24 hour MTB race in January! Where abouts? In the Scottish Highlands during the height of winter with 17 hours of darkness! Called The Strathpuffer. Why not, it was the ten year anniversary of the race so no better time to do it!
The race itself sounded pretty grim but in a strange way this made it even more appealing. Should I do it solo? Nah I chickened out of my first solo 24 hour race, instead I rounded up a motley crew to join me on the adventure/race.
So I ended up with two guys whom I regularly ride with and one lad from work who agreed early one morning before he had chance to wake up and realise what he had agreed to!Oh and he doesn’t ride much and never if it’s cold wet or dark!!
In the couple of months build up to the event everyone upped there activity on their bikes. I’m keen so was managing about three times a week with session on the spinning bike thrown in there too. Pottsy went from riding once a week to twice, Towners the same with a ski holiday inbetween and then there’s JLo, he went from not riding to a couple of indoor sessions at the gym and a lot of sessions at the bar!! What a lad.
Fast forward to the race weekend we bundled all sorts of gear, bikes and enough food to see us through the whole of winter into both vans and off we went.
Arriving at The Square Wheels bike shop in Strathpeffer a good 7 hours later. Whilst in the queue waiting to collect our passes the weather turned and set the tone for the weekend with a quick blizzard to remind everyone one of the challenge ahead. All this seemed to do was raise the spirits of the riders with shouts of “a proper puffer this year” and good banter all round.
Into the forest and the first challenge was getting all the vans, motorhomes and cars on site. The temperature had dropped below freezing causing the access road to turn pretty icy, leaving a few motorhomes and vans in a bit of trouble. Luckily I’d borrowed some snow chains so we clawed our way up the fire road until we found some space which was near the top of the first climb.
By this time it was dark and snowing so setting the camp up was fun with only torch light to see what we were doing. We got the gazebo up, tarp up, airbeds blown up in the van, fire pit going, just in time for a few beers or that was the plan. First beers cracked “Cheers boys, to the Puffer” we necked them fast and then jumped into our sleeping bags to get warm, it was freezing!
Race day had arrived shit nights sleep not helped by Potts and Towners shuffling around in the night getting up for pee, not to mention cold! We managed to get a couple of hours sleep, great preparation for a 24 hour race.
Team Furious Monkeys (it’s along story) were registered and ready to race.
Quick brew, a race briefing then a lone piper in all the gear, jeans and a fleece! Lead us all to the start for the sprint, jog or walk to our bikes depending how keen you were.
3.2.1 GO! I was off a quick jog to Pottsy who was holding my bike then off for the first lap.
I chose to ride my Stanton Sherpa 29er steel is real hard tail. The bike is a flyer both up and down hills, specced up with carbon bars, XT brakes, Thomson dropper post, 10 speed with a 34 ring up front, Hope 29er enduro wheels with tubeless setup. Tyre choice was a dilemma before the race with talk of spikes, no spikes, fat tyres, thin, wide. I opted for a 2.35 Hans Dampf up front with a Maxxis Shorty out back for a bit of grip on the snowy climbs.
Back to the race, the first lap went well lots of virgin white trails, beautiful singletrack, tacky dirt decents. This was all about to change though once the first few hundred riders had been through. Coming to the end of lap one there was a nice fast section giving you the chance to get some air off a set of steps into a flat out wooded trail onto a second set of steps. These were a bit different to the first as I discovered, coming in way to fast hoping to launch off the top only to realise there was a tight left at the bottom!! I stayed on but only just, I shot through the cones and back onto the track nearly taking out a spectator in the process! At the end of the lap I dibbed in, then back up the snowy fire road climb to swap over with Towners for lap two. Only twenty three hours to go!
That’s was me for a while Towners, Pottsy and JLo all with their laps to do, I got a cup of tea porridge pot, fruitcake, refuelling for ready my next lap.
The other boys knocked out their laps with the course now getting icy in places, the snow had packed down and one decent was like a mud slide. Awesome!!
I found this out for myself on my next lap the final muddy decent was superb, people we’re walking, sliding, rolling, falling off all over the place. My trusty Sherpa ploughed down through the mud with out skipping a beat, good tyre choice!
All was going to plan, not that we really had one other than to have a laugh and enjoy the Puffer for what it is, and that’s what we did.
When darkness fell so did the odd snow flurry, the skies cleared for some amazing views of the stars.
We carried on swapping over each lap until lap thirteen when fatigue was beginning to show its ugly face, at this point we decided that Towners and I would do a double lap to give Pottsy and JLo extra recovery time. During my double lap I felt good swapping over with Towners, I could have gone again. It was now around 3am I had to wake JLo for his final lap. There he lay in the van all snuggled up snoring away “JLo your up next” the usually sleepy mumbled response “what, where, when….who… Yeh I m up” 3.30am off he went as we cheered him on.
Our initial target of twenty four laps in twenty four hours was beginning to slip away, we had a couple of slow laps in the dark, no names mentioned of course, this set us back a bit, but so what we were having fun! Weren’t we?
Two hours to go, daylight had returned, twenty laps done can we get three or four more in? No we decided to enjoy the last two laps finishing on twenty two would be a good effort. So when Pottsy arrived to hand over the dibber there was no rush to go, I finished my brew and hit the last lap. What a lap, great fun plenty of banter on the way round. Blasting down the final decent over steps into the final straight boom! we’d done it two laps short of one lap an hour but we had a wicked experience and there’s always next year!
Will we be back? as a quad? I don’t know, now I’ve had a taster I fancy having a go solo next time!!
Strathpuffer 2015 what an adventure!!