Aneela's Dirt Craic Hero

Aneela's Dirt Craic: Losing Mum

May 06 — 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.


Me and Mum. To say we were close is an understatement. I mean we had the best relationship ever, the type where there’s lots of belly laughs and staying up all night putting the world to rights.  Don’t get me wrong, she would wind me up the wrong way. We argued. A lot. Her approach to things was different to mine but, despite our differences we had a strong bond of love and friendship.  If she were here today she would be on the top of my speed dial list.

According to a study published by the Journal of Neuroscience, the mother-daughter bond is the strongest connection that two people can share. The study found that the part of the brain that requires emotion is more similar between mother and daughter than any other intergenerational pairing. That’s why Mum always knew what would get under my skin. She could imagine herself in my shoes. She knew how to console me when I was at my most vulnerable. She would make me laugh when I was at my saddest. She was always there for me no matter what I did. We were best friends.

Our relationship also had a darker side to it. She suffered from depression and chronic ill health due to years of living with domestic abuse. She suffered in silence and as a young child I didn’t really understand what was going on. I knew what was happening but I had no way of taking action to make it stop.  I was a child after all. After decades of abuse, it must have taken her so much courage to leave my father but she did it and the abuse stopped. My Mum, however, continued to experience issues with her mental health but she was able to smile more and her outlook towards me was positive, embracing and supporting my independence as a young adult. Sadly, it was too late to live as adults together and she passed away when I was twenty, too young for anyone to lose a loved one. I was left with feelings of fear and anger that her life had been taken away from me.

I was young. I had no time to process what had just happened.  It became my memory of her, one of sadness and fear that never really left me.

Twenty years later and living life to the fullest, I hit a crossroads in my life. I knew something had to change but I wasn’t sure what it was. Was it my job? Did I want a new career? What did I want out of life? I had forgotten!

I decided that the best thing to do would be to take myself somewhere remote on a solo adventure. I was inspired by so many others from the likes of Lee Craigie and Jenny Graham and from the Adventure Syndicate and Jenny Tough, I knew this would be a perfect way to get to know myself, leave all my comforts at home and go feral for a while.

I chose the Outer Hebrides also known as the Western Isles, an island chain off the west coast of mainland Scotland. It is a special place where Andy and I went on our first proper wild bike camp. I remember feeling a sense of calm in our surroundings, skinny dipping in the sea and not a soul in sight (until we saw a bunch a school kids coming over the sand dunes!). I wanted to make this a point to point journey making my way to the most northerly point hopping from one island to the next and over to the mainland. It would give me the solitude and space to think and reflect.

Going solo was a completely new experience for me. I was scared, fearful and procrastinated for weeks on whether to take the plunge and do it.

Andy helped prepare me mentally and physically with packing and getting my bike set up. The hardest part was agreeing to taking only one chamois. I had to go superlight. I even left my tweezers at home. It was feral all the way.

I met the most incredible people on the journey that I would never have spoken to if I wasn’t on my own.  I sat on a beach and watched the sunset. I met a fisherman and gutted fish for the first time. I suffered the most horrendous weather conditions, crying with pain. I even scared the shit out of myself sleeping it rough in my little bivvy. Looking back, I loved every minute of it.

As much of a cliche as it sounds, there was an awakening in me.

My life is a full-on adventure. I am either working and if I’m not working I’m planning ahead. I love planning and doing things for others although I don’t spend as much time dealing with my own personal shit. I was carrying the fear and anger from when my Mum passed away and hadn’t yet let go.

Opening up about my past has allowed me to see all the good things about my Mum. Yes, she suffered in silence, but she kept it together for me and my siblings. She was the most amazing cook and expressed her creativity by making clothes for her children, finding pride in looking pristine and caring for her family. My parents were migrants from the Asian continent. Mum was progressive and open to western culture in a way my father was not and she sacrificed her own life for the sake of her children.  I found out the most important thing in my travels. It’s her strength and resilience that provides me with the ability to bounce back, to lead, be creative and want to make a difference in the world.

Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% is how we react to it. I know I cannot change my past and the memories will continue to haunt me when triggered by stresses of everyday life.  But it’s all about how you react. I’ve found beautiful memories of my mother that I will hold and cherish forever. I no longer need to dig deep anymore.

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. To all daughters out there, tell mum you love her. Memories like those stick and will be cherished forever.


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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