Aneela's Dirt Craic Hero

Aneela's Dirt Craic: Bothy Bike Tales

March 08 — 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.


Life begins on a bike. 

My mountain bike is my saviour.  It’s a powerful healing machine that enables me to keep those inner demons at bay. A regular dose of mountain biking provides me with positive energy to help combat the general stresses of daily life.  

I discovered that I’m not the only one who feels this way about their bike. I got to ride with an incredible bunch of women recently as part of the Audacious Women’s Festival - encouraging women to be bold, courageous, to flaunt convention and take risks.


The festival’s motto is ‘Do What You Always Wish You Dared’ - enabling women to do something new and be inspired. ‘Bothy Bike Tales’ is my ‘audacious’ contribution to this wonderful festival - a big backcountry bike ride where a group of women ride together, get to know one another and share their stories in a new environment. Bothies are my favourite things - Scottish mountain shelters, huts or cabins in magical places.


The date was set and we all met on a beautifully sunny morning - fourteen of us in total, some who already knew each other from previous ride outs and others complete newbies. Apprehension was in the air. What would the day bring?


Heading into the hills, I could sense a bit of fear and anxiety from a few women:


“‘Am I going to keep up with everyone? These women look way stronger than me.”


“A lot of these women seem to know each other already.”


“I’m sorry I'm holding everyone back.”


I had to quickly allay these concerns. There are times like this when no textbook is going to help a mountain bike guide. I wanted to ensure these women felt included and supported - time to inject a bit of ‘craic’ and galvanise the group. A supportive bunch, soon the polite niceties were replaced with banterous hilarity. Body language changed. Noise levels went up a notch or two. Everyone started to relax. I was happy to see everyone getting into the spirit of the ride.


The ride itself was a big backcountry affair - riding into the beautiful Scottish Borders’ hills, criss-crossed by ancient drovers tracks, following rights of way that once carried animals to market, now used to hikers boots and knobbly tyres - I even told a few wee Scottish tales about the surroundings and how they inspired the words of one of Scotland’s great writers, John Buchan.


We stepped back in time as we opened the bothy door. A small timber hut with a wood burning stove, a sanctuary for walkers and cyclists since 1947. We drank tea, giggled about a few mechanicals we’d had along the way and settled into our new environment.


You can’t have ‘Bothy Tales’ without bothy tales about who and what had inspired us to ride bikes. I opened up with everyone, sharing why bikes saved me. My upbringing wasn’t easy and I had to make some tough choices as a teenager. I could have easily gone down the wrong path (well nearly did!). Lucky I met a handsome young boy who was mad about bikes. He changed my life forever.


I sat there a little apprehensive. Did I make everyone feel awkward? Did I ruin the ambience?




Julie chimed in. Her story’s incredible. Breaking free from an abusive relationship - she discovered mountain biking when she observed bikes on chairlifts in Livigno, Italy and wanted to give mountain biking a go. Cycling has changed her life; it’s made her a happier person. She’s so stoked to be part of an amazing community of women riders.


Now the ice was broken, Lucy was next to share a tale about her bike life. Turning 50, leaving behind a difficult relationship, Lucy joined a women's bike club six years ago as a complete newbie and she’s never looked back.


“Bikes make me feel like a six year old and I have a community I now belong to.” Louise.


Mimi on the other hand was completely new to mountain biking. Inspired by everyone she met on the ride - for somebody who felt she was struggling to keep up, she was blown away by the support from the rest of the gang.

Becca piped up next. My eyes filled with tears when she spoke. Becca shared an emotional truth. She suffered from post-traumatic stress after childbirth. Ride outs like this keep her going and encourage her to get out and meet other like-minded women. Bikes make her feel normal again.


Every one of these women shared incredibly intimate, moving personal stories. What was common to each of them - life doesn’t begin at 20, 30 or 40 - it begins with a bike. Bikes are fun, yes. But they serve a higher purpose too. They keep our spirits up. Riding challenges us to better ourselves and builds confidence in who we are.

I think I can speak for all of us when I say we came back from the ride with a lot more than we started with - riding bikes and sharing stories is an enriching experience. I’m privileged to have spent the day with so many inspiring women. Let’s do it all again soon!


No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.

- Robin Williams


About the Author: 

Aneela is a partner and guide of Scottish MTB tour operator Go-Where Scotland and proud Juliana Ambassador - whether she’s leading tours in the incredible landscapes of Scotland or rallying people to swing a leg over the saddle, Aneela’s passionate about encouraging people from all walks of life to love riding bikes.  #RideMòr

Read Aneela’s monthly musings from her off the beaten track bike adventures; distinctly Scottish rides for adventurous spirits.


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