Sunday, January 26, 2014

The legendary Strathpuffer


Calm before the storm....

So, after giving a week to digest the madness that is the 'puffer, I thought I better post up my thoughts. I don't intend to write a lap by lap account of the event, as I think that would be both bio ring to reader and writer alike, so I'll just share some thoughts.

Klaus and I set off later than planned for the 5 hour drive to contin, near strathpeffer on the Friday morning, as it's well known that the best spots to set up camp are snapped up pretty early on. We had booked a bed and breakfast in nearby beauly, but first had to get registered and set up our base for the event. We had a decent sized base and team for the race, five of us riding - Tom, Robin (a different one), Alan, klaus and myself all going solo. Tom had volunteered his dad, Ron, to be our pit monkey, and he didn't let us down. An absolute gem of a man that really couldn't do enough for us, whether it was making hot drinks, keeping the generator going with petrol or just a smile and a word of encouragement. Top bloke.

After getting set up, we were both ravenous, as we hadn't had lunch, so the carb loading began...

We then headed to the bed and breakfast, which turned put to be way better than expected, we only payed £55 for a twin room for the night, but the place was lovely, had a 15 metre swimming pool, games room and even (rather oddly) it's own church!. If your ever around the Inverness/Black Isle area, I'd seriously recommend springburn lodge, perfect base and the breakfast the next day was ideal too. We then popped into beauly to the comm bar for another pile of carbs, as we'd need them....

So, onto the event. Butterflies, lots of butterflies... I really was taking a step into the unknown, doing a 24 hour event, and both klaus and I agreed this would probably be a one off, as it takes a bit of organising, training and money too. I was really nervous wandering down to the start, as you have to leave your bike on the hill and partake in a Le Mans style 500 metre sprint start. Luckily, I met a few friendly faces on the way, which took my mind off of what was to come, one guy I hadn't seen for probably 7 or 8 years, which was brilliant. Billy Leckie, a big smasher of a guy, just kept telling me I was mental!.

So I never got to the start til right before the gun, and ended up in the 2nd row, right behind the guys who were in it for the victory (including TT legend and TV star Guy Martin) and got completely swept up into a fast start and too fast first lap, but I realised I was off too fast and slowed down for the next few. It's a long game, riding for 24 hours, no point in blowing your backside off early on.

I ended up doing the first 4 laps in 4hrs 10 mins, well ahead of my schedule. Klaus and I had discussed the previous evening, that a strategy of allowing 90 minutes per lap, including eating and changing stops, would see us around our conditions neutral target of 15 laps. So I then eased off, took some time to get some proper food, and did another lap before it was time to get the lights on.

It's a long night, you feel as if you've been churning away in the darkness for an age, just concentrating on the wee pool of light from your helmet lamp, and then chase king the time, it's only 11pm, and there's nearly half the race still to go. I probably should describe the course too.

It starts at the foot of the fire road, which climbs on and on for about a mile and a half, then a wee muddy track back through to another fire road, which undulates for another couple of miles, but mainly climbs, to the first technically tough section. A wee skinny bridge leads to a short, sharp rocky climb, and then a cracker of a lumpy, rocky trail across the top of the moor, which gets a hell of a lot tougher in the dark, especially with tired legs and mind. There is then a nasty wee zig zag climb, before a really nice descent from the picnic bench viewpoint. Then a flat section for a bit, then another nasty wee up, before an über fast descent into the main camp area again. 6.2 very tough miles all in.

There are also an unbelievable amount of people out on the course cheering you on, clapping, ringing cowbells, and all sorts, which is brilliant, really brilliant. This really drives you on, especially the thought of flying down the last descent with all the whooping and wailing.

I had a bit of an off on a very innocuous rocky section on lap 6, the first dark lap, and landed heavily on my knee, and couldn't believe it when I did the exact same, on the exact wee dip on lap 9. I stopped for food after this lap, and probably sat down for too long. When I stood up, the knee was stiff, but I wasn't worried, I'd just cycle it off, as I'd done many times before today. It was not too bad on the fire road climb, but when faced with a steep wee up which required a bit of power, the knee was screaming with pain, and felt like it was going to explode!.

Not helping the situation, was the fact that my free hub bearings had packed in on lap 2, meaning I only had 3 useable gears, 1,9 and 10, in every other gear, the chain jumped up and down as the cassette was wobbling from side to side with all the play in the hub.

So, at forty four minutes past midnight, at the top of the final descent on lap 10, I chucked in the towel. Which was really gutting, as fitness wise I felt okay, it was only the bloody knee that was stopping this. I headed to the tent for a few hours kip, with klaus, who was about to hit the wall and needed a couple of hours rest.

Knee injuries seemed to be de rigeur in our group, with Tom managing 8 laps before succumbing to an old one, and Robin doing 13 before also retiring. Klaus manfully headed back out to complete another two laps in the morning, go on the big hairy fella!.

The winner was Jason miles, who had also won last year, with a ridiculous total of 31 laps, with Guy Martin one lap back in second. Awesome stuff. Lots of lessons learned, not least to get more sleep before driving back down the A9!.

All in, it's an amazing experience, the atmosphere, quality of riding, shared siege mentality and just down right madness of it all is very, very addictive. Did I say that we would only be doing this as a one off?.


Nonsense.... See you next year!.


Note - the adventure show on BBC Scotland usually shows the puffer sometime in March, both Klaus and I were interviewed for the show, but who knows if the masses are ready for our broadest ayrshire dialect.




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