Aneela's Dirt Craic Hero

Aneela's Dirt Craic: Dancing on Ice

February 12 — 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.


This is an uncensored blog that contains some adult terminology.


“How do you fancy doing the Puffer?” Paul said.

“Och aye let’s do it” I replied without hesitation, always excited at the prospect of trying something new.


The Strathpuffer is a 24-hour MTB endurance race casually described by the organisers as: “Freezing temperatures. 17 hours of darkness.  Mile upon mile of gruelling terrain. A brutal mix of ice, wind, hail, mud, and snow in the Highlands of Scotland in the middle of winter.”


Now that the bruises are yellowing, I realise my quick response to Paul was an unconscious one. I’ve ‘popped my Puffer cherry’ and in hindsight, I hadn’t given it any thought beforehand. If I’d deliberated too long, or at all, would that have made me say no to the race?


If I’m honest, I’d harboured a secret desire to take on Strathpuffer but so self-conscious was I about the mountain ahead and my ability to climb it, I’d barely allowed myself to believe this race was within my capabilities.


This is when the power of friendship made itself felt. Paul asked me to do to it - he and the rest of the crew had faith in my ability - and yet if I had asked myself I would have said no I couldn’t. When it comes to confidence, we can be our own worst enemies. Thanks Paul.

10:00. The race is on; I was up first. The trails were treacherous. I’d heard these were the toughest conditions yet for this fourteen-year-old event. I could believe that. Spiked tyres or ice skates were the order of the day and I had neither.


Many of the riders around me were falling off their bikes; we were all slipping and sliding like newborn deer teetering on the icy ribbon of singletrack.


Desperate to get a solid first lap under my belt made me determined to stay rubber side down. The conditions had other ideas. Added to that, I couldn’t quite shake off my ‘guide head’. I didn't want to let the team down, but getting a fast lap was relegated when I saw a laddie struggling with a puncture in the freezing temps. I had to assist.


First lap in the bag.

Darkness hit and so did I. The ice rink mountain bike course was complete. No more ice-free spots to steer or brake on; the temperature had dropped to -8C. I was learning to ride a bike all over again. Badly.


The forest fell eerily quiet. No more on-trail craic (aka Scottish banter) from the 300+ riders on course. Perhaps they were feeling the same as me? Time to visit the pain cave everybody. My confidence had hit rock bottom. I so wished for my lap to end and there was still a long way to go. I rode a little and cried a lot.


Back at camp as I rolled in, team spirits were much higher than mine. Paul was ready and psyched for his next lap. I was bruised, battered and emotionally the same. I had never concentrated so hard or for so long to stay upright.

There were high fives, Charley’s power hugs, team fistbumps and an unusual group chant was emerging (if you weren’t there, it’s hard to explain - just think 90’s deep house...OOOSSHHH). I didn’t want to dampen the team spirits but my confidence was broken right now, and for three hours until my next lap I was unusually subdued, staring hopefully at the flickering campfire. Two minutes before my lap, I blurted:


“I am totally shitting it guys. I am afraid to go out again on that ice rink in the dark.”


Here’s that friendship thing again. I can hear Davy saying exactly what I needed to hear at that very moment:

“Aneela you are probably a better rider than more than half the people here.”


Shauna shouted at me too:

“You will smash it. Go, girl!’


Andy (my husband) always straight to the point:

“Stop being a total pussy, you can do this. Enjoy it!”

Looking back, upfronting my fears was the best thing I did. The success of the Strathpuffer (or any big challenge) is about being honest. With your team and yourself. It’s the people around you that bring you back to life.


It worked. I was back on form - I went from strength to strength on the course, smashing out my fifth and final lap at sunrise. Back at the pits I was buzzing, breaking out the moves with Paul; ‘dad dancing’ between laps, singing old 90s favourites with a water bottle microphone. We sounded just like you imagine. We apologise now to our neighbours. Stoke levels were exceptionally high.


Now I appreciate why the support team is such an important part of the  Puffer. This race can take you to your lowest point, and the people around you lift you back up.


Would I have said ‘yes’ to Paul so quickly if I knew quite what lay ahead in the deep, dark forests of Strathpeffer? Probably not. Sometimes, allowing others to help you face your fears is a rewarding gamble. Other times, impulsively saying “yes” to the unknown takes you on the most rewarding journeys.

To the rad ‘Go-Where Clan’ - Andy, Paul, Shauna, Davy and Charley - I love you all to the moon and back.


p.s. the team completed 20 laps in total and raised over £1000 for Stoked on MS, the campaign led by Andy McKenna, Aneela’s husband where he shares his story of living and riding with Multiple Sclerosis.


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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