Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Drenthe 200; a hol-land of mud and a few days with close friends

I regularly get final year (veterinary) students out in practice with me who feel anxious about their future. They either have no idea what they want to do with their lives or they know what they want but have no idea how to achieve it. Or they feel like they have to be on this accelerated 10 year plan to reach their destination in time. The expectations of an academic environment. It leads to interesting conversations in the car when I tell them about my varied experiences. Having worked in lots of different fields of equine practice in several countries all over the world. Combining a driven career with passion for the outdoors, adventures and my racing pursuits seems to work as a huge eye opener. I love it when sharing my life stories can make students realise that their options are in fact endless. When I can see the realisation in their eyes that at no point in time the decisions they are making are final. I enjoy relieving some of the pressures these young veterinarians face and it is what gives me the most satisfaction in my job. Something which actually has nothing to do with veterinary medicine. The days leading into Christmas I could have used some of my own advise. Struggling with the lack of direction or goals in my life. Where in the past I easily escaped the gloomy days of the festive period, it seemed that with age my thoughts got darker with shortening of the days.

a white Boxing Day

I decided to break Christmas and New Year up with a 200km MTB race in the most Northern (and flattest) part of Holland. I thought this was an excellent idea to have something to focus on during a time I generally felt like hiding under a big rock. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with friends I had not seen for a while. I managed to talk my close friend Karin Sloove to do it with me. But oh boy was I wrong in thinking this was a good idea! After my adventure in the Himalayas I had no interest at all on focussing on a 200km MTB race on a cold dark winters day. And I did not do much, not to say NO, specific training for it. Lucky Karin had been busy preparing a move to Spain with her boyfriend Onno and not spent much time on the bike either. When we stood on the start line at 6am in the morning freezing our butts off we both had something like; "this seemed like such a good idea at the time" 

I left a beautiful white Scotland behind to spend some days in Holland
Quite quickly it became apparent this was not an adventure we had thought through properly. The course was so saturated with horrible sticky deep mud, there were sections which were simply unrideable. Within a couple of hours the bikes had accumulated so much dirt they were barely functioning. We also started at the back of the pack meaning that we were battling with hundreds of other riders stacked close together. This at times had a domino effect of crashing cyclists and in my case ended up in a head first dive into a very cold smelly ditch!! Although not ideal I could not stop laughing about the whole situation, my rescuer fishing me out of the water was wondering why I thought it was so funny which added to my amusement. Now wet and cold (at least my bike was a bit cleaner after the swim), the mud continued. 

Occasionally we were rewarded with some cool flowy single trail but these were few and far between. Things went from bad to worse when my eye became the target for an aggressive clump of dirt which caused a strange glaze over my pupil. It made me see in different fields of vision, as if I was cross eyed. I could not see any depth anymore which was not great when trying to navigate through mud, mud and more mud. 

We were making great progress in the field though and riding strong in the top 10 of the female field. But after the half way point we started to seriously think about what it was worth finishing this race. We were looking at 14 hours on the bike in soul destroying conditions. Physically I felt absolutely fine and where in the past I would have battled through, this time I felt like I had nothing left to prove. On top of that, after having raced over the most spectacular courses all over the world with the Himalayas freshly ingrained in my brain, this course for me was simply uninspiring and with lack of views or exciting descents I felt somewhat bored. When Karin suggested to call it quits I had no hesitations. My eye was getting worse and it had now started to pour down in temperatures close to zero celcius, freezing us to the core. After a good 7-8 hours and over 115kms of riding, we found ourselves happy in Onno's (absolute legend for supporting us) warm car on the way back to the comfort of our little rental house in the forest. 

Best racing buddy
It was an interesting experience for me not to make it to the finish line but not to feel bad about it and actually being quite satisfied about the performance to that point. Karin felt exactly the same way which made for a relaxing post race dinner with lots of laughs, planning adventures and conversations about dreams and aspirations I felt so at home in. How I had missed this.

I spent the following days with some key people in my life. Being shown some really cool Dutch MTB trails (they do exist!!) drinking hot chocolate and chatting the day away with a close friend in a cosy pub whilst the snow fell outside. The realisation I did have somewhere I could go home to whilst staying with my lovely uncle Aede and Aunty Gerby. And last but not least spending 24 hours with one the few people who has known me since I was 9 years old, my best friend Suzanne, leaving absolutely no secrets between us. We chatted till deep in the night like teenagers until I had to leave for my flight at 4am.

Where normally my mental batteries got charged through adventures and wilderness, this time my batteries were charged through spending time with people who were dear to me. 

And as I travelled back to Scotland I came to the realisation that for me the truth of my happiness always falls back to the same thing. No matter what age or stage of my life I am at, I believe that chasing opportunities and aspirations should always be endless. As cliche as it sounds, when people ask me “why?" I immediately think “why not?” And although this view often gets perceived as a lack of commitment or an inability to settle, I never see it this way. Wanting the freedom to dream, to challenge myself and to keep on evolving into a richer bettered version of myself is fundamentally who I want to be and what inspires me and makes me happy. How to engage to this on a daily basis I have not figured out just yet. 

So here is to a healthy, happy 2018, to endless amount of adventures and inspiring experiences accompanied by the loving people who share this roller coaster life of mine with me. 

                     "it's the possibility of a dream come true that makes life interesting" Paolo Coelho
My best moments of 2017

Catching up with one of my Uni friends Karen in the snow

New York with Michael 

MTB adventures in Utah

Catching up with my sister after 5 years 

Meeting Naomi together with Michael, Charlie and Rachel

Bike love!

Grandraid Nisramont with Karin, an absolute surprise podium!! 

My backyard

Surprising myself with a 7th female overall on the skinny tires in the tour the Borders

many adventures with Naomi

The Engadine Bike giro in Switzerland, catching up with the lovely Sarah Riley

Surprise podium in Glentress 7, solo female

exploring Scotland

3rd year being sponsored by big bobble hats

Karin joining me on a MTB leaders course in Scotland

the Himalaya Bunch, what a dream come true

riding 650km, climbing 17.000m in the Indian Himalayas

2 day MTB expedition with Jantiene

Riding the French Alps

My favourite adventure buddy

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