Tuesday, 3 November 2020

A life of choices ; always choose courage over comfort

When I was asked to write a blog for the active vet movement to try and inspire more veterinarians to become active, I immediately said yes. And then it took a while to actually get words down on a page. These days there are so many books out by people doing extraordinary things and there are thousands of blogs available online of people sharing their experiences. I had the pleasure of meeting someone recently who made me question the need to share a story. Whether the words written were interesting enough to read and truly inspiring or whether they were instead a self fulfilling prophecy of being liked and accepted. I love stories, hence I love reading blogs, but with social media so present in our lives I have often questioned the originality of a written piece. I am always searching for the real story, the honesty of the person behind  the words they have written and ultimately what makes them truly tick. I have found however that those stories don’t often get told or don’t get the exposure they deserve, because it is not what people like to read.

lucky to have worked with the best of the best

I read a book recently in which there was a beautiful paragraph about people not liking messy. Society asks for the happy endings, the feel goods, the affirming and uplifting reports. “Come back when you have something positive to say” But my life has been nothing but messy. Most of it related to a childhood I could not control. I am still working it all out. Personally I have found comfort in other people’s messiness so to speak, those are the stories I have always been interested in. 

once I found the mountains I was hooked 

I have never really belonged anywhere, I moved around a lot as a child which did not help that matter. But I also believe it is partly me, because I love to be free. To try a thousand things and become a jack of all trades rather than a master at one. And although I chose horses as a specialty in my veterinary career, I did not choose one particular interest in that field and ended up working in all most every aspect of equine practice. The same counted for my athletic career, so often I was asked to choose. “choose the bike and you will excel, keep doing multi sports and you will never reach your full potential on the bike” But I wanted to run, ski, kayak, get lost in the mountains, I wanted it all. The same counted for combining my job as a veterinarian and pursuing my sporting career. Other than the financial reasons for finding it difficult to leave my profession, I loved being a vet, it was challenging, it was exciting and I was lucky to have learned from some of the best veterinarians in the world. When I was asked to choose, I did not want to do that. It often was perceived as being uncommitted or never being happy, but it was neither, I just loved progress and progressing often meant jumping at opportunities given. But my chase in wanting it all came at a huge cost. It has taken me years to climb out of the hole I dug for myself. I get frustrated when I read quotes like “hard work always pays off” “you will achieve it if you want it bad enough” “just follow your heart and it will all work out” because that is simply not true. If it was then all the hard workers would be world champions and anyone with a big dream would be able to achieve it. And believe me at the pointy end of the field everyone works their asses off to try and succeed at living their dreams. 

Before I discovered fast bikes, there were fast horses

Turned out I was good at suffering giving everything I got during a race getting me into the elite within 12 months of discovering the sport

I am not someone who easily lacks motivation or is scared of big dreams. I am weirdly wired where I will suffer massively from the imposter syndrome, I felt this especially during my short stint of racing at elite level, but at the same time I have an attitude where I would never settle for mediocre when there is an opportunity to strive for excellence. I have never needed motivation to train around my working hours, it is what I loved doing. Sure the temptation to stay in bed on the cold and wet winter mornings instead of going out training was there, I am only human after all. but I always looked at the bigger picture and improvement is my addiction. Staying in bed would not get me any better, faster or stronger. 

My drive and the idea which has been preached around the world on social media that if you want something bad enough all you need to do is work for it, took a physical and mental toll on me. When it did not work out, I felt like a failure. But during the last few years whilst trying to get back on track I have had a lot of time to reflect and work out what ultimately is most important to me. And it comes down to my freedom. The freedom to be myself,  in my work, my friendships and my relationships. I left veterinary practice because I did not feel I could feel do that. I felt that I was continuously pulled in different directions and I was never good enough. For a long time I felt stuck, not knowing what direction to head in.  When you look at my profile you could say I have done it all, I worked at some of the best equine hospitals in the world, I became a lecturer at one of the best veterinary universities in the world and I raced at elite level with the best athletes of the world in multiple disciplines (al be it at the back of the pack) And I have not regretted anything I have done, but I would not recommend doing all of this unless you have an incredible support network! 

Racing at the world championships in the Dutch national kit was quite something

Last year I made a choice, it came with the dream of challenging my physical and mental limits traversing the Himalayas in Nepal from West to East on the mountain bike. When I researched it, I discovered it had never been attempted let alone done before. I planned everything from choosing a route studying a million maps endlessly, to all the logistics needed for something this big. I paid for the expedition and everything that came with it out of my savings. The project was completely mine, It was my idea, it was my dream and although nothing went according to plan, it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life because I was in control of what was controllable from beginning to end and I tried to execute that to the best of my ability. The icing on the cake was achieving a world first. 

As vets we are born high achievers, heck just getting into University means you have to stand out, we are also generally people who want to fix things, save animals, help out where we can, which often results in working around the clock. The expedition in Nepal taught me that I am the one in control of my life, that it is up to me to dictate my own boundaries. Unfortunately I had to leave equine practice to realise that but I am keen to find a balance. Search for a (part time) job where I can dictate my own freedom with people who respect that so I can chase my so many numerous goals on my ever growing bucket list!

“Freedom in any case, is only possible by constantly struggling for it” Einstein 

Thursday, 1 October 2020

When life throws you lemons; be more Mac

The last few days I have started this blog countless times only to have multiple unfinished blogs saved on my computer. I felt they were either too critical, too negative, too fake or soaking too much in self pity for me to be comfortable sharing the words I had written. So here I am, plenty to write about, I just haven’t really found a way to process it all. 

Last Saturday I raced my first UCI sanctioned race in 3 years, my first MTB marathon in two years and my first MTB race in over a year. I entered in an attempt to meet some like minded people in my new country of residence, France. Because yes, I decided to move countries during a global pandemic, a bit more on that a bit later. My friend and super adventurist Katie and I were going to do a bike packing trip of the back of the race to see if we would be a compatible team for future bike packing adventures. Since my move to France late July, the weather had been incredible sunny with endless blue skies. A week before the race I cycled in shorts and t-shirst struggling with the heat. This was all going to change very quickly the week leading into the race with snow forecasted down to the lower mountains, my track record for good race weather or race luck in general is not great and this was certainly no exception. First of all Katie fell ill and had to pull out of the race and our bike packing adventure which meant I was heading to Villard de Lans a little ski resort near Grenoble only accompanied by my 4 footed friend Mac. Needing a bit of social contact after many weeks hanging out by myself I was looking forward to a race day with fellow bike riders after which I would head to Bozel to spend some time with Katie and talk all things adventure.

On Friday morning I woke up to white flurry stuff falling from the sky and the top of the mountains looking beautifully white from my bed room window. Absolutely stunning but not ideal for a bike race. A little apprehensive I packed the van and headed to the race village, a 3 hour drive from Montriond which I now call my home. Late afternoon I arrived at registration whilst it had become quite snowy on lower grounds and the race started around 2000m. This was going to be interesting. The plan was to camp out in the van but as I parked up in a quiet spot, the heavens opened, thunder, lightening and hail the size of ping pong balls fell from the sky. A quick look on booking.com and I had found a super friendly aubergement as the French say it, to spend the night, Mac was welcome as well and even got his own bed, I tried to relax as much as I could.


I woke up to even more snow and freezing conditions. When I took Mac for his morning walk my motivation dropped to an all time low. It would have been so easy to head to Katie’s and not race but when I commit, I commit and a couple of hours later I found myself shivering on the start line with about 400 other shivering riders. The course had been cut to 45kms because of the extreme weather conditions. I was expecting a European type MTB marathon with plenty of long non technical climbs but this course was a whole different story. Because of lockdown I had not really ridden any natural forestry trails and unknowingly I was getting myself into 3 and a half hours of slippery, muddy, snowy, frosty technical single trails with climbs not quite long enough for me to make up for my lack of technical speed on the descents. It was never the plan to be competitive but on the start line my brain always disagrees so I went out and tried to ride as best as I possibly could. With the result that for two thirds of the race I found myself in a little group of 3 leading the female field, I even had one of those drone thingies zooming around my ears, but they never used the footage! Haha! I led the climbs only to be dropped on the descents.The weather was horrendous with proper snow bucketing from the sky and it was getting colder and colder. Although not really enjoying it as such I felt reasonably happy with how I was going until with 10kms to go I had a back brake malfunction (stopped working). This resulted in me coming down hard on a collection of rocks perfectly placed to break my landing. I ignored blood seeping through my jersey and although a bit shaken I got back on the bike trying to chase my two new friends disappearing into the distance. Already lacking in confidence on the downhills, the crash and a non functioning back brake brought me to a halt, my body went into shutdown and I crawled all the way to the finish line with my body uncontrollably shivering so much I actually thought I would break my jaw at one point. 5th overall female. I have no idea how big or how small the female field was but from a performance point of view I can’t remember the last time I was actually in contention of winning a race, let alone a UCI sanctioned one and that was enough for me to be happy about my physical performance. I felt strong, I was just lacking technical skills. As I drove to Bozel wearing all the clothes I had brought to try and get warm, the sun came out.Typical. The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying Katie and her partner Lee's company, talking for literally hours on end, planning new adventures together whilst exploring the beauty of their backyard.

Like most people I have found Covid pretty tough,  although I think for very different reasons than the general population. Just before we went into lockdown, I was notified that my father had only a few days to live. My father’s life was not one to be celebrated as he had made a mess of it in the worst possible way, something which will take my sister and me our whole lives to process and come to terms with. My fathers death caused a confrontation with our past which was difficult. It sent  us both on an emotional roller coaster ride which we are still trying to somewhat control. With the borders closing we haven’t had the chance to be in each other’s company to grieve our childhood together and when this will be possible is still a big unknown. During Covid I have witnessed my friends flying home from all over the world to be with their family confronting me with the fact that other than my sister I don’t have a place I can go “home” to. That feeling of belonging somewhere unconditionally was lacking from my life. For some reason this made me feel more and more disconnected from the UK and the urge to reconnect with my European rootes made me chase my long time dream of living in the Alps. Being born in the Italian mountains, I found  that mountains wherever in the world have always felt like home. It was not a decision I took lightly but it was one I needed to make for my own sanity.

That’s where I am right now, I found a home in the French Alps. I expected the feeling of stress related to only just piecing it together financially but I underestimated the feeling of isolation I would get due to the pandemic. The when, how and if I was going to see the people I loved and the difficulty of starting a new social life with all the restrictions in place has made it a little tough. But I am here, and I am battling on and I am not one to give up easily, and hey after 4 years of beating injury I actually managed to race in 2020 with more power in my legs I have had for years!! 

Every day I have this little dog called Mac who gets me out of the house on those days I preferably would want to hide inside and he always manages to show me that even in what seems the worst circumstances at the time, there is always beauty all around us to enjoy. And if you greet the world with a smile, the world will smile back at you.

“Remember, remember, this now and now and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I have taken for granted” 

Friday, 20 December 2019


There is so much to write about the last 8 weeks in Nepal and so much to process, lots of things to share which is beyond this blog. But I wanted to document this feeling I have at the moment, a certain pride, a certain amount of energy and excitement related to 3 simple words : I DID IT.I feel so different than 8 weeks ago when I left for Nepal, and never knew that so much change could happen in a person in such a short time. Only now have I realised how disappointed I was in myself, as a person, as a professional and as an athlete. Warranted or not that feeling of not wanting the life I was living consumed me. I just did not know what it was that made me feel that way and how I could change it. Michael would often say to me that it was the way I looked at things I had to change. I figured out in Nepal it was the way I looked at myself I had to change.Saikalako ended up my dream, my way out, my turning point. I put all my energy, money, spare time and trust into it. It was never really about completing the traverse for me, or a world first. It was about going there and trying every single day to do what I planned on doing to the best of my ability. For weeks on end. It was about not giving up when things got tough. To keep moving forward. And I did exactly that. 

When in the first week it was clear that it was going to be extremely hard, almost impossibly hard and my team mate Karin decided to leave, I thought I had made a huge mistake in pursuing this crazy dream of mine. I felt devastated that it was such a disappointment right from the start. But the more Karin was talking about going home, the more I felt resistance. I had no reason to go home, I wanted to keep going even though we had lost a lot of time and getting to the Eastern border was almost impossible. I wanted to keep going even though being ill had taken a lot of strength out of my body. I wanted to keep going day by day until my time was up and I had to get back on a flight home. Why? Because I felt comfort in the beauty of the mountains, because I was prepared to physically and mentally suffer, I was prepared to dig as deep as I possibly could, because this was the journey I wanted to be on. Because Nepal had captured my heart. 

Beautiful people of Nepal 
By having to go solo I had to step up. I had to face my fears of navigating, and not only navigating but doing that on incredible tough terrain. Overcome my fear of narrow off camber trails,  vertical land slides, steep rocky down hill hike a bike. And do this on my own. I had to believe I could do it. And so I did. And as the days went on, my confidence grew, my strength grew, and my body responded. I can not explain why my chronic pain disappeared during my time in Nepal. Why the strength I knew I had in me but had been lacking for so many years returned. I can not explain why at no point did I feel weak or not fit enough other than the incredible preparation I did with James. And I am not saying that I did not have bad days or that it was all a bed of roses. It was crazily tough, there were tears, there were hissy fits, there were moments of despair. Being so isolated at times, where no one speaks your language and you don’t understand theirs. The physical exhaustion, the mental challenge, it was relentless. But there was something magic in being able to keep moving forward, step by step, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, mountain pass by mountain pass. 

that's me, I did this!
The expedition started to change me, I felt grateful. Grateful for the life I was living, grateful for my friends and Michael and for being able to do what I was doing. The life I felt so disappointed with before Nepal, was now something I really cherished. Thanks to the kind people of Nepal, the beauty of the mountains, the simplicity of being and the hardship I endured during Saikalako I started to feel happiness again. Why? Because after many years of feeling I had failed me, I started to value myself again.

Where as an athlete I felt I had never been able to do what I knew I was capable of doing, during Saikalako I proved to myself what I was physically and mentally capable of. My coach James put it into words for me on return “what you have achieved is indisputable” 7 weeks non stop, roughly 1600kms of technical terrain, 85.000m ascend and multiple passes between 3000-5415m altitude with a loaded bike. I look at pictures from the trip and I think to myself still in a little disbelieve “I did it”

I was asked recently what I learned most from doing this. I learned so many things on so many different levels but after a little bit of processing time I think the most important thing for me is this; I learned that I am very fortunate to live in a country where I am in control of my life and therefor I am in control of my own happiness. I am the driving factor to change things for the better. With that in mind I am going to do things differently professionally to help manage my chronic pain levels and I will keep on working hard to keep on improving physically and mentally in order to be able to keep on chasing my dreams.

Missed these nutters so much!

A huge thank you to anyone who has supported me and believed in me over the years especially Michael, James and my wonderful sister Martje, without a good support crew I would be nowhere! There is loads more to share from this journey but I wanted to write this down for days to come. 

 “It is not the mountain we conquer, it is ourselves” Edmund Hillary 

Monday, 9 September 2019

The Dukes Weekender 2019; Making the UK great again

Exactly 12 months ago I showed up at a little place called Aberfoyle with my van loaded with my dogs and my bike to meet my friends Kerry and Lewis to race the Dukes Weekender. I had been hiding from the world after coming back from a MTB stage race in Sri Lanka called the Rumble in the Jungle where we were faced with tragedy when one of the Nepalese riders lost his life in a freak accident. But from the first minute driving into Aberfoyle my spirits were lifted with a positive vibe radiating through the whole of the Trossachs. Racing Dukes Weekender last year changed my life when organiser Rob Friel read my  Race blog about the race and reached out to me sharing a lot of his time and knowledge about chronic pain a complicated condition he recognised I was dealing with. Rob opened a whole new world to me where I learned to understand why my body reacted the way it did and how I could find a way to deal with it. 

Fast forward 12 months and I drove again into the little village of Aberfoyle, renamed #Gravelfoyle for the weekend (which made me laugh) to meet my friend Kerry. Kerry's life had been turned upside down after the passing of her soulmate Lewis. Although Kerry had mentioned she did not feel brave or courageous in her attempt to get her life back on track, for me she was one of the most inspirational people I knew. Her grit and her determination to keep on showing up even if her whole being wanted to opt out was something to live by. There was nothing fake about Kerry and her honesty and realness always made me feel at home in her company, like she was family. I was very much looking forward to a weekend of bikes and being surrounded by inspiring people like Kerry.

Kerry and Lewis at Dukes 12 months ago, his company was going to be missed.

After a solid winter of doing a lot of smart training to get my chronic pain under control things had been very up and down in the last couple of months. Partly because I pushed myself too hard on the good days and partly because it was is just the nature of the bear, the name we gave my chronic pain. As preparation for my upcoming Nepal expedition I had to get my vaccinations the week leading into Dukes Weekender.  My overactive central nervous system ended up giving an overreactive response resulting in very painful muscles and joints. I was that sore that I spent most of my time in bed between work hours! “may be just ride the Sunday” coach James said, but there was no way I was going to miss the most awesome hill climb in the world!!  

The race had attracted some super stars like world record holder John Archibald
The entries had doubled in numbers and it was super exiting to see so many women on the start list! This was proper racing. I immediately felt uplifted when I saw Amber’s smiling face, Rob and Caroline and the electric energy at the start line of the Dukes Pass Hill climb. The road was closed for cars so we could feel like pro athletes cheered on by screaming crowds the whole way up. Before I knew it, it was my time and cheered on by supporters I made my way to the top. Where normally nerve pain would kick in during a high intensity session preventing me to go hard enough to go lactic, this time I could push through. Very unattractively with my mouth wide open and my legs on fire I reached the middle of the climb where tons of screaming supporters making incredible noise, and life music greeted me. The enthusiasm of everyone there actually made me laugh out loud, although hurting like hell I was buzzing. I saw the girl in front of me and with  200m to go, two guys screamed at me from the top of their lungs to catch her  (I wonder if those blokes have any voices left!!) spurring me on to completely and utterly empty the tank and beating my time from last year. I was one big smile. It felt like my whole body was smiling. To feel lactic again felt absolutely awesome, to be able to push this hard even better. I rolled back down to the start to support Kerry, catching up with equally big smiling familiar faces on the way.

Like last year the Dukes Gathering was filled with inspiring speakers including Kerry talking about her Hebrides heritage and obstacles she had to overcome to get into bike racing. Which explained her independence and "just go for it" attitude chasing her dreams. We stayed in a lovely little cottage on Dukes pass kindly offered by the organisers for Kerry speaking and ended up solving the worlds problems till late in the night until we decided we better had to get some sleep with a big day of bike riding ahead of us! 

When you are a racer at heart it is difficult to have no expectations and it has been the biggest obstacle for me entering events for fun. The great enduro format for the Gravel race made it possible to ride with your pals and smash 6 different the stages at your own pace which made it a lot easier to relax and race for fun of it. Our little group was at the back of the pack and consisted of a very speedy 17 year old Mieke, Kerry and Kate McKay who I had the pleasure to get to know over the following 4 hours. 

Our little tribe 
The whole day was just buzzing, the volunteers were awesome, the route was beautiful and the stages were so much fun. I really got inspired to keep up with the speedy company I was in and to my surprise I had no nerve symptoms at all. The bear was deep asleep. My legs were pretty empty like probably every one out there who had done the hill climb but as a typical endurance athlete I felt better and better towards the end. I was so impressed with Kerry’s power when she would storm passed me and watching Mieke’s ability to turn herself inside out when I managed to stay in her proximity on one of the stages. At 17 years old she could really put herself in the hurt box!! I loved being chased by Kate who pushed me on to ride my bike like a competitor, gasping for air with legs screaming at me. “I am going to get you” she yelled at me on the last stage whilst I was skidding around the trees and flying down the steep hills when I missed a corner and landed straight ahead in the grass. Giggling like a child I got back on my bike as fast as I could finishing the Dukes Weekender with the biggest smile I have had after a race for a long time!! 

the beauty of the Trossachs (photo credit Dukes Weekender)
There was cake and tea, banter and more smiles before we rolled back into race village after a brilliant day in the Trossachs. I was nervous to hand my timing chip in because I did not want to be disappointed. But when I got my results my smile got even bigger. I was 2nd Fvet on the Gravel and in the Full Dukes and Kerry had won the overall in both, we were absolutely buzzing!! 

They say hard work always pays off. But it was my dedication to hard work which got me in a state of overtraining and chronically injured. I have seen very sad things happen to hard working, undeserving people. In my opinion it is resilience which pays off. Showing up day in day out fighting for your believes, dreams and happiness regardless of what life throws at you. I have so much love for this event where I was surrounded by incredible inspirational positive people who each have their own amazing story to tell. It lifted me up to dig deep and try my best, and a body which was willing, making me smile all the 70km through the Trossachs with Kerry, Kate and Mieke. This event changed my life last year and it was so great to be back, in less pain, as a better competitor and finishing at the pointy end of a great field of women. 

Thanks to everyone involved especially Rob, Stu, Amber and Caroline, I will be smiling thinking about this event for days to come and it will keep on inspiring me to never give up.

"Courage is contagious, every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver"

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up (Brene Brown)

I love stories, and it is one of the reasons why I love sport so much, it is filled with inspiring anecdotes on every level. I do not necessarily love the stories about the best athletes, but about the ones who dare to fail, who are brave and willing to fight it out. Because if you never try, you will never know.These athletes inspire me to keep on improving myself. Progress is my addiction. For 5 years now I have been entertaining a love/hate relationship with my body and only in the last year have I realised how big my own mindset influences the levels of pain and fatigue I experience. With the help of some key people I have learned  what my triggers are, what I should and shouldn’t do and what a fine balance it is for me to stay healthy. 

One of my favourite stories in sport and the definition of courage; Jenny Risveds comeback 
About 6 weeks ago I tipped myself over the edge just wanting a little too much to soon which resulted in my back giving in, painful muscle spasms and 5 days of couch time. As frustrating as this was, I had been here plenty of times before, I knew it would pass and with the help of my coach James I had no choice but wheel it all back in and go into rehab mode. Of course I felt very sorry for myself in the first couple of days but the difference was that I was very aware that my mind would have a big impact on how quickly this episode would pass. It was important to stay positive. So as soon as I could walk a bit more freely I went to the pool and started swimming, I ventured out on very gently bike rides and where normally I would push and push and push, this time I let my body guide me. And day by day I felt improvement, every time I went out, I could do a little bit more. 
Back at it, long rides
It took about a month to feel semi normal again which was followed by a meeting with James to plan our next phase of training for the up coming Nepal expedition. We had still plenty of time so this little physical hiccup did not have a massive effect on the long term plan. But it did make me think a lot about the triggers which causes my pain. For 3 years now I was battling pain flare ups and it certainly did not get any easier getting through daily life as a veterinarian dealing with it. And when my coping mechanisms have always been the outdoors and exercise, the motivation to keep moving whilst in pain had faded a little over the years, making matters worse. It was during these last few weeks whilst I was struggling getting in and out of a car, let alone vaccinating a needle shy horse, that I decided that something had to change. And my health was more important to me than the uncertainty of my professional future. After a long chat with Michael I gathered all the courage I had left within me, went to work the next day and handed in my notice. It was one of the hardest things I had to do in my career. Turning my back on a profession I was once so passionate about and had been working so hard towards from my first childhood memories . And when I drove home that night I felt grief and relief at the same time. 
facing uncertainty in my professional future, I have only ever been a vet.

Although I still had to work my 3 months notice, my decision made my head feel a lot clearer heading into the Saikalako expedition. I did not have to worry about going straight from Nepal back to work with the necessary on call catch up over Christmas. Not having a job to go back to meant time for proper recovery, probably for the first time in my athletic career and it felt mentally great. And with a clear mind, my body followed.

“Time for some volume” James response was to that, which meant a two week block of long rides with the Kirroughtree 10 hour MTB race right in the middle of this training block. I can’t say I am a huge fan of racing laps for 10 hours, there is not much adventure in that for me. On top of that it was logistically difficult. Run on Saturday meant I had to rush out of work on Friday to pack up and drive 3 hours prepare everything and ride for 10 hours the next day. Not ideal. But as James said  ”this is part of the process, you need to be able to ride tired in Nepal for days on end and mentally learn how to work through that”. So off we went, with already 18 hours of bike riding in my legs over 8 days and a tough week at work,  loaded the van with dogs and bikes, Michael and I arrived late at Kirroughtree Forest on Friday night.
never without these guys!

Waking up early morning I knew I had nothing to give but sometimes you hope that once on the bike things will feel better. It did not! We started with a big climb and I felt every single minute of the 18 hours of training in my legs and for the first two laps there was a mental battle going on in my head. Simply put, I wanted to pull out. I did not see the point in this. But that was my racing mind talking. Because what was the point in this? It was riding my bike for 10 hours, physically and mentally battling it out. Not racing. I knew I could ride for 10 hours whilst fatigued, I had done it before. I had to stop trying to be a competitor. So I dropped the pace and tried to get into some sort of rhythm. The course was pretty awesome, even for a lap race! Lots of natural technical single track, cool flowy descents, and gazillion of short punchy climbs (not my strength!). My fellow competitors were equally awesome, the front of the race politely passing whilst sharing words of encouragement without any of the race aggression I had witnessed in similar events. Even Kyle Beattie who was chasing a course record took the time to be supportive! And after 5 hours of racing I finally started to find my groove. In the pit was my friend Marie Meldrum who was racing in a team and has a great way of making me smile “ "just keep on going" she encouraged me "one pedal stroke after the other”. And it simply became a battle between me and myself. I decided 6 laps was enough and then I went onto the 7th lap, calculating time became difficult with a tired mind but I figured out I still had two hours to be able to finish an 8th lap. I was mentally fried “Karin would do another lap” I thought about my best friend who was joining me in Nepal and off I went for another lap. When I finished I had ridden my bike for over 10 hours and felt intensely happy. 
more volume after the race!
This was where my satisfaction of racing came from, not beating other people, not winning, not being the best out of a group of people, but beating myself and being the best I could possibly be on that day. At Kirroughtree I succeeded at getting the best out of myself even when circumstances were not ideal. On the day this was good enough for 2nd place solo female and even for a little race this felt awesome because I showed up, toughed it out and I won the battle against my own demons. Huge thanks to all the organisers  and volunteers for a great event, the vibe was simply awesome!! 

At this point in time I don't really know what my future holds. I don't really know what I want other than beat this chronic pain thing and it has my main focus. Getting my mind happy and healthy again is the goal, and I feel confident that the rest will follow. 

"Choose courage over comfort, choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave and afraid. At the exact same time" Brene Brown

Monday, 24 June 2019

A mini mountain expedition in the Alps

 It has been two weeks since Karin and I went on a mini epic traversing through the Alps. Almost everything which could go wrong went wrong; starting with missing my bus from Geneva airport to Chamonix and Karin running out of fuel 100kms from Chamonix. Setting us both back a few hours whilst we were under time pressure to do the full 180km Tour de Mt Blanc loop already. Add a broken bike and last minute repairs at a busy bike shop (who were kind of us to prioritise us) in the mix and we set off at 6pm heading for the hills (aka mountains). Following an already eventful day, a less than ideal route choice meant that we ended up having to turn back down the mountain in the dark. Crashing at the first hotel we could find only 5 km’s further from where we started after 5 tough hike a bike hours.

Karin and I both have the ability to see humour in situations when no one else can,
which is one of the big strengths of our friendship. Both being stubborn and opinionated we can have the most heated discussions but there is also a mutual unspoken trust and respect through which we can support each other during the toughest of times. Karin was therefore my first choice when I was getting a team together for the Saikalako Expedition. On top of our ability to work well together under pressure which we proved by unexpectedly jumping on the podium during the Grandraid Nisramont adventure race in Belgium, Karin also adds great navigation and problem solving skills to the team which will be detrimental to the success of our expedition having to face extreme circumstances in remote parts of Nepal not many people have crossed yet.

The Saikalako expedition 
In our three day adventure in the Alps we learned a lot. Our fully loaded bikes felt a few kilo’s to heavy when we were pushing it up 40 degree gradients over technical terrain for hours on end. Pulling and pushing over tree roots, squeezing in between trees and navigating big rocks. It was simply madness. We had one day of pure weather bliss, with blue sky’s and endless mountain views which did make the suffering a little easier! After careful negotiation and local’s advise we redirected our route away from the col’s which were covered waist deep in snow and proved impossible for us to safely pass without ice axes and crampons. Even some of the lower slopes proved quite a challenge having to overcome dangerous sections covered in snow. At one point we were faced with a 300m traverse over 45 degree angled snowy slope with only room enough for one foot at a time. If we had to turn back it meant at least 6 more hours to civilisation when we probably had only 3 hours of daylight left. If we traversed we would have only two more hours to a bed and some chill time. (by this point we had been moving for 8 hours already) But a slip meant a hospital visit, or at best losing a bike. When I look back I find it quite amazing how very quickly we came up with a plan. Actually let me rephrase that, Karin came up with a plan and I completely agreed. We took all the kit of the bikes and brought that over to the other side first. Then we went back and brought the bikes over on our backs. I still struggled with proprioception in my left leg after my back injury. And although I knew both my legs were so much stronger, I still didn’t trust my stability to carry 10-12kg of wobbly load on my back over slippery narrow terrain. Without any hesitation Karin said she would do both bikes. I would meet her where the snow line stopped carrying the bike to the top from there, whilst she would go back for the second bike. We managed to turn quite a tricky situation in something reasonably simple by breaking it down in segments. And we felt quite impressed with our own problem solving skills and strength to make it happen.

The mighty traverse 

The day was not smooth sailing from here though, having to climb up what seemed to be a river and negotiating fallen trees in the most inconvenient places. A little exhausted we arrived at a little village searching for a bed at the cheapest rate doing a full loop of the town, with our smelly clothes and sun burned faces, only to repeat that loop again to find a kitchen that would still serve us food! 

making things difficult in the final kms of the day!

The weather forecast for the next day was atrocious with thunderstorm and rain for most of the day. We knew we could not cross over to Courmayeur because of the snow so we decided to go as far as we could go and from there ride back to Chamonix over the road. It was supposed to be an easy day out with relatively little climbing. When we were faced with a massive landslide only 2km from our turn around point we could only but laugh and like we had been doing all weekend face the challenge with a smile! Soaked, tired but satisfied we reached Chamonix in the evening with enough spare time to find a pub for great food and post adventure celebrations.

The last obstacle of the day, an avalanche landslide!
A LOT of hike a bike
Too much snow high up

Although our mini expedition was full with laughter and incredible moments it did create a fair amount of doubt and a small wobble for the Saikalako expedition. It also gave me the time to think about what the expedition meant to me. So often I get labelled "crazy" because of the adventures I choose to do and the dangerous situations I get myself into. The interesting thing is that the fear I feel when I am facing these situations is very different for me than the daily anxiety I feel from the pressures to try and fit into society. The fear I feel in the mountains turn me into a better version of myself, whilst the fear I feel in daily life turns me into someone I do not really want to be. That anxiety suffocates me, whilst the feeling I get whilst searching for my limits liberate me. 

Incredible views

The two hour climb we casually forgot about!!

I was asked by a friend what I would do if I would get a pain flare up during my time in Nepal. It is interesting that in my day to day life it is a continuous struggle to keep my chronic pain under control but I am very confident that I will not have that problem in the Himalayas. The dream of crossing the Himalayas by bike started after having to let go of racing due to injury. For me the project is about being in the mountains for days on end, facing challenges which will push us to our limits. Creating that feeling of not being able to go any further and then taking another step. A journey which will tell the story of three women who all are battling their own demons and have come together through a shared passion. And although a "world first" will attract sponsors, I realised during the days in the Alps that that wasn’t what it was about for me. I actually did not care about the attention it could attract. All I wanted to do was go to Nepal, start the project with Usha and Karin being as well prepared as possible to ride our bikes through the most beautiful and remote terrain the world could offer us. I wasn’t worried about the outcome, I did not want the pressures we put on ourselves to succeed, to not let others down. I did not want the fear of failure. I was interested in the process, the skills we needed to develop, the preparation, the team work during the expedition and if we managed to complete that to the best of our ability, it could never end up in a failure no matter what would happen.

Happiness in the Himalayas 
There is something about the mountains which makes me feel instantly at peace. Life becomes so simple during these type of expeditions. My mind becomes quiet. I am more than ready to step up the training for Saikalako and put everything in place to be the strongest I can be at the end of October when we start our traverse from West to East Nepal by bike.  45 days, 1700km 70.000m ascend non stop and unsupported. Lets do this.

"It is impossible" said pride "It is risky," said experience "It is pointless" said reason. "Give it a try" whispered the HEART"