risks when I was younger, it would have propelled me to move forward quicker and face up to the challenges life throws at you. 

My attitude is shifting. Events like Duke’s Weekender enable me to aim high and keep on learning about myself. There’s no need to hide from my achievements. I celebrate them. The Dukes came.  I conquered. In my mind I’m enjoying wearing my very own Duchess crown. 

Juliana BicyclesI crowned myself the Duchess and celebrated with a beer or two with fellow Go-Where guide Andy Stanford (8th in Mens Vets).

Well done to the awesome Mark Scott and Kerry McPhee who were crowned this year’s  winners and a huge thanks to all the organisers Stu, Rob, Amber, Caroline, Frazer, the No Fuss team, Phil from the Forth Inn, the sponsors, participants and all the people of Aberfoyle who made this incredible event so unique. 

Juliana BicyclesThis is what the Dukes is all about - friends and great banter along the way!

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