The Strathpuffer…….a year on from 24 hours of mud induced leg pain here we stood again, a dithering group of men in their most uncomfortable environment, the supermarket. Staying in group formation we advanced around the isles cramming not so sporty, sports food into our trolley. Things like cheese and sausages. Fortunately emerging from that most hostile of environments unscathed, the next job was to fill the team van with firewood, bikes, generator and everything else we needed for 24 hours of bike racing in the woods. The ‘getting things sorted’ day culminated in a visit to Pizza Hut. The ensuing feast was of biblical proportions, sharing pizzas to ourselves, chicken and mayonnaise laden salads. When I finally got into bed I realised I couldn’t lie on my front, I had a food baby and it was kicking, hours of hyperventilation and cold sweats were at last followed by sleep.
The morning dawned frosty and orange, a beautiful start to the day with cloud lying low in the valley bottoms. As we drove into Contin our views vanished into a thick fog soup, all colour immediately sucked from the day.
As Ewan got the first lap underway I celebrated by setting my leg hair and the camping area on fire. If you ever need advice on how not to light a fire using combustible liquids while dressed in skin-tight cycling gear then don’t hesitate to get in touch. Surrounding teams cranked on efficient, quiet generators while we wheeled our decaying welder generator back into the woods.
Ewan seemed to return to camp quicker than the year before and the dibber was passed to me as I began the long haul up a wide forest road climb. The road eventually climbed out of the clouds and the sun which was surprisingly warm for the time of year burst through. Despite being warm it sat low in the sky flickering eye-piercing rays between pine tree branches. After around 2.5 miles of road climbing the route narrows into rocky single-track and the congestion begins. While slicker on the road climbs the rigid frame riders have a rougher time of it on the single track so it’s a matter of squeezing past: “on your right pal”, or taking different lines on the corners and descents (not so polite). The singletrack is technical enough to take your mind off the monotony of the task in hand and is genuinely quite enjoyable. Passing via a couple of double track transition sections the route peaks at “view-rock” where-after a fast and rocky descent winds to the finish. Trail side views vary from bomb-site harvesting sites to mature pine woods.
The fog which drifted through camp came tantalisingly close to lifting but the sun eventually lost its battle and we shivered on into the darkness. Our good friend Mark, owner of Next Level Bikes, kindly came along to act as team mechanic and did a stellar job of keeping the bikes glitch free. Gooning around camp just after dark we were alarmed to see Gregor running at us from the woods when he should have been cycling at us from the road. The bugger just picked up another bike and ran back into the dark. This strange behaviour turned out to be the result of a broken chain and quick thinking on his behalf to finish the lap and pass the dibber on.
As the night progressed the fog vanished leaving clear but extremely cold conditions in its wake. Mud and water froze to the bike frames and we chucked more logs in the fire. Whispers started to snake around camp that people’s drivetrains were freezing up, the rumours turned out to be true as I examined my derailleur just before setting off on a wee hour’s lap. A quick dash across to the fire with the bike and the worst of the ice melted off. The gears jumped and gurned up the first few climbs before settling back into their rhythm. Out on the course the conditions were mixed, some corners providing good traction while others were straight up sheet ice. I found one such corner on an otherwise enjoyable lap. Cranking it through an extremely fast wooded section I came over a small rise onto a left-hand bend. Leaning into the corner I waited for the edge of my tyres to bite as I gradually descended from a vertical riding position. With a crash and blinding from my lights I face planted onto the cold hard gravel. Spitting blood from a gash in my lip I pulled my bike out of the way and tried to get my breath back. My knee had taken the brunt of the impact although my fingers were also given an advanced stretching lesson.
The beauty of riding as a quartet is the chance of a wee lie down between laps. The hard van floor was nothing but inviting and allowed respite if not sleep. As the lads got a few more laps on the scoresheet first light started to luminate our surroundings. Weirdly I tend to enjoy the Strathpuffer more as it progresses, maybe with sight of the end the tension is broken and relaxed mindset and muscles are better company. We tallied up 30 laps between us coming a respectable 17th in our category, no bad as they say. Might even do it again.
Other things you should know if you’re thinking of entering – there’s a catering tent, there will always be someone slower than you, 24 hours doesn’t drag, the event atmosphere is awesome, if you get tired you can just walk for a bit and pretend you had a mechanical, you’ll probably get stabbed in the hands by gorse bushes.